November 16, 2015

Toyota's 2.8 litre Prado – does the new engine deliver the goods?

Photos taken at Polaris 4WD Park, Woodhill Forest, near Auckland
Today’s trivia question is what do the Toyota Prado wagon and the next Hilux ute have in common? They both share Toyota’s new 2.8 litre Global Diesel four-cylinder engine. Who cares? Anyone who has complained about the Prado’s outgoing 3.0 being underpowered, noisy, agricultural and even unresponsive. When introduced, nobody thought any of those things about the 3.0 engine, but diesel technology, and the engineers’ understanding of how to tame their less desirable characteristics, moves quickly these days. 

So the incoming 2.8 is a “clean sheet of paper” design that’s loaded with innovations, big and small; like a more rigid block that allows fewer head bolts, freeing space to optimise the head port shape for better fuel flow. Significant effort reportedly went into tuning the sound of the engine and cutting decibel levels to appease those who thought the 3.0 seemed to be, in technology-smooth 2015, a bit on the rough side. Was it worth the effort? Sort of. The test VX Limited Prado was certainly quieter, smoother and a little more responsive than the 3.0. However, the improvement is incremental rather than epiphanic. Think of it as icing on the specification cake rather than a whole new recipe for the country’s top selling medium SUV.

First, the technical stuff:
The outgoing 3.0 engine displaced 2982cc, the new one slightly less at 2755cc. Output goes to 130kW at 3400rpm from 127kW at the same engine speed. Torque is better by 40Nm at 450Nm, developed between 1600 and 2400rpm. The older engine held peak torque until 2800rpm. The compression ratio drops to 15.6:1 from 17.9:1. Overall fuel economy improves to 8.0 litres per 100km from 8.5 and emissions output to 211g/km from 225g/km. The better economy is said to be due to increased combustion efficiency and less friction.
Plenty of differences don’t show up in the figures. For example, the timing belt changes to a life-of-the-engine chain and there’s a secondary high pressure fuel filter to help protect all those expensive and precise fuel system components that owners never think about until they go wrong. The engine is mated to a new six speed automatic, with sequential shift; a worthwhile improvement over the five-speed it replaces. First gear is similar to the old unit’s, but the final is taller, for relaxed and more economical cruising. Otherwise, with a specification tweak here and there, it’s still the Prado we know and apparently love, right down to the VX Limited’s dark wood trim and sombre greys of an interior that might suggest you’re riding along in granny’s sitting room.

But step off the formed road and onto a track – let’s choose quite a difficult track to make the point – and the wagon wriggles free of its antimacassars and doilies to morph into Outdoors Action Man. The Prado is brilliant off road and the more difficult the track becomes, the better it seems to answer the call.  It’s been that way since Prado first appeared in Toyota New Zealand’s pricelist in the mid 1990s, replacing the Hilux-based 4Runner, but back then it looked half-way like a track-ready 4WD. Amazingly, as the Prado transitioned over the years into a more generic design and became plumper and more street oriented, its off road abilities have just become better, rather than losing their edge.

An indication of how seriously Toyota takes the off-roadability of Prado is an indexed 154-page supplementary manual in the glovebox dealing exclusively with the wagon’s 4WD systems and how to use them correctly. The wagon’s biggest problem off road is its size; it’s too big to comfortably squeeze down some of the tracks and trails frequently encountered in the back blocks.

On the road, the Prado behaves well, within the context of a large-ish SUV. Ride is excellent, the engine unobtrusive as it cruises along, thanks in part to the sixth gear in the transmission. Handling above average for its genre, especially the two VX models that have the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). This does a good job of adjusting front and rear stabiliser bars to lessen body roll.

Prices begin at $78,490 for the GX 2.8 and top out at $10 less than $100,000 for the VX Limited. For those who prefer petrol, the 4.0 litre V6 remains available for $89,490 (see item below).  Of the choices, 4wdNewz would opt for the $88,490 VX, which has most of the good stuff found on the Limited. The rest can be lived without; spend the difference on other things.

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