Step up if you’re a Prado lover.

MY brother-in-law is now on his fourth Toyota Prado. He loves ’em. He’s looked at other cars, but has kept coming back to the Prado for the best part of 15 years now.

Nothing unusual about that you might say. Lots of people stick with the same brand, year after year. True. But this is different.

For a start, he’s still got the original ones – he won’t sell them, he just gives them to his kids to drive. And here’s the other thing: for most of the time he’s been buying and driving Toyota Prados, his day job has been selling cars. New cars – but not Toyotas.

The brand of cars he was paid to sell didn’t offer a model to compare with the Prado. Very few do.

The LandCruiser Prado has been one of Toyota’s most enduring and successful models. Not quite as big as a LandCruiser (and not quite as expensive) but just about as capable and very nearly as popular.

With its impressive off-road ability and flexible seating arrangements, including the option of seven seats, the Prado has become a favourite for families who enjoy their weekends away but don’t want to rough it during the week. But because of its smaller-than-LandCruiser size, it also works for those who live in the city.

In its latest iteration, the Prado has grown to proportions not far short of its much-vaunted big brother.

It now measures just under five metres in length and tips the scales at almost 2.4 tonnes. Yet it is more refined, more capable and better equipped than ever before.

We drove the latest Prado in its ultimate form: the top-of-the-range Kakadu model with just about every imaginable option.

Certainly it sets standards of luxury and refinement we’re not used to seeing on anything less than Toyota’s flagship LandCruiser Sahara – a vehicle costing north of $120,000.

The Kakadu still costs a cool $91,590 plus on-roads, so it’s not cheap, but it certainly packs in the kit. There’s electronic driver aids from vehicle stability control to trailer sway control, a sophisticated Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, blind spot monitors and adaptable air suspension, a pre-crash safety system and radar-guided cruise control.

Interior appointments include supple leather trim, a touch-screen navigation system with reversing camera; electrically-folding third-row seats, three-zone climate control air, a gigantic moonroof and premium audio – with a Blu-Ray player and dual screens for those in the rear.

It will, of course, go anywhere – thanks to its dual-range all-wheel-drive system; five-mode CRAWL control off-road system and multi-terrain traction control.

And it has that very attractive ability to swallow up seven people – all of them in relative comfort – when the need arises.

The Kakadu’s cockpit screams plushness and luxury, but lacks some of the design flair and cohesion which so impressed us in its sibling Kluger recently. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the next generation Prado for that – but it’s infinitely comfortable and serviceable.

The central touch-screen allows easy access to a range of cockpit functions, including satellite navigation, telephony and Bluetooth audio streaming. It’s not the most intuitive system we’ve seen and pales next to the likes of its Lexus RX cousin on that score.

But the Prado is, after all, made of sterner stuff and it’s this machine’s ability to blend luxury on-road performance with an intimidating off-road ability that underpins its market strength.

The four-litre V6 in our test machine was creamy smooth, delivered ample low-down torque and acceptably punchy acceleration for such a big thing, all through the seamless delivery of the five-speed auto. The air suspension, too, adds a pillowy ride.

It’s not the most frugal beast – around town consumption will slip well into the teens, while we averaged about 12L/100km on a weekend round trip of more than 300km.

My Prado-loving brother-in-law related one horror story from towing his caravan – when his average ended up in the high 20s. That will empty the massive 87-litre fuel tank in alarming fashion.

Still, the V6 seems to be a decidedly better choice than the Prado’s four-cylinder turbo-diesel which, when we tested the same powerplant in a HiLux recently, left us fairly nonplussed.

The five-speed auto is probably a rung or two behind the category leaders these days, but it gets the job done smoothly and decisively. The sophisticated dual-range transmission allows, among other things, the driver to select between two electronically lockable differentials as well as variable modes from rock-hopping to ploughing through deep mud and sand.

Adding to the Kakadu’s versatility is the air suspension system’s ability to increase ground clearance for off-road driving but deliver flatter, more stable handling at highway speeds. It even allows you to lower the vehicle to enable easier access – a facet that pleased my 80-something mother when she rode in the Prado’s back seat.

Those seats, incidentally, are trimmed in supple leather (a pale shade of cream in our case) that belies the serious off-road ability of this machine.

In normal city or highway driving, the Prado is impressively quiet and smooth – even more so when comfort mode is selected (there’s also a sport option) on the suspension settings.

The seats are heated in the front, while rear-seat passengers get their own airconditioning controls and there’s dedicated ventilation slots for the third-row occupants when needed.

As impressive as the Prado is, it faces some increasingly stiff competition in this segment of the market, where Nissan has made an impressive entry with its recently-relaunched Pathfinder, while VW’s Touareg and even BMW’s X5 and Benz’s ML now compete on price with the top-end Toyota.

Still, it’s fair to expect the Prado lovers to keep on keeping the faith. It’s almost a family tradition.

TOYOTA PRADO KAKADU DETAILS: Five-door, five- or seven-seat full-sized 4WD with V6 petrol or four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, five-speed automatic transmission with dual-range all-wheel-drive system.

TECH STUFF: 4-litre, 24-valve double-overhead camshaft V6 petrol engine produces 202kW@5600rpm, 381Nm@4100rpm; five-speed automatic with constant all-wheel-drive, dual-range transfer case, lockable centre Torsen limited slip differential.

FEATURES: Seven airbags, active traction control, ABS with brakeforce distribution, Bluetooth connectivity, touch-screen satellite navigation and reversing camera; Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System; 18-inch alloy wheels, power folding third-row seats, automatic headlights and wipers, blind-spot monitor, Blu-Ray rear-seat entertainment system; adaptive variable air suspension, moonroof, refrigerated coolbox.

THIRST: 11.5L/100km (combined average).

VERDICT: An Aussie icon gets the luxury touch.

BOTTOM LINE: $91,590 (plus on road costs).