When based on the 70 series, the Prado was designed to be a much heavier duty alternative to the 4Runner/Surf, but a lighter duty and cheaper alternative to the Land cruiser 80 models. In 1996, the Prado broke away from the 70 series line and underwent a complete redesign, independent of any of the Land Cruiser models. The new Prado introduced an all new chassis design that used a front suspension and chassis similar to the brand new 4Runner/Surf. In fact, both models may actually be based on the exact same chassis and platform (although I’m not positive on this.) The Prado would be marketed in most countries, except the U.S. were it wasn’t sold at all, as an upscale alternative to the 4Runner/Surf.
Aiming for supremacy in all classes, Toyota developed the 90-series Prado as its final weapon against its main competitor, the Mitsubishi Pajero. In addition to the standard body, there was a wide-body version, a sporty 3-door model and a 5-door model. The 90-series Prado had a wide and low form, and looked very similar to the Mitsubishi Pajero. Even the engine had similar specs, with the choice of both petrol and diesel. The power train was full time 4x4, with a 2 speed transfer case.
The specs and the lineup of the 90-series included major changes, but the most striking change was the new - independent front suspension. A first for the Land Cruiser, but not the last, as Toyota later incorporated another IFS design into the new flagship 100 series. In April of 1997 the 3.4 petrol V-6 was added, making it more desirable to some buyers.
More luxury upgrades were added in June and July of 1997, along with styling changes and options to deliver a little better performance off-road, such as Active Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control. A newly developed diesel engine was added in response to demands for lower fuel consumption, fewer emissions, and less noise and vibration.
The 90-series Prado came in a distinctive wide-body style, a sporty 3-door version and a 5-door model in addition to the standard size body.
Its two rows of seats, all of which lay flat, made it an ideal vehicle for camping. Meanwhile, it went further in luxury styling: specs included wood-like paneling on the instrument panel, an Optitron speedometer and tachometer. The right and left sides of the instrument panel were clearly separated by the center panel. This was a car built for world markets, where the steering wheel could be moved to the right or left with a minimum exchange of parts. The headlamps on the early 3-door short model were round, but were modified to a square shape like the 4-door long model in 1999. The 2-door and 4-door body share many parts in common, with the front section being identical. The 4-door model had two variations, with either two or three rows of seats. The 2-door model had a split rear seat to accommodate different cargo configurations.
In June of 1999, fairly significant styling changes were introduced, with changes in the front grille, front bumper, door strim, combination gauge design, and the addition of multi-reflector headlamps.