By Dick Eussen
I was in Darwin last July and AJ had taken delivery of a new 4WD, a Toyota Prado Kakadu. He told me to drive it — hard. Even though it was late in the month, the bush tracks were still wet and boggy, the result of late unseasonable rains, so taking the Prado too far off the beaten track would be risky, or so I thought.
The Comfort Zone There are plenty of interior and exterior comforts in this wagon that border on pure luxury, even though this is a true 4WD. The Kakadu is fitted with an Electro Multi-Vision (EMV) monitor screen, which receives signals from four cameras. I quickly discovered that each time I got too close to something, either parking or driving about in the bush, an audible alarm, enforced by the dash monitor, would ask me to check about. The Rear View Camera provides a wide visible view behind the 4WD when reverse gear is engaged, making it very easy to see someone, or an obtruction, behind the vehicle on the EMV screen. The EMV monitor does double duty as the GPS screen when engaged as such.
I used under 70 litres of diesel, even though I was sitting for most of the journey on the 130kph speed limit allowed on the NT roads. That is amazing fuel economy.
The seats, particularly the driver’s seat, are very comfortable and fully adjustable for all-sized people, bad backs and the best driving position. There’s no need to spend extra here for an after-market seat. Plus, you can program two default settings for configuring the driver’s seat to suit you and someone else personally. If someone has been driving the car and has adjusted the seat back, forward, up, down or inclined, you simply press 1 or 2 — whichever is your programmed setting — and the seat automatically adjusts to your personal default. How good is that?
The dash and instrument lights, warning lights, entertainment unit, A/C, blue-tooth and driving control buttons are easily accessed and observed when driving. The instrument lights are well lit at night (but can be dimmed too), which is important on the open road at high speed. The large headlights are bright enough to suntan the bitumen and fantastic for night travel.
I drove the Prado down to Katherine to see my daughter and her husband, a round trip of some 560km. Apart from road-works slow-downs, I made it in well under three hours and did the return journey in about the same time. I used under 70 litres of diesel, even though I was sitting for most of the journey on the 130kph speed limit allowed on the NT roads. That is amazing fuel economy. Surprised as I am to write this, the Prado seemingly hugged the road like a sports car, and there was little or no wandering, even though a heavy south-easterly was trying to blow traffic off the road.
Once on the road, it did not take me long to realise that the Prado Kakadu was the nicest and most comfortable 4WD I have had the pleasure of driving, and it was absolutely fantastic in both city traffic and on the open road. The 3.0L turbo-charged diesel engine, backed by five-speed automatic gearing, responding instantly on demand.
Heading Bush NAFA’s esteemed Senior Art Director, Nerida Atkins, and I went bird watching at Fogg Dam, and later at the little-visited Djukbinj National Park. It is situated on the east side of the Adelaide River, north of the Arnhem Highway. It’s a great little park for birds or a weekend camping get-away, but it actually has few visitors. The fishing is not bad and there are some land-based fishing spots on a couple of running creeks, pools and billabongs scattered throughout the park. Saratoga, tarpon, sooty grunter and barra are the most common catches.
The main track into the park is west from the Corroboree Park Tavern and it ends at a fence from where you can drive along the north boundary to various sections of the park. There are also a number of tracks ranging out from the main artery and ending on wetlands and patches of amazing proper monsoon rainforest, rich in both flora and fauna species.
Unfortunately, the tracks that we drove on were still wet and damp in many sections and we were unable to get off them too far to see other features of this amazing floodplain-and-monsoon woodlands park. Even turning about was dicey in some spots due to the damp boggy ground, but the Prado handled the conditions well and, had I been driving a much heavier Landcruiser, breaking through the top crust would have been a certainty.
But even this brief excursion demonstrated that the Prado is no push over and it did a very creditable job on the park’s rutted and washed-out bush tracks when asked to shed its city image on demand. It handled well and positive and the traction control was wonderfully efficient.
De Ja Vue While the July experiences in the Prado Kakadu were enlightening, I looked forward to doing some more driving with it, especially on bush tracks where I believed this vehicle would shine. My chance came when I was back in the Top End and Arnhemland in October, delighted by the green change that had taken place. Not since 1983 have I seen the Top End looking so lush as it is usually dry and austere under the onslaught of wind and sun at this time of the year, but 2010 has been unusual with rain experienced all over Oz and an early start to the build-up was very much apparent in the Top End; something akin to the old days — before the climate change experts stuffed it up...
AJ was away chasing some line-busting goldfish somewhere in Argentina and I had the use of his house and Prado, and dogs and chook feeding duties. In between, I managed a trip to the Arnhemland Barramundi Nature Lodge for a few days and, upon return to Darwin, there were more fishing days on Corroboree and Hardies Billabongs. It was good fishing in Arnhemland with 50-60 barra caught per boat per day. While it is hot in October, some of the best fishing is during this time of the year.
I took the Prado Kakadu for a few bush-bashing drives, mostly on tracks that were partly covered by water from overnight storms, washouts, rutted wheel tracks and once through a 50cm deep fresh in a local creek when an afternoon storm bashed me. The Prado had just been serviced by Darwin’s Bridge Toyota after its first 10,000km, and taking it bush seemed the right thing to do.
One of the trips was to the boat ramp on Bynoe Harbour, via the Mandorah Road. It had been years since I was over there and, with a number of tracks veering off the dirt road, it was a fun place to explore as well. As always, especially with someone’s vehicle, I took it easy traversing the damage the storms had done as I followed tracks under the tall monsoon woodlands that looked a picture.
Surprised as I am to write this, the Prado seemingly hugged the road like a sports car, and there was little or no wandering, even though a heavy south-easterly was trying to blow traffic off the road.
Bush driving in the Prado Kakadu is fun with its full-time 4WD and automatic gearing. This 4WD makes up its own mind when a gear change is needed. The big brakes slow it down in a manner that is unmatched by other vehicles I have driven. Bush safety and ability are big in this 4WD. It has Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control (VCS) and Traction Control (TRC). When both combine, it provides tremendous engine output coupled to brake force when the vehicle is under or over steered, skidding, or cornering in slippery gravel. This was very much in evidence when I struck a boggy patch on a sharp corner, but I need not to have worried as all systems went to work and united in an amazing effort, helped by myself of course, to get through the mucky red mire. All I thought about was the work later when washing the 4WD…
On another track, an Antilopine wallaroo suddenly bounded out from low scrub in front of me. I hit the skids hard, the ABS system springing into operation. I instinctively reached down for the gear lever to help slow me down, before remembering the Prado was automatic. It was close, a roo-bar tail hit, and I cursed the marsupial as it bounded into the forest. The Prado Active Braking with Intelligence (AB-i) generates extra braking or stopping force if the brake pedal is hit hard and it certainly performed as designed in this case. It also saved the wallaroo’s life. In fact, the AB-i braking system is a whole new ball game as it incorporates the Anti-skid Braking System (ABS), with Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) that, when combined, provide an awesome emergency stopping force. And in case of a worst-case scenario, the Prado is equipped with seven SRS airbags that shield driver and passengers if all else fails during a braking emergency, or car accident.
Another thing which became evident as I took off to explore yet another track to nowhere is the torque sensing LSD in the centre differential which controls the distribution of power between the front and the rear wheels, and bestows very-much-improved traction and control during acceleration and turning. The Prado is also fitted with Multi-Terrain Select (MTS), but unfortunately I was unable to find a steep-enough hill slope to test this worthwhile feature. MTS is a very useful feature when climbing over rocks, deep washouts, mounds and for better control in heavy sand when driving with deflated tyres. The MTS control button is really handy, being located on the steering wheel.
Extras The bush trip into the region between Darwin and Bynoe Harbours was interesting as it gave me a true insight into the bush capabilities of the Prado on tracks that ranged from mud to corrugations. This is a very comfortable 4WD to cruise about bush tracks with but, to be very truthful, best of all was the cool, really cool, air-conditioning system. It was hot with extreme humidity in the monsoon woodlands and, after several short walks taking photos of flora and fauna, it was just fantastic to get back into the cabin and let the cooling breezes bring me back to normal body temperature, along with a cold drink from the little 6-bottle fridge cooler sited between the front seats.
On the dirt proper, the vehicle handled well and gave an excellent ride, thanks to its electronically-modulated Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDDS), which reduces roll and tilt in tight corners and cushions the bumps from small washouts and corrugations. Its Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) has rear-controlled air-suspension for a comfortable ride tailored to suit the driving conditions encountered on roads and tracks, or when towing. It also helps in maintaining the optimal safety position when cornering and for better cruising stability on dirt roads and tracks.
The Kakadu is fitted with Crawl Control (CC) that is useful for taking it really easy over rocks or driving up or down steep inclines where a touch too much acceleration from a heavy foot can get you into all sorts of trouble; but with CC doing the job, it only uses enough engine braking revs to safely control the forward movement of the vehicle.
Summary This is no heavy-duty, bush-bashing, go-anywhere Toyota Landcruiser but, due to its weight and size, it may even get you to places that the bigger 4WD won’t. And if you are in the market for a nippy 4WD wagon to replace both the car and the big 4WD, the Prado is for you. Mum can take the kids to school, go shopping during the week and, on the weekend, you hitch up the camping trailer or tinnie and head bush with the kids watching a DVD movie or playing a video game on the rear seat entertainment monitor, while you and mum relax and watch the road ahead. Add to this the flush-to-floor, third-row rear seats that erect hydraulically by the push of a button, then the Prado becomes a 7-seater in a few seconds. The Prado Kakadu is a sort of grow-on-you car, a beautifully-functional unit when it is applied to its dual role of an all-purpose town and country vehicle, one that it truly fulfils.