FAMILY FEUD

SO YOU WANT TO BUY A MID-SIZED 4X4 TOYOTA WAGON BUT CAN’T DECIDE ON PRADO OR FORTUNER? HERE’S SOME HELP…

WORDS FRASER STRONACH PHOTOS MARK BEAN

FROM A distance it looks like Toyota, with its Prado and Fortuner, has two distinct models selling in the same class; effectively competing against one another. Get a little closer, though, and differences emerge.

For a start, the Prado is more expensive, and while there’s a minor overlap in pricing, Prado prices effectively start where the Fortuner’s leave off – especially after Toyota lopped around $5000 off Fortuner prices in November last year.

Side-by-side the Prado is also a little bigger than the HiluxFortuner, although they both seat seven. Both also have dual-range gearing, a separate chassis and a live axle at the back, so can be classed as fair-dinkum 4x4 wagons.

Toyota arrived at this position (with the Fortuner partly competing against the Prado) because it needed to, effectively, shield Prado from competitor ute-based 4x4 wagons. That rival is primarily the Ford Everest, but also the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and the Isuzu MU-X and Holden Trailblazer (formerly Colorado7).

Having both the Fortuner and the Prado in the same class allowed Toyota a broader price spread, and to counter Everest undercutting Prado pricing, Fortuner undercut Everest while generally matching the other three.

So what do buyers say about all this? Year-to-date Prado leads with 12,721 sales, well ahead of the MU-X (5819) and the Pajero-Sport (4404). Everest (3627), Fortuner (2321) and Trailblazer (1753) make up the numbers from there.

Given the Fortuner shares a Toyota badge with the Prado, and its basic powertrain, does it deserve to sell better? We take them bush to find out...

GOLD STANDARD

BEING PART OF THE LAND CRUISER FAMILY SERVES THE PRADO WELL

THE 150 Series Prado may be near 10 years old, but it’s been Australia’s best-selling 4x4 wagon for most of that time, only slipping briefly to second spot in 2014 as Jeep’s Grand Cherokee sales soared then fizzed.

Part of that success is no doubt due to regular upgrades, which are now becoming more significant and more frequent than they were in the first five years of the 150’s life.

The most recent of those upgrades (2018 model) sees all automatic models from the base GX fitted with significant safety kit, which is led by autonomous braking, but also includes radar cruise control, lane-departure warning and automatic high-beam. The popularselling GXL auto model also gained the option of a premium interior, meaning buyers don’t have to step up to the considerably more expensive VX for features such as heated and ventilated front seats.

The tow rating of automatic models was also increased from 2500kg to 3000kg (via a higher GCM) for the MY18 model.

These upgrades to automatic models will no doubt further limit sales of the already slow-selling manual Prado (GX and GXL only) to the point where the manual gearbox might well be discontinued.

ALL IN A SPIN

IF YOU think the engine in the Prado is identical to the one in the Fortuner, you’d be wrong. The Prado’s has two counter-rotating balance shafts located just under the crankshaft, a feature missing in the Fortuner, even if the two engines are otherwise identical.

The balance shafts are there to smooth out a twice-enginespeed vibration that’s inherent in all inline fours. The Fortuner gets away without the balance shafts as the 2.8-litre four in question was specifically designed for the new Hilux and derived Fortuner, and the inherent vibration can be largely nullified in the design of the co-developed chassis and body structure. In the case of the Prado, the new 2.8 engine was retrofitted into an existing chassis/body structure so the vibration would have been more evident and not acceptable given Toyota’s pursuit of refinement.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

IN THE Prado’s most significant upgrade in its near 10-year life, the 150 gained an all-new 2.8-litre diesel from 2016on when the 3.0-litre diesel – first introduced 10 years earlier in the Prado 120 – was retired due to tighter Euro 5 emission standards. The previous five-speed automatic also went, replaced by a new six-speed automatic, also from Aisin. The Prado didn’t, however, adopt the new six-speed manual that appeared at the time in the then-new Hilux, perhaps another sign that the days are numbered for the Prado manual.

Compared to the 3.0-litre, the 2.8’s appeal lies in its refinement and civility and not in any significant performance difference. The 2.8 is still more flexible than the 3.0 and is happy to grunt it out at low revs while still spinning happily in the higher reaches, but it doesn’t really go much harder when the pedal is to the metal. With the Prado weighing more than 2300kg and with its reasonably big profile, 130kW doesn’t go that far and the resulting performance is more adequate than exciting. It’s a little less than what’s on offer with the lighter and smaller Fortuner.

The six-speed automatic doesn’t help in performance either compared to the five-speed as it just adds an extra overdrive ratio rather than tightening up the ratio spread. Fifth is actually a little taller than it was and then there’s the extra gear on top of that, all of which leads to some shuffling between fifth and sixth at typical highway speeds on undulating country roads.

However, like the engine, the six-speeder does bring refinement with smoother and sharper shifts.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

THE PRADO is a refined, quiet and comfortable-riding wagon with a chassis that offers more in terms of stability than it does in agility. On tight winding roads it’s quick to body-roll and understeer if pushed hard and at the test car’s GXL spec level, there’s no Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) to help – even as an option. KDSS provides notably flatter handling and less understeer via auto tensioning swaybars but is only fitted to VX and Kakadu models.

As is, the GXL isn’t a bad handling wagon, but it’s not as sharp as the light and nippier-feeling Fortuner on tight roads. The Prado’s general highwayspeed stability is better than Fortuner, even if there’s still some bump-steer from the rear live axle on potholed roads and the like, especially at higher speeds.

One of the defining differences between these two Toyotas is that the Prado has full-time 4x4 whereas the Fortuner has basic part-time 4x4 shared with Hilux. The Prado’s full-time 4x4, with its mechanical limitedslip centre diff, offers ease of use and safety benefits over the Fortuner on variable road surfaces and on wet gravel and wet bitumen. It also means you can use low-range without locking the centre diff, which can be handy for general manoeuvring when towing and on steep boat ramps and the like.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL PRADO models from the $53,490 GX manual up come with seven airbags, smart-key entry and stop/start, sat-nav, rear-view camera, and cruise control. All autos (+ $3000 for GX and GXL) models have autonomous braking, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning and auto high-beam. Over the GX, the GXL ($55,990 for manual) adds third-row seats (an option on the GX auto), side-steps, dual-zone climate and LED headlights and DRLs. Auto GXL can be optioned with a ‘premium’ interior (leather, heated/cooled front seats, heated secondrow and electric adjust for front seats for an extra $3500). The auto-only $73,619 VX has the premium interior as standard and adds powerfolding third row, 18s instead of 17s, KDSS (see text), auto headlights and wipers, blindspot monitoring, rear crosstraffic alert and a ‘panoramicview’ monitor.

The $84,119 top-spec Kakadu adds memory seats, cool box, rear DVD, Crawl Control, MultiTerrain select, and adjustable dampers and heightadjustable rear suspension operated via the new ‘Drive Mode Select’ system.

OFF-ROAD

AS EVER, wheel travel is one of the defining elements of off-road ability and a strong point of the Prado. With KDSS the travel would be better than it is (an extra 100mm at the rear axle) but, as mentioned, that’s not fitted to the GXL.

Even so the Prado has more travel than the Fortuner and does things generally easier on broken ground as a result, even if the Fortuner has slightly more clearance and feels smaller and easier to place in a tight track, thanks in part to better vision from the driver’s seat.

Prado GXL also now gets a driver-operated rear diff lock as standard, but when you engage the locker the electronic traction control (ETC) is cancelled on both axles so it’s not necessarily of benefit. As it is the Prado’s ETC works really nicely off-road, even if it’s very noisy.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

THE PRADO offers a taller and wider cabin than the Fortuner and the driving position feels more upright. Heated and cooled front seats are a nice touch as a GXL option and something you can’t get on any Fortuner – even if the Crusade does have heated front seats.

The Prado beats the Fortuner for rear-seat space for three adults, but isn’t particularly comfortable in the middle for an adult while the Prado’s generally bigger cabin helps with more space for bigger kids or even adults in the third row seat.

Prado’s luggage space height is compromised by having the third row fold into the floor, but is still handy enough with the seats folded. This of course is not a problem in the five-seat GX Prado.

PRACTICALITIES

NOTHING much is more practical than a Prado, even one straight out of the showroom given the 150-litre fuel capacity and functional 17-inch wheel and tyre spec. Even the stock S-rated Dunlop Grandtreks are reasonably robust for an OEM tyre. There’s plenty of room under the gas-strut bonnet for a second battery as well, plus the usual inner-guard engine-air intake.

And if you’re unhappy with any of this, tyres included, there’s no shortage of aftermarket