THE world has been busy since the first Toyota Prado was sold in Australia almost 20 years ago.
Amazon and eBay, the rise of Apple, smartphones, the first fully cloned dog and artificial hearts are just some aspects of the progress the last two decades have brought. We now have Youtube and social media, robotic vacuums and Google, retail DNA tests, super Wi-fi networks, reality television and an International Space Station.
Australia has seen seven Prime Ministers, countless natural disasters and we have sent our soldiers to lend arms to conflicts on foreign shores. Car production here has fallen from more than 500,000 a year to a few thousand. We have electric cars and hydrogen cars. Cars that are safer, lighter, can park themselves, prevent collisions - even cars that can almost drive themselves.
In 1997, almost one million new cars were registered in Australia, and just 3% were SUVs. In 2015 that number was over 35%. Through it all the Prado has remained top of its class. While the competition has closed the gap recently, Toyota is hoping its latest key upgrades, specifically a new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel (replacing the ageing 3.0-litre) and a six-speed auto transmission will keep Prado ahead of the pack.
The new Prado's cabin remains largely unchanged, which means that while it is super comfortable, spacious and practical, it has yet to embrace the innovative design featured by some competitors.
Granted, there is some attempt, courtesy of fake wooden panel accents, but it is a poor one. Still, there is confidence in familiarity and the dials and buttons are clear, robust and well placed.
Our top-of-the-range Kakadu had a few more controls than the entry models, requiring a bit more concentration, especially when sampling the off-road capabilities. The reach- and height-adjustable steering complements the electronic driver's seat when searching for the best position, and there is support and comfort (and air-conditioning) too for passengers, even those in the third row.
A refrigerated cool box is just one of the highlights of the numerous storage options available in an SUV that certainly has a firm grip on customer needs.
On the road
The new diesel engine - a 2.8-litre unit that offers up 130kW and 450Nm - is quiet, very much so, and devoid of the clatter and thuds we usually associate with diesel engines.
It is also more refined and fuel-efficient than its predecessor, and its 150-litre dual fuel tank means long trips between fill-ups. The four-cylinder is a tad disappointing when overtaking or up steep hills however, where it has to be urged to gather speed.
Prados are renowned for their comfort levels, and this edition is no different, with the big SUV negotiating irregularities and bumps with ease - both on and off sealed roads. Clearly this is a sizeable vehicle and will not wow with its driving dynamics and nimbleness of foot, so expect a little wallowing around tight corners and traffic circles. The ride is confident and assured, though, and should you be a buyer who takes their Prado off-road (as you should), you won't be disappointed either.
It is at its rugged best on challenging terrain, making light work of seemingly impossible departure angles and deep ruts and scurrying through creeks without missing a beat. The Kakadu's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which improves on-road handling, also allows the suspension to soften when the going gets tough. It truly is go-anywhere.
What do you get?
Safety is often a priority in family transport of this kind, and Prado is packed to the hilt with active and passive safety devices, including rear-view camera with rear cross traffic alert, radar cruise control and blind-spot monitoring. When you see these features in action, as we did with the autonomous emergency braking in awful traffic, you truly appreciate them.
Our Kakadu also came with keyless entry with push-button start, heated seats and side mirrors, three-zone climate control, moonroof, sat-nav, 18-inch alloys, side steps, roof rails, auto wipers and headlights, parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity and a DVD entertainment system.
According to Toyota, fuel consumption has been improved by more than 10%, taking the auto to 8-litres/100km. You would expect real-world tests to be considerably more, but we averaged about 9 litres/100km over some 800km. Impressive.
Prado owners will be happy a good-for-life timing chain replaces the belt that previously had to be replaced every 150,000km.
Impressive rivalry comes from the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland ($76,000), Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed ($65,990) and Ford Everest Titanium ($76,990).
With space, safety and practicality, the Prado makes a good case for families that want to venture off the beaten track - and for those who don't. The kids loved the DVD player, moonroof and ride height, and the seven seats meant we could ferry friends around, too.
The boot's loading lip is quite high, while the side-hinged tailgate is difficult to open on a slope and is still without a powered option. Braked towing at 2500kg may be adequate for most users, but remains below that of competitors and even some dual-cab utes.
The exterior of the Prado is unchanged and is all about rugged looks, with the obvious leaning to powerful off-road capability. We like the no-nonsense stance, and the side steps simply add to the aura of infallibility.
I am well acquainted with the Prado's prowess and certainly have a soft spot for it. This new diesel engine gains plaudits for refinement and quietness, but it's almost as if it hesitates to go any further than its predecessor.
Yet this go-anywhere SUV remains impressive, and its off-road capability is a rush for those on the adventure trail. And if the furthest you wander is the school parking lot, it loses none of its appeal.
What matters most
What we liked: High equipment levels, refined engine, comfortable drive, off-road prowess.
What we'd like to see: Trendier interior, more oomph while overtaking, higher towing capacity.
Warranty and servicing: 3year/100,000-kilometre warranty with services required every six months or 10,000km. Prados are covered by Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing at $220 per service.
Model: Toyota LandCruiser Prado Kakadu.
Details: Five-door four-wheel drive large SUV.
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 130kW @ 3400rpm and peak torque of 450Nm @ 1600rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed auto.
Consumption: 8 litres/100km (combined).
Bottom line plus onroads: From $84,490.
Driving experience 18/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 17/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 17/20