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The Prado was Toyota's 1996 entrant to the Australian mid four-wheel drive market to compete with the Mitsubishi Pajero, Holden Jackaroo, Jeep and Land Rover Discovery. It replaced the previous 4 Runner model which was developed from the light commercial Hi-lux, and was never a serious contender in the market.
The Prado came in one body shape - a roomy five-door wagon - with three different equipment levels. The model line-up begins with the base RV powered by a 2.7 litre four-cylinder engine, and the RV6 with a 3.4 litre V6. The GXL is powered by the V6 and is available as either a manual or automatic while the top of the range VX Grande is available as a V6 automatic only. A number of special editions such as the GXL Kimberley and the Prado World Cup were available along the way, and generally offered enhanced equipment levels and some cosmetic touches at an attractive price, making them worth looking out for.
Behind the wheel there is nothing out of the ordinary with a fairly conventional dash and control layout for the driver. Performance of the V6 engine is good, having adequate torque and power as well as being quiet and smooth. The four cylinder is more audible although not offensive and also had good torque and smooth operation.
The automatic transmission is smooth in operation with exceptionally clean smooth gear changes. It is worth looking out for any delays in engaging reverse from neutral as this may indicate upcoming transmission problems. The manual transmission is also smooth, with positive changes.
Occupant space in the Prado is one of its strengths incorporating a "big inside, small outside" concept. Seating for eight people is standard on all models except the base RV. This is achieved through normal positions for five plus a three seater which fits into the rear cargo area, folding in two halves against the side walls. However, the rear seats are really only suitable for children, due to difficult access and limited leg and head space.
Adequate storage space is provided via a medium size lockable glovebox, pockets in both front doors, and a good size lockable compartment together with various small pockets in the centre console. Luggage space is compromised when run as an eight seater but with the rear-seat folded up it has ample room.
The Prado features a dual fuel tank system on all but the four cylinder RV, which enables it to carry 159 litres of fuel via a ninety litre main tank and a sixty-nine litre sub-tank. Both tanks are filled through a common filler neck with a separate orifice for each tank. It is important to check that the auxiliary fuel system is functioning properly when purchasing a used Prado as some owners may not have used it and it may result in some problems at a later stage.
Fuel consumption of heavy 4WD vehicles is rarely a strong point, especially around the city, and this is certainly true of the V6 Prado. On test, a V6 auto GXL used 17.8 litres per 100 km in city running, while a 4 cyl. manual was significantly better at 13.3. Highway economy was similar for both vehicles, at 13.2 and 12.9 respectively. Naturally, other running costs such as tyres and maintenance are also relatively high.
Although the Prado design incorporated a number of safety features, subsequent crash testing showed its safety performance to be only marginal. As driver and passenger airbags were offered as an option, it's worthwhile looking for a vehicle that has these fitted. An air-bag compatible bullbar and ABS brakes were optional on all models.
The Grande also came standard with an electronic engine immobiliser requiring matching codes between the key and the engine. This was an option on other models, and it's worth looking out for when a choice of vehicles is available.
Beware of uneven tyre wear and also under body damage from off-road work, as these probably indicate a vehicle that has had a hard life.
Like most Toyotas, the Prado has held its value well in the used car market, and a good four-cylinder manual RV, which has travelled under 100,000km, will be hard to find at a dealer for much less than $24,000, with the six-cylinder RV commanding a premium of around $40,000. The Grande was always quite pricey, and early examples in good condition will generally be over the $35,000 mark at a dealer, while an equivalent 1999 vehicle may cost up to $10,000 more. In all cases, substantial savings of up to $10,000 are available by buying privately, but be careful to check the vehicle's service history and have it independently inspected, as it won't be covered by a warranty.
The Prado is a well put together vehicle, with good accommodation and off-road abilities. It was a worthy entry into the mid four-wheel-drive segment of the market and remains suitable for anyone who wants a vehicle with greater off-road abilities than a soft roader but does not need the capabilities of a full size LandCruiser.
Used car report published in May 2002.