2017 Toyota Prado Kakadu (J150): Tow Test

By: Dan Everett, Photography by: Dan Everett


Can the nine-year-old Toyota Prado still hold its own on and off the tracks?

Toyota Prado 9

I’ve never hidden the fact I’m a bona fide gear head. My workshop is filled with bikes and engines, I’ve got a race car parked in the driveway, and I bought my tow-rig based on what had the biggest engine I could afford. I like fast 4WDs, I like incredibly capable 4WDs, and I even like the ones that make people think I’ve lost my marbles. The problem is not all 4WDs meet that criteria, and a whole lot of them have no interest in even trying to meet them, either. As hard as it is to line up with my lizard brain, some 4WDs are designed and built from the ground up not to be the biggest, or the fastest, or the toughest; some are built to be family wagons. The kind of rig capable of doing the school run then heading off to the far reaches of the country.

So, what’s a bloke to do when he’s been handed the keys to a brand spanking new 4WD that’s not targeted at him or his needs? Well, if you’re me, you toss the keys to your wife and pick up a notepad. Fellas, sometimes we’ve gotta accept we’re out of our depth.

I found myself in this situation about three metres out of the Toyota HQ driveway in a new Prado Kakadu. One of the most popular and successful 4WDs in Australia, but one clearly not aimed at me.

A couple of weeks doing the hustle and bustle then lugging around an EzyTrail throughout the Great Dividing Range should do the trick. But I’m still not asking for directions.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Toyota Prado 7

Like it or not, the Prado is clearly designed to be a do-it-all family 4WD rather than a battle proven rock-crawler, so it makes sense the daily grind is where it’d need to excel to win over potential customers. So, how is it? Well, there’s good and bad with this unit, but ultimately nothing that’d cross it off your list.

The big flaw is the Prado has an aging interior, a full generation behind most of its competitors. It’s a tough pill to swallow for a 4WD that costs in the neighbourhood of six figures. That aging interior means that despite having all the features you’d expect from a modern offering like blind spot mirrors, adaptive cruise, and in-dash GPS, none of it is easily accessed thanks to its rather clunky interface.

It’s something you can learn your way around but will be a learning curve if you’re stepping sideways from another manufacturer’s offerings.

Toyota Prado 3

Driving the Prado around town is a relatively painless experience. Despite being a few millimetres here and there smaller than the previous 100 Series LandCruiser, the Prado hides its size well. The upright driving position helps with visibility and the revised 2.8L engine no longer has the distinct diesel rattle making it a much more family friendly experience on-road. Parking sensors front and rear made life easier for the better half squeezing the Prado into tight parking spots, although the rear-view camera isn’t as clear as more modern offerings and did struggle in low-light conditions.

Fuel consumption was more than reasonable too. Around town with nothing but a boot-load of groceries it’d consistently use a hair under 9L/100km, strap a trailer to the back and it bumped up by 2-3L/100km depending on the terrain we were travelling through.

ARE WE THERE YET?

Toyota Prado 13

For those families raising a football team worth of kids, the seven-seat Kakadu has a lot to offer — and not just seats for bums. Rather than treating everyone south of the B-pillar like steerage class, the middle and third row passengers are well looked after. Nestled into the back of the centre console are a full set of dials and levers for the climate control system. There’s ducting all the way to the third row although the middle row gets both face and feet outlets as well as heated seats. The seats are all wrapped in cowhide too, so are plenty forgiving for wayward drinks or up-ended yogos, although that second one might have been me.

Back seat drivers are also kept well distracted with a flip down DVD and Blu-Ray player with included headphones saving mum and dad from the torment of Disney’s Frozen on repeat. Power outlets are few and far between although access to the third row is easy with the middle row pitching forward on the kerb side and with the centre section of the middle row kicked down can transform the Kakadu into a spacious six-seater reducing arguments over whose helping is touching the others.

Safety-conscious parents will be glad to hear there’s curtain airbags all the way to the very most rear seats making the Prado significantly safer in side impacts.

HITCHED UP

Toyota Prado 8

Alright this is a camper trailer mag after all, so how does the Prado perform when it’s lugging around near on 2T worth of camper?

The first stand-out is how well it dealt with the weight. Rather than running a traditional coil spring in the rear, the Prado’s solid axle houses a pair of airbags with height adjustability provided with a switch on the dash. Despite the air suspension giving a plush ride, the weight of the trailer didn’t cause any noticeable sag or make the Prado feel like it was being muscled around from behind. The KDSS suspension also made the Prado stay flat through cornering on road which further helped keep the camper in line, although more on that later.

Toyota Prado 1

Of course, it’s not all ticks in this column. While a reversing camera is always well received in any tow-tug, the Prado’s unit is mounted to the spare wheel rather than the tailgate. The result is you can’t actually see the tow ball, making it almost useless for lining the trailer up. A tow-ball centre line on the screen like many competitors have would have gone a long way but is sadly absent. Due to the tailgate-mounted spare tyre, the rear door is also hinged sideways rather than from the roof. Around town you won’t care, but with a camper on it severely limits rear cargo area access which will affect how you load the vehicle.

Under the bonnet the 2.8L turbodiesel four banger provided plenty of grunt around town, easily lugging around the Prado’s not insignificant 2335kg Tare weight and didn’t struggle shuffling the camper in normal conditions. But it did lose steam when you asked it to stretch its legs. If you’re coming out of a V8 LandCruiser it’ll feel lethargic, but if you’re trading up from any outdated model it won’t be a noticeable issue.

GETTING DIRTY

Toyota Prado 11

Don’t let the Prado’s polarising looks put you off, underneath that beige sweater there’s a seriously capable outback tourer that’ll put to shame many burlier rigs.

The Kakadu’s biggest win offroad is its KDSS suspension, something only available in top-tier Kakadu and VX models. KDSS, or Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, ditches the basic sway bars lower spec models have and replaces them with stiffer units. It means the VX and Kakadu both sit flatter, with less body roll on road and high-speed cornering.

Toyota Prado 4

This would usually negatively affect offroad performance, but the trick sway bars have a hydraulic connection front and rear that essentially disconnects the sway bar when the front and rear suspension are cycling in different directions. It allows the rear suspension to articulate 100mm more than base models for a more compliant and flexible suspension offroad. A rare win-win system, but not available as an option on the GX or GXL models.

While the spare tyre on the rear tailgate is a pain in more ways than you could imagine, it also means Toyota was able to squeeze a second fuel tank underneath for a combined 150L of capacity. In all but the most extreme offroad situations it gives the Prado a touring range well over 1000km which can see you get all the way from Cairns to the tip without stopping for fuel. Like most Toyotas you won’t struggle finding aftermarket accessories to make the J150 platform more suitable for long-distance touring although there’s plenty of OEM kit-like bullbars, cargo racks, and snorkels to kit it out before you leave the lot.

THE VERDICT

Toyota Prado 16

If you’re interested in a Toyota you should know the deal. You can get more, for less, if you look at other marques. But you won’t get the dependable build quality or finely tuned engineering Toyota is renowned for. By now this should just be an accepted fact. The Prado Kakadu is no different. Despite being nine years old and well overdue for a replacement (the previous J90 and J120 models only ran for seven and eight years respectively) the J150 body style is still one of the most dependable 4WDs on the market and a solid financial decision.

It’s well equipped for taking on hostile environments in the bush and suburbia, has a huge touring range right out of the box and with just your basic upgrades brings more than enough fight to take a camper trailer anywhere you’d be game to point it.

If you’re after a do-it-all family rig that will take pride of place in your driveway for the next two decades and won’t leave you feeling like a burly chested lumberjack just driving down to the shops, it’s hard to go past the Prado.

HITS AND MISSES

Pros…

  • Toyota reliability
  • A-grade fit and finish
  • Plenty of room
  • Perfect family tourer

Cons...

  • Underpowered
  • Dated interior
  • Expensive

SPECS

Vehicle

  • Tare 2335kg
  • GVM 2990kg
  • GCM 5475kg
  • Towing capacity 2500kg
  • Engine 2.8L four-cylinder turbodiesel
  • Torque 450@1600rpm
  • 4x4 system Full-time dual range
  • Fuel consumption 11.4L/100km as tested
  • Suspension  F/ Independent double wishbone coil R/ Live axle air spring
  • Brakes F/ Disc R/ Disc
  • Seats 7 (2/3/2 configuration)
  • Wheel/tyre 18in alloy 265/60R18
  • Style Wagon

Price as shown

$85,900 + on roads  

Check out the full tow test in issue #116 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.