Buying Used: Toyota LandCruiser Prado (2009-15)

Toyota's Prado began life 30 years ago as a 'lightweight LandCruiser' and then went about building a separate reputation for competence to rival its bigger brother

Prado history

Prados appeared overseas in 1990, aimed at family buyers who wanted a vehicle with decent off-road ability but greater everyday comfort than was offered by the Landcruiser range. Australia saw some early versions as low-volume imports before Toyota added local-spec Prados to its line-up here.

By 2009, when the KDJ50R (turbo-diesel) and GRJ150R (V6 petrol) Prados arrived, the Prado range had grown to feral proportions. There were four main variations: GX, GXL, VX and Kakadu, with petrol or diesel engines, drive-train variations, special editions and the short-wheelbase SX.

Cheapest of the mainstream Prados was the GX. Available only as a diesel with six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, the cheapest GX cost a hefty $55,990. Least-expensive of the petrol Prados was the GXL, which for its $61,000 base price delivered 202kW from a 4.0-litre V6 with six speeds and auto extra.

Considering the significant money being sought, lower-grade Prados didn't offer a lot in the way of features. Buyers looking for some degree of the 'luxury' (for which they were paying anyway because up-spec Prados all attracted Luxury Car Tax) they needed to slap down a minimum $75,000 on an auto-only VX or spend an astonishing $87,990 for a petrol-powered Kakadu, with the diesel version a bit more.

For that money Toyota did deliver a very handsome package with all the interactive in-car communication stuff, including digital radio, and a nifty 'Crawl Control' function that saved the brakes on long descents.

The leather trimmed, timber-embellished cabin was strewn with storage spaces and holders for cups or bottles. The seats adjusted electrically and the mirrors folded to help when parking slots weren't attuned to the Prado's 1.9 metre overall width. Also of help here was the four-camera Terrain Monitoring system.

Passenger protection was a priority for Toyota and the consequent five-star ANCAP ranking obviously helped attract buyers. In July of 2010, Toyota was keen to trumpet that the new-style Prado had increased sales volume on the preceding year by 44.1 per cent and had become, by a decent margin, Australia's biggest-selling SUV.

All post-2009 Prados came with front, side, knee and curtain airbags, electronic stability control and brake assist, seat belt pre-tensioners and reminders. In local crash testing it scored an impressive 15.11 points from a possible 16 and in side-impact testing received a perfect score.

Reviewers were very keen on the new version's improved space utilisation and in particular the better design of the rearmost seats, which were more comfortable and accessible than previously.

An upgrade in 2013 brought a revised dash and some external alterations but no attention to the problematic 3.0-litre diesel engine. That would need to wait for 2015 when a redesigned oiler with 2.8-litres and slightly more power appeared.

On the road

It's a given that the way a Prado drives is dependent very much on which engine and drivetrain best suits the buyer's needs. Assessing on behalf of various users and needing to pick just one variation, we settled on the 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.

That doesn't in any way disrespect the petrol 4.0-litre V6, which has proven its durability in many applications over more than a decade. Just that people who want a Prado for a bit of sand or bush-bashing or to tow with are more likely to choose a diesel.

As you will read in Check Points the 3.0-litre engine is not without detractors and for valid reasons. The injectors are a weak point and if a Prado you're considering is noisy at start-up, smoky, smells or feels oily don't even waste your time on a test-drive, just find a different car.

Handling once you get the hang of lifeless power steering is OK for a vehicle of this height and weight. Make sure the tyres are running recommended pressures for bitumen, especially since a lot of Prados are used for beach trips and some owners don't fully re-inflate the tyres after running on sand.

If you plan on doing a lot of driving on unsealed roads be aware of a problem that arose on a wet and slippery surface during a motoring magazine's test programme. A Prado when pushed beyond the limits of its ESC (Electronic Stability Control) swapped ends in very rapid fashion and to the shock of the test driver.

Subsequent tests on a loose but dry surface could not repeat the sudden loss of control, however any wet road, sealed or loose – even with ESC (Electronic Stability Control) activated – needs to be treated with extreme care.

On suburban bitumen the all-coil suspension is unobtrusive and less prone to bounce than expected. Body roll, if cornering with any pace at all is noticeable, however the trade-off is high levels of front-end articulation available when clambering up rutted bush tracks.

We didn't try to punish the brakes and under normal conditions; they feel just fine. They will also easily deal with the extra weight of a big trailer or caravan, especially since the legal towed weight even for the diesel is a measly 2.5 tonnes.

Head, shoulder and legroom in the front are outstanding and OK in the back. Being middle passenger is hard on the back and also the neck muscles as there is nothing to grab for cornering support except your fellow passengers.

The ‘occasional’ seat that hides under the luggage area floor is a tight fit for adults but reasonably comfy for younger occupants. Child-seat mounting points are easy to reach and both sets of rear seats fold flat to provide travellers with a huge load-space.

Remember a stout luggage barrier behind the front pair of seats to prevent cargo in the back crushing you in a crash.

Fuel consumption even with more than two tonnes to haul isn't too bad. Tests of a diesel Prado involving highway driving plus a bit in suburbia saw consumption settle at 9.5L/100km. Where it can get truly awful is on rutted sand tracks towing a large caravan in low range. If under those conditions you can extract 800km from a combination of the standard 87 litre tank plus 40 litres from the underfloor 'supplementary' storage you're doing well.

Prado check points

>> Prados are competent off-road but the same can't be said for some drivers. Despite plentiful clearance and protection for important components they do suffer under-body damage. Before test-driving, look especially at the sills, rear floor pans, body supports and the exhaust system.

>> Diesel-engined Prados have acquired a reputation for engine failures due to problems with the fuel system. Why? Diesel injectors are meant to be replaced every 80-120,000 kilometres due to wear and carbon build-up on seals. This carbon can find its way into the sump causing sludge that blocks the oil pick-up with resultant engine failure. Injectors are meant to be removed and checked every 40,000km at the same time as valve clearances are adjusted but sometimes this work is not carried out. In 2014 Toyota began specifying a different type of injector, however this doesn't seem to have eradicated the problem. Do not buy one of these vehicles, even if it has been serviced as specified, without having the oil pressure and injectors checked and the oil pickup examined (via the drain hole) for carbon build-up.

>> The front drive-shaft boots may be dry, torn and leaking lubricant. Dirt or sand in the Constant Velocity joints can cause rapid wear and failure of the shaft. Clicking noises when accelerating and turning simultaneously are symptoms of a damaged joint.

>> Hanging a big heavy spare wheel off the back door can cause problems including cracks around mounting points and loose wheel studs. Make sure the cover comes off so you can check for damage.

Used vehicle grading for Toyota LandCruiser Prado
Design & Function: 12/20
Safety: 15/20
Practicality: 15/20
Value for Money: 10/20
Wow Factor: 10/20
Score: 62/100

Also consider: Nissan Pathfinder, Mitsubishi Pajero, Jeep Grand Cherokee