THE Toyota LandCruiser Prado, the darling of the Japanese manufacturer's range, has been spruced up with a retuned suspension, improved safety aids and new styling inside and out to ensure it keeps its stranglehold in the large SUV market.
The Prado, of course, has failed to do much wrong since it arrived on Australian shores in the mid-1990s and the latest tweaks to the fourth-generation 2009 edition will likely keep it in vogue.
It is offered as either a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel or 4.0-litre petrol in four models paired either with a five-speed auto or six-speed manual transmission.
The interior of the Prado is Toyota to a "T", very few bells and whistles and almost stark in its simplicity.
The GXL was particularly austere with brush metal highlights failing to soften the impact of its hard plastic and simple fabrics. Buttons and surrounds look basic and while the cabin is practically set out, it would be reasonable to expect more when you are parting with so much cash.
The Kakadu was far more luxurious with its pale leather and woodgrain highlights leaving a better impression.
It looks and feels dated, however, but Toyota has stood firm against the angles and curves now employed by other manufacturers to add a modern edge, preferring instead in letting its mechanical prowess do the talking.
Consideration has been given to the availability and placement of storage and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to pack the necessities needed for your journey.
The forward folding angle of the second row has been increased by some 12% making it easier to get to the third row which itself has been plumped for comfort. Seven seats come as standard across the range except for the GX which can be fitted out for an extra $2000.
On the road
The 4.0-litre petrol and 3.0-litre turbo diesel have carried over from the last edition and are paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed sequential auto.
The entry-level GX and GXL have different suspensions and four-wheel drive systems from the upmarket VX and Kakadu and this is evident, especially at low range, both on and off the road. Our manual GXL lumbered along the bitumen, efficient at speed but feeling its hefty weight around corners.
It drifts a bit too with the tyres better suited for off-road forays sometimes loosing purchase.
The Kakadu's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, purchased by Toyota from a Western Australian company, is decidedly superior certainly in terms of stability and ride comfort.
It is more effective in transferring front to rear weight during turning and allows the stabiliser bars to loosen for off-road drives and tighten again for a smoother ride on the tarmac.
Both variants are powerful, easily finding speed when needed but can be a bit noisy despite the use of more sound deadening material between the engine and the interior.
Off road, it is neigh on impossible to fault the Prado with the clearance levels, angles of departure and tight turning circle evident in the last edition coming in to play again.
The Kakadu benefits from the added technology of a front-mounted wide-angled camera which gives the forward view from the top of the bonnet, useful when you are coming down off a ridge or when faced with a drop-off.
What do you get?
Inclusions depend on the model you settle for and the difference between the entry-level GX ($55,990) and the range-topping Kakadu ($92,590) is very noticeable.
Among other things for our test GXL this little update has translated into 17-inch alloys, heated exterior mirrors and a new six-speaker display audio above the 17.7cm colour screen to add to tri-zone climate control, reverse camera, parking sensors, cruise control, keyless entry and push button start, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.
The Kakadu adds a whole bevy of extras including 18-inch alloys, heated leather accented seats, power adjusting steering, rain sensing wipers, auto headlights, sat nav with multi-info display, cool box, sun roof, a premium audio system and a Blu-ray rear seat entertainment system.
Off-road features in the Kakadu are a five-mode Crawl control, height adjustable rear suspension, four-camera terrain monitor, electronic rear diff lock and a terrain select traction control dial.
Buyers in this market will also probably look at the Mitsubishi Pajero (from $50,990), Jeep Grand Cherokee (from $51,000), Isuzu MU-X (from $45,600), Holden Colorado 7 (from $46,990) Land Rover Discovery (from $68,545) as well as SUVs like the Ford Territory (from $39,990), and Toyota Kluger (from $40,490) if off-road prowess is not a selling point.
The Prado's popularity is difficult to miss finding favour with both commercial buyers and regular mums and dads.
The option of seven seats, engine reliability and off-road capabilities offers up a heady mix.
While high ride height is excellent for visibility it is difficult for older people to climb in and out and parents of young kids may have to climb up to secure them in their car seats. Trailer-sway control is a boon for those wishing to tow.
It is interesting that the best off-road technology has been saved for the luxurious top-of-the-range model, unlikely to ever see a corrugated road.
Surprisingly the Prado shines here using much less fuel than you would expect from a vehicle nearing 2.5 tonnes. Official figures rate the petrol at 11.5 litres/100km and the diesel at 8.5L/100km, figures which stayed well within the realm of possibility during our test drives. Toyota offers a three years/100,000km warranty and fixed price servicing at $210 for each of the first six services.
The exterior has been softened to some extent by a large new grille, freshly styled headlights and an oversized bumper. Toyota still favours straight lines where others have opted for curves but there is, I suppose, some comfort in familiarity.
What matters most
What we liked: Rugged nature, spacious interior, off-road prowess and technology.
What we'd like to see: More generous inclusions, less on-road noise.
Warranty and servicing: Toyota offers a three-year/100,000km warranty with fixed-price servicing for the first six services. Services are $210 each. They are required every six months or 10,000km.
Model: Toyota Prado GXL and Kakadu.
Details: Five-door four-wheel-drive large SUV.
Transmissions: Five-speed auto or six-speed manual.
Engines: GXL had a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 127kW @ 3400rpm and peak torque of 410Nm @ 1600rpm; Kakadu had a 4.0-litre V6 petrol generating 202kW @ 5600rpm and 381Nm @ 4400rpm.
Consumption: 8.5 litres/100km (combined for diesel) 11.5L/100km (petrol).
CO2: Diesel - 225g/km (a), 232g/km (m); Petrol - 271g/km.
Bottom line plus on-roads: From $55,990. GXL diesel from $61,490 and Kakadu petrol from $91,590.