Demand for a 4WD with easy-to-ride characteristics naturally grew with the enhancement of user types experienced during this particular time. Gaining momentum from these demands, the Mitsubishi Pajero began to aggressively expand its market share. That was the main reason for the introduction of the 90 series Prado.
In 1996 the 70-series underwent a makeover and emerged as the 90-series Prado, an independent series of itself. The design was heavy duty, like the 70-series Prado, however with a smaller engine and light classification it took on the image of an underpowered 4x4, and consequently domestic sales did not do as well as expected.
The 80-series was a tough competitor in the market, boasting better performance than its rival model in the class below it, the Mitsubishi Pajero. It did not really hold a candle either to the van type series, which had fully independent suspension, 3 rows of seats, driving comfort and luxury on a par with a passenger car. Even though they were in different classes by spec, the closer rival for the Mitsubishi Pajero was really the Toyota 4 Runner.
Toyota was aiming for supremacy in all classes, so it developed the 90-series Prado as its final weapon against the Mitsubishi Pajero. In addition to the standard size body there was also a wide-size body version, a sporty 3-door model as well as a 5-door model, which were all easy to distinguish from the outside. The 90-series Prado had a wide and low form, and looked amazingly similar to the Mitsubishi Pajero. Even the engine had similar specs, with two choices for the power unit, the 5VZ-FE-type gasoline engine (24-valve V6, 3,378cc, 185PS, 30.0kgm specs) and the 1KZ-TE-type diesel engine with intercooler (2,982cc, 140PS, 34.0kgm specs). The power train was a full-time 4x4, so that the lineup was clearly a front on comparison with the Mitsubishi Pajero. The Prado lineup included the KZJ90 short (diesel engine), the VZJ90 (gasoline engine), and in the long the KZJ95 (diesel engine) and the VZJ95 (gasoline engine). Like the 80-series, the long also offered a model called Active Vacation built for camping.
In this way the specs and the lineup of the 90-series Prado was a major change, but there was another secret behind its birth. Actually the 90-series Prado essentially shared the same chassis platform as the 4 Runner 185-series that had just debuted half a year before. From the time of the 70-series wagon these had shared the same type of engine, and were in a similar class. In a sense it was an inevitable response to user demand that it would take on independent suspension in the front.
This decision led to a big market success. It was featured in a television commercial, quite unusual for a 4x4, and it overtook the Mitsubishi Pajero as planned. In 1997 a new engine was added, the 3RZ-FE-type gasoline engine (DOHC (Double Over Head Camshaft) in-line 4-cylinder, 2,693cc, 150PS, 24.0kgm specs), widening the variations.
In 1999 there was a fairly significant minor change introduced, with changes in the front grille, front bumper, door trim, combination meter design, and the addition of multi-reflector headlamps. In addition an Optitron meter was added, along with other luxury upgrades. Even in the mechanisms options were added which could deliver high-performance on unpaved or muddy roads, such as Active Traction Control (TRC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), as well as the option for A/T in most grades.
In 2000 a newly developed diesel engine was introduced, the 1KD-FTV-type common rail type direct-injection engine with intercooler (DOHC in-line 4-cylinder, 2,982cc, 170PS, 35.9kgm specs). This was also a response to current demands for lower fuel consumption, cleaner gas emissions, less noise and vibration. Moreover, at this time also an engine immobilizer was added to all grades of the Land Cruiser as standard equipment, reflecting the problem of rising car thefts in Japanese society.