What is this disguised 2024 Toyota Prado testing in Australia? - SUV VEHICLE

What is this disguised 2024 Toyota Prado testing in Australia?

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Toyota has confirmed it is testing the new Prado on local soil, but why continue to wrap it in camouflage?


Photos of a disguised 2024 Toyota LandCruiser Prado spotted at Melbourne airport posted on social media have sparked speculation that the brand could be working on a new powertrain for the top-selling four-wheel drive.

A Toyota Australia spokesperson has confirmed “the vehicle is here as part of regular global work by our local evaluation and development engineers, which often involves non-Australian specification”, but gave no other details.

Curiously, the Prado touching down in Melbourne also sports round headlights as seen on overseas versions of the model – with local cars fitted with square headlights – and a Toyota logo on the grille, rather than the ‘TOYOTA’ script.

To date only one market is known to be fitting its new-generation Prados with the Toyota emblem: China.

But with the new-generation Prado already revealed, and locked in for an Australian showroom debut later this year, why the secrecy?

The left-hand-drive model is also notable for having what appears to be aftermarket Bride front bucket seats, but beyond what we can see in the photos, this Prado remains a mystery.

Toyota has previously conducted local testing of the new Prado in secret – prior to the 4WD’s unveiling last August – but it is unclear why this vehicle is still wrapped in camouflage.

The new Prado is due in Australian showrooms later this year with a 150kW/500Nm 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder with 48-volt mild-hybrid technology – while overseas there is a 243kW/630Nm hybrid that pairs a 2.4-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor.

Only the diesel is confirmed for Australia, with Toyota Australia telling media the petrol-electric hybrid is “not part of our product plan” as there are currently no plans to produce the powertrain in right-hand-drive form.

However Toyota has long been a supporter of hydrogen – both in a fuel-cell to power an electric motor, or as fuel for an internal-combustion engine – selling the fuel-cell Mirai, and showing prototypes based on the HiLux ute and HiAce van, with potential plans for more.

“There are possibilities to adapt [hydrogen-fuelled engines] into those big vehicles, including LandCruiser,” Toyota hydrogen factory president Mitsumasa Yamagata told local media last year.

“This advantage of the technology can be utilised for those vehicles including [those that are used for heavy] towing and [heavy] loading.”

It is important to distinguish the difference between a hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle like the Mirai, which uses hydrogen to produce electricity to drive the wheels with water vapour being the only byproduct, and a hydrogen-powered combustion model like the HiAce, which uses an existing 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 engine fuelled by hydrogen instead of petrol.

Regardless, hydrogen refuelling has been cited as the biggest hurdle to overcome, as infrastructure suitable to deliver hydrogen to the onboard high-pressure tanks is scarce here and overseas.

Toyota has built a refuelling station at its headquarters in Melbourne’s west, as well as a mobile refuelling station to tour the country alongside the first-generation Mirai in 2016.

Hyundai also has its own hydrogen refuelling station at its Sydney head office to service the small fleet of Nexo SUVs in the country.

There is also a large disparity in performance between a petrol-powered 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6, which in the Lexus LX600 and overseas variants of the LandCruiser 300 Series makes 305kW/650Nm, and the hydrogen-fuelled version of the HiAce that is tuned to just 120kW/354Nm.

Toyota has previously partnered with Yamaha to produce a hydrogen-powered version of the 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine used in the likes of the Lexus RC F and LC500 sports cars.

Further fanning the flames of a hydrogen Prado is the model’s chief engineer, Keita Moritsu, who told Automotive News last year that options for alternative powertrains for the off-road SUV are being considered.

“Each has difficult points and merit points,” he said. “So we need to think about how to approach under the multi-pathway [approach to lowering carbon emissions Toyota has set],” which could include hydrogen, plug-in hybrid, and/or fully-electric versions.

Toyota’s global design boss and chief branding officer Simon Humphries also said at the time there are multiple options on the table for the future of Prado.

“Toyota is committed to providing mobility to everyone in the world, but not everyone is in the same situation,” he said.

“Whether it will be a [battery-electric vehicle] in the future or a [hydrogen]-powered engine or a fuel cell, who knows what is best for LandCruiser? There is lots of discussion we have to have.”

Whether this is the beginning of testing and validation of a hydrogen-powered Prado is still unclear, but Toyota looks to be playing with something it doesn’t yet want the world to know about.

Tung Nguyen

Tung Nguyen has been in the automotive journalism industry for over a decade, cutting his teeth at various publications before finding himself at Drive in 2024. With experience in news, feature, review, and advice writing, as well as video presentation skills, Tung is a do-it-all content creator. Tung’s love of cars first started as a child watching Transformers on Saturday mornings, as well as countless hours on PlayStation’s Gran Turismo, meaning his dream car is a Nissan GT-R, with a Liberty Walk widebody kit, of course.

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