I approached the purchase of a Prairie with some trepidation, as I had assumed it to be a slow, cumbersome beast which would no doubt be not too much fun to drive. I'm glad to say I was wrong. Very wrong.
I decided to try one as I required something I could use like a van, with a decent capacity and preferably front wheel drive...the latter was desirable due to it having better traction in slippy or icy conditions.
My first drive was a real revelation. This thing was actually quite fast! Yes, the acceleration of an 1800 Prairie is very surprising. Not only this, buy it will carry on to a top speed of around 105mph and will happily cruise at 90mph, all the while returning excellent fuel economy. The single overhead camshaft, carburettored, 1809cc engine produces 90 horsepower and a very creditable 112 foot-pounds of torque. The secret of the performance lies with the low kerb weight of just 1050kg... remarkable for a vehicle this size.
The handling at first feels a little strange as the seating position is quite high, so any body roll is greatly emphasized. While there certainly is some roll, as would be expected with a tall vehicle, it is reasonably well controlled and the handling is fairly predictable. I run my Prairie with aftermarket alloy wheels with 195/65x14 tyres which I have to admit offer a huge improvement over the original 13 inch wheels. The only complaint could be aimed at the slight torque steer under acceleration and deceleration, possibly due to the drive shafts being very different lengths.
The Prairie features very large vented disc brakes up front and drums at the rear provide excellent stopping power and I have yet to press them to the point of fade, despite some very spirited driving! The pedal feel is firm yet the braking is nicely progressive.
The Prairie is remarkable comfortable for long journeys and it is even quite quiet, although it could benefit from better insulation of the cabin from the engine compartment. The dash, while not aesthetically pleasing is fairly well set out with easy to read... though it has to be said the instrumentation is somewhat minimalist. All the switch gear seems robust and are simple in operation, but the location of the radio is truly awful. It's operation requires the driver to bend forward and reach far down on the centre console... not a good design.
Whilst I am undoubtedly impressed with the Prairie even I must admit it's looks can only be described as awkward. It's tall, boxy and has slightly odd proportions. it's one of those vehicles that no amount of customising could really improve. However, all of that is more than made up for by it's practicality. The tailgate opens to reveal a very low load floor, ideal for loading up those heavy items and the lack of any centre pillar between the front doors and the rear sliding door make the access even better. This feature is unique to the first generation Prairie, I believe. All in all, while it may not be a thing of beauty, it is undoubtedly one of the most useful and dare I say, fun vehicles I have owned and I will certainly seek out another when this one reaches old age.