4x4Technical Explanations

Toyota Prado – how the offroad systems work

Toyota’s Prado has a range of offroad electronics. Here’s how they all work.

This article applies mostly to the 2016 onwards Prado 150 range and the vehicle featured is the diesel automatic Kakadu, which we’ve tested here. Since 1996 there have been three main versions of Prado – 90, 120 and now 150. Within each of those variants there have been refreshes, updates and a variation in offroad features with the top-end models such as Grande and Kakadu being fitted with features not seen on equivalent model years in the lower specs such as GX. Basically, don’t assume a given Prado has a given feature just because you’ve heard it has, or because it was available in that model year.

All Prados have a constant 4WD system, driving all four wheels all the time, unlike say Fortuner or MU-X which are rear-drive only and known as part-time or selectable 4WD.

The Prado’s system is a simple Torsen centre differential, no ‘smart’ computer attempting to vary the torque split front/rear. The centre diff is lockable both in low and high range, so you can drive in low range with it unlocked. This is useful for trailer manouvering, or turning tightly when offroad – locking the centre diff increases the turning circle diameter.

Comprehensive Car Insurance

Older Prados had a transfer case lever for selecting centre diff lock and low range; newer ones have two buttons, one for high/low range, and one for the centre diff lock. Some older models could not be put into low range without locking the centre diff, but the newer models seperate the high/low range selector and the centre diff lock system. This is now a trap as people have been caught out by selecting low range, and assuming that the centre diff locks. Always look for the yellow indicator light with a X between the two axles.

The crawl ratio is 36:1 for the 2017 automatic six-speed auto diesel. Prados now have a six-speed auto with a maximum-select system which means that when the gear you select is say 3 the car uses gears 1 to 3 inclusive, not locking into third. If you want to select second gear to pull away you can do that via a menu screen, no longer a handy button. Most older models have the same system but with 5 speeds, and had a second-start button which forced a pull away in second gear, high or low range.

The Kakadu has a rear cross-axle locker, and here’s some great news – brake traction control remains in effect when the rear locker is engaged, unlike say Fortuner or Hilux. This one feature massively improves the Prado’s offroad capability. In the case of Fortuner and Hilux most of the time you’re best of not bothering with the rear locker, so good is the traction control, because you lose traction control on the front axle when the locker is engaged. For those cars, traction control on all four wheels is better than rear locker and no traction control onthe front axle.

The Kakadu also has Toyota’s latest Crawl Control. This is a system that debuted on the LC200, and it basically drives the car forwards or backwards at one of five speeds, up or downhill. The traction control settings used are specific to Crawl Control and not available when driving the car manually. Crawl Control uses a different traction control programme to non-Crawl Control driving. It is possible to be unable to drive forwards manually, but engaging Crawl Control – usually speeds 2 to 5 – will see the car move fowards. It’s an amazing system.

Most Prados have coil suspension all round, but the Kakadu has air springs in the back which can be raised to one of three different heights. The VX and Kakadu Prados have Toyota’s KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) as debuted and used on the LC200. This system cross-links the wheels to improve articulation offroad and provides flatter cornering onroad. It is effective and worth having.

Variable height suspension only works on the back. Not much height difference, and the different firmness settings aren’t noticeable. Better to flick it and go for a simpler coil lift.

Multi-Terrain Monitor (MTM) is Toyota’s camera system for offroad work. We tested it in the LC200 and can report it’s not very useful, mainly because the cameras and screens are not high-resolution enough to be useful.

The Kakadu also has MTS is Multi-Terrain Select, Toyota’s adaptive terrain system.  Modes are Rock and Dirt, Rock, Mogul, Loose Rock and Mud/Sand.

Each of these modes remap the brake traction control, stability control, throttle sensitivity and gearshift points to optimise the vehicle for a specific terrain.

Using all these systems can be a bit confusing. Some things to note; a short press of the VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) button  turns off engine traction control, and a long press turns off VSC as well as engine traction control.

In low range, VSC is disabled by default as is engine traction control and brake traction control unless you select an MTS mode which enables brake traction control but leaves the others active. So if you have a Kakadu, then always select an MTS mode.

If you then long-press the VSC button, brake traction control is deactivated.

The pictures below show MTM in action. They were taken in a driveaway as it’s easier to see the wheel placement; when offroad it’s quite hard to work out what’s where as things like stumps and ruts don’t show up very well in the display.

Prado  150 Kakadu setup summary

Here some general guidelines for selecting different systems for different terrains:

  • Bitumen – leave everything as default. You have a good all wheel drive system, and all the features are offroad-specific.
  • Dirt roads – leave everything as default, no need to even lock the centre diff unless the going becomes slow and slippery such that the car is sliding even at low speed. In that case, lock the centre diff.
  • Sand – lock the centre diff, switch VSC off and accept brake traction control is also off. For low range work in sand  lock the centre diff, select Mud and Sand. Crawl Control is useless in sand unless you’re stuck in which case it might just work for you. Do not use it for descending dunes. The rear locker is unlikely to be of any help in sand.
  • Snow – for shallow, slippery snow use high range centre diff locked. When it gets deeper switch to low range, centre diff locked, and Mud/Snow mode. If you find the car sapping power then use Loose Rock.
  • Hills – always, always lock the centre diff. Use of the rear locker when ascending or descending will generally help. Rock or Loose Rock modes seem to work best. Also consider reducing the number of gears the car can use to avoid unwanted downshifts. Crawl Control can do better descents than any human.
  • Mud, ruts, rocks – low or high range, centre diff locked. Exactly which mode will depend on the situation but Loose Rock seems to be pretty good across the range. The rear locker will help with traction when one or more wheel is likely to be in the air, but will increase the turning circle so use it as appropriate. You also run the risk of over-torquing the rear and slipping sideways as both rear wheels lose traction at the same time. In slippery conditions taking off in second gear will help.

Use Crawl Control in any situation where you need better brake traction control than what you can get manually. This might be when you’re (apparently) stuck or unable to ascend a rutted hill.

If there’s one tip – the modern Prado has a huge range of driving features and many of these are different to older models.

In order to get the best from your vehicle you need to take the time to learn them, and try them in different situations. It could well make the difference between being able to drive a track easily, with difficulty, or not at all.

Further reading


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!