I've been driving for almost 14 years. I've spent plenty of time in traffic, driven on types of different road surfaces and avoided plenty of accidents. But up until Monday, I'd never been behind the wheel of a 4WD while actually four wheel driving. Fortunately, the new Toyota Prado I was test driving did most of the hard work for me.
The guys at Toyota had set up a special four wheel drive course on a property out near Orange to showcase some of the new tech inside the new Prado. The most exciting of which isn't the iPod connectivity and controls, but the four wheel driving master called Crawl mode.
Essentially like a cruise control for four-wheel driving, Crawl mode "uses the vehicle's existing hardware, including electronic throttle, wheel speed sensors, G-sensor and ABS actuator". You switch it on, select one of the five speed settings, take your feet off the pedals and steer. While active, the car sounds like it's probably going to explode and send you on a one-way ticket to deathsville, but in fact it's incredibly effective. Using it, I could navigate both up and downhill on extremely rocky, steep terrain, at one point only having two wheels in contact with the ground. It even works in reverse, which is great for when you accidentally misjudge your turning circle on a 4WD course. And if you crap yourself with fear and slam your foot on the brake, it won't disengage Crawl mode either.
Some of the 14 different skews of Prado come with a collection of inbuilt cameras - one in the front with a 190 degree field of view; one on the back for reversing and one on the passenger side mirror pointing straight down, for those occasions you need to get millimetres from a cliff's edge. You just can't get them muddy - there's no way of cleaning it off automatically...
There are also a heap of cool technologies that have filtered down from Lexus that we've seen before in the Prado, like the automatic cruise control that'll adjust your speed based on traffic using a radar in the front of the car. That radar will also brake for you if it detects you're about to crash and you do nothing.
There are both 3-door and 5-door models, both starting at $55,990, with the top of the line Kakadu turbo-diesel auto costing $88,990. I'm hoping to take one out for a bit of a longer drive in the near future, but from the early impressions, it looks like a pretty awesome car for people who want to get off the beaten track, but are a bit daunted by the whole 4WD control thing.