Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 2002-2009 used car review

The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is a large SUV with seating for eight and impressive off-road capabilities.

Richard Edwards
Richard Edwards
Expert Reviewer | Auto Media Group

The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is a large SUV with seating for eight and impressive off-road capabilities. It is not great to drive on the road and is thirsty for fuel.

Exterior , 3 out of 5 Drive , 3 out of 5 Safety , 4 out of 5 Value , 2.5 out of 5 Interior , 4 out of 5

Overall score , 3.3 out of 5

The good
  • Seating for eight and huge luggage capacity possible with fewer passengers
  • Excellent off-road ability
  • Tight turning circle makes it manageable for its size
The not-so-good
  • Hard use can cause cracks in the wheel arches and rear door
  • Petrol version is heavy on fuel

Originally spun off from the hard-working 70-Series Land Cruiser, the Prado was developed to be smaller and more passenger-friendly. Underneath, it retained a durable, off-road capable separate chassis. While a short-wheel base three-door model is available, the car sold only as a long-wheel base five-door in New Zealand. In some markets, this generation Prado was also sold as a Lexus.

Inside and out

The Prado has a big, boxy design. At the front is a chrome waterfall grille. The nose and tail are short to improve off-road performance. VX models have side steps, which look good but are also very practical – helping shorter passengers get in. The rear has tail lights set high for visibility and the full-size spare wheel is hidden under a plastic cover. Having that weight there makes the door a little heavy and cumbersome to open.

Most SUVs will seat only seven people. The Prado stands out in the market by having seats for eight. The front row seats two and three people can sit in each of the two rows behind. Three adults will be comfortable in the second row but if you want to fit three in the third row, they'll need to be small children.

The front row passengers have plenty of space to enjoy. In our VX Limited review vehicle, the front seats are also heated with electrical adjustment, including for lumbar support.

The seating is also very flexible. The third row folds up and to the side and the second row will tumble-fold forward in a 60/40 split. With all three rows in place, there is very little boot space – enough for two to three small cases. If you fold the third row forward the boot is massive, enough to carry five or six large suitcases. Two to three mountain bikes will easily fit.

The interior styling is straightforward and is made of quality materials, including wood, metallic plastic and leather. The gauges are specially lit and sit on a black panel. We found it them a little difficult to see in strong sunlight. The stereo can handle up to six CDs. The centre console features a pair of transmission shifters for the all-wheel drive system.

A handy feature on the VX models is a refrigerator between the front seats. This can be switched on and off and is big enough to handle six cans of drink or a few packed lunches. When it’s on, its fans make an audible whirring sound some might find annoying.

On the road

Although the Prado is leather-lined and comfortable, underneath it is a workhorse. Like commercial vehicles, the base of the car is a durable 'ladder' chassis to which the body is bolted. This makes it excellent off the road and for towing. 

Unfortunately, this compromises its ability on the road, with the downside of making it heavy, and less competent on the road. The steering is vague and while the suspension is firm, there is lots of body roll. Big tyres, however, make grip very good, as does the full-time all-wheel drive system.

The brakes are firm and very effective. It is a very capable vehicle off the road and in slippery conditions. Features for off-road driving include a limited-slip rear differential, low-range gearbox and hill descent control for managing speed downhill. 

It also has electronic stability control which can act off the road to reduce wheel slip. A wide range of off-road accessories are available – more aggressive tyres, raised suspension, body protection and snorkels for wading in water.

New Zealand-new Prados are fitted with either a 3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine or a 4-litre, six-cylinder petrol unit. The diesel was updated in 2006 to a more powerful and efficient engine. Japanese import versions are also offered with 2.7-litre four-cylinder and 3.4-litre six-cylinder engines. 

Our preference for local conditions and efficiency is the diesel. However, the 4-litre engine in our review vehicle offers the most power. Producing 179kW and 343Nm it makes the Prado perform well and even with a load on board it will get away from the lights quickly and overtake well. The five-speed automatic is very smooth.

Visibility forward from the Prado is good.

To the rear, it is restricted by the third-row seating, whether it’s up or down. A reversing camera is not standard and we recommend adding one. Fitting a camera yourself will cost from $50 or a professional will do it from $200. The turning circle is impressively tight at 11.6 metres.

The Prado’s tow rating is excellent and only bettered by commercial utes. It can handle 750kg (unbraked), a medium-sized garden trailer, and 2,500kg (braked), a medium to large trailer boat.


RightCar lists the Prado (2003-2011) as having a four-star ANCAP safety rating. Standard safety specifications are high and include front, side and curtain airbags and seat belt reminders. The New Zealand-new models feature standard electronic stability control and electronic brake-force distribution. This is an option on used import vehicles. To identify if it is optioned on the car, turn on the ignition and look for a ‘VDC’ light to switch on.

ISOFIX child seat mounts can be found in the second-row window positions. Impressively, all eight seats feature full shoulder-style seat belts, which offer more protection than the lap-only type.


This generation Prado has suffered from some issues related to its build and reliability, although most problems are relatively minor. They shouldn’t necessarily put you off buying one of these fairly solid SUVs.

Reports have surfaced of automatic transmission failure in early examples, usually when vehicles have been subjected to regular use towing or carrying heavy loads. This model runs a transmission cooler within the radiator. 

Potential issues arise if the cooler unit cracks as it will allow engine coolant to enter the automatic transmission fluid. If the Prado you are looking at shows signs of off-road use, check the transmission fluid carefully for evidence of coolant contamination.

Refurbishing it or replacing it with a used unit will cost from $2,500.

The inner front mudguard liner panels are prone to cracking. This is caused by the vehicle being used in extreme off-road conditions or for towing heavy loads. It's not an issue in itself but more evidence of how hard the vehicle was used.

It is also common to see cracking across the dashboard, as we saw in our review vehicle. There is no permanent repair option available – your choices are to have the whole dash fascia replaced, costing from $2,000 or simply accept it the way it is – the most common solution.

On the long-wheelbase models, the rear door can crack around the skin seams on the edge of the door itself, along the hinged side. This is caused by stress from opening and closing of the heavy door and the weight of the spare wheel unit if fitted. Toyota repaired this on some early cars. Check carefully for it when buying – replacement doors are hard to find.

Cost of ownership

Toyota recommends servicing the Prado every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, with services costing around $280 each for petrol models. Each service for the diesel is slightly more expensive at $315.

The petrol-powered Prado likes to drink a lot of fuel. RightCar estimates that over 14,000km of driving a year, it will cost $3,670 to feed. Reports indicate loading a Prado heavily or driving hard will make that figure rise quickly. 

New Zealand-new models have a twin tank setup capable of taking up to 180 litres of fuel, costing $360 to fill at $2 per litre. This should take you 1330km before the fuel light comes on. Japanese import models have a comparatively small 87-litre tank.

A vehicle licence for the Prado costs $76.20 a year, with the car in the cheapest ACC levy group.

Trade Me Insurance estimates insurance for a Prado valued at $15,640 will cost $51.21* per month, the same as a Nissan Pathfinder of the same year.

Buyers' guide

This generation of Prado is available on Trade Me priced from $13,500 to $39,000 for later and lower mileage vehicles. New Zealand-new vehicles fetch higher prices than used import versions. Prados need to have travelled more than 250,000km before their value comes down.

Japanese models:

  • RX – Short wheelbase model with fabric interior, leather steering wheel, wood trim, climate control air-conditioning, roof rails and alloy wheels.
  • TX – Same as the RX but in long-wheelbase form.
  • TZ – Adds driving lights, side steps, leather trim, electronic stability control, three-zone climate control, parking sensors and reversing camera.
  • TZ G – Adds a body kit and premium interior trim.

New Zealand-new models:

  • RV – Features steel wheels, CD player stereo, fabric interior, climate control air-conditioning, eight seats.
  • VX – Adds alloy wheels, side steps, three air-conditioning zones, refrigerator, electric front seats, leather steering wheel, electronic stability control and roof rails.
  • VX Limited – Adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, additional driver's seat adjustment and wood trim.


  • 2002 Launched in Japan
  • 2003 Launched in New Zealand
  • 2004 3.4-litre six-cylinder engine dropped in Japan. Replaced by 2.7-litre four-cylinder and 4-litre six-cylinder versions
  • 2006 New generation diesel engine launched, offering more power and efficiency
  • 2009 Replaced by new model


Review vehicle

2003 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado VX


$20,000 to $32,000 for models which have travelled 70,000 to 120,000km


4-litre six-cylinder petrol 179kW/343Nm (claimed)


Five-speed automatic, four-wheel drive

Safety rating

Four-star ANCAP


15,000km or twelve months

Spare wheel

Full size wheel

Fuel economy

13.1-litres per 100km (claimed)

Fuel type








Towing capacity

750kg (unbraked), 2500kg (braked)

Turning circle


This review covers the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado for model years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Review vehicle supplied by Turners Cars.

*Our insurance estimates are based on a 35-year-old male with no accidents in the last two years, garaging the car in Mission Bay, Auckland. The car is not used for business and will cover 10,000km to 20,000km a year. We estimate with no option add-ons and $500 excess. Customise your estimate at Trade Me Insurance.

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