THERE ARE FEW manufacturers who know how to build a tough four-wheel drive that is also capable of smoothing the path on city roads. And Toyota is one of them. The Prado basks in the glow of the LandCruiser legend derived from cast-iron off-road credentials earned since the 1950s. The latest LandCruiser Prado melds the rough and tumble of off-road capability earned by the name with smooth, refined car- like qualities. For $459,250 at Crown Motors - as long as it's white; Motoring learns any other colours won't be delivered until the end of the year - there is a long list of standard features. Climate-control air (with front, left-right split temperature control and separate rear controls/vents), cruise control, alloy wheels, power windows, mirrors and front seats, leather and wood-trimmed interior, six-stack CD sound system, self-levelling rear suspension, glass sunroof, side steps and chrome mirrors, and height-adjustable air suspension with damper adjustment features are clearly not lacking. As for active and passive safety, the Prado assumes a strong position with dual front airbags, front-side curtain shield airbags, anti-locking brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, electronic traction control and stability control. The Prado's refinements are at the request of customers who wanted more power and comfort, says the model's chief engineer, Kunihiro Hoshi, one of the engineering brains behind the smooth Lexus LS400 saloon. 'People say the current Prado is truck-based - but we need to keep LandCruiser's off-road ability,' he says. The Prado's new four-litre V6 is a little harsh in the mid-range (much like its predecessor) but otherwise is smooth, quiet and flexible. The Prado's four-speed gated shifter is not as fluid as, say, the BMW X5 in gear changes, but the shift gate is intuitive to use if you prefer to take control with manual changes. The Prado is one of the lightest on fuel of the V6 mid-size four-wheel drive wagons; you can expect a high of 17 litres/100km in the crawl of Central. If you were to find an easy 100km/h run up to Guangzhou, it can drop to 11.5 litres/100km. The Prado's independent suspension, with coils at the front and air-spring live axle rear, rides very smoothly and silently and the vehicle steers more neutrally than the previous, understeery model. Its only downfall is that it's too soft if you really start pushing it. Its softly sprung air spring rear axle gets the vehicle dancing to the side. Nevertheless, it's hard to criticise the Prado's super-quiet interior. Taking a four-wheel drive into the bush is a daunting prospect for many buyers - more out of concern for ruining an expensive vehicle than any lack of ability. It's often the case that top-line four-wheel drives have the best all-wheel ability of the range simply because of the inclusion of the best (or at least the latest, most expensive) four-wheel drive hardware their boosted sticker prices allow. The Prado has full-time, dual range 4WD, meaning you have four-wheel drive mode for all traction conditions. With its long list of off-road aids, it gets hot and dusty with grace. Its low-range reduction gearing is acceptable and the low-speed torque is good, although gearshifts are very abrupt in low-range. The Downhill Assist Control provides crawling-speed automatic brake assist and it works well, keeping speed to a crawl on steep, slippery hills. The hill-start assist control helps with starting off on a steep climb, holding the vehicle in position, and neatly avoids a dangerous rollback. Wheel travel is very good at the back, and about on par with competitors such as Pajero at the front; the traction control has the Prado scrabbling up undulating slippery trails with the determination of a cross-country runner. The LandCruiser Prado is one of the smoothest four-wheel drives that actually has the mettle to tackle difficult off-road work. It won't take on hard territory such as Australia's Simpson Desert as its big brother the LandCruiser 100 will, and neither will it handle as well as a Porsche Cayenne on the tarmac. Yet as a comfortable city vehicle that will acquit itself off-road in the New Territories, it fits the bill. Even so, there has been talk that independent rear suspension may soon become a given on large Toyota 4X4s; Hoshi says it was not even considered for the Prado. 'Independent rear suspension is not worth the improved ride comfort it provides - there is more noise, vibration and harshness problems and it does not allow enough suspension travel off-road,' he says. Don't expect a car-like monocoque frame for the vehicle anytime soon, either. According to Hoshi, current technology does not allow enough rigidity to be built into the frame. 'The current Pajero for example, with its monocoque frame, does not meet Toyota's internal standards for rigidity.'