Can you imagine how cyclist Jan Ullrich felt, playing second fiddle to Lance Armstrong for a decade in the Tour de France cycle race? Make no mistake, the German was a mighty fine athlete but the legendary Texan seemed to have an uncanny ability to outsmart him, come Tour Time.
Which is how Toyota must feel about its mid-range off-roader. The Prado finds itself once again benchmarked against the Discovery which, like Armstrong, is the consummate all-rounder. It’s not often that there is a man or a machine without a chink in its armour, but Lance as a cyclist and the Discovery as an SUV are hard to fault.
By now you would have figured out where this road test is heading. Toyota’s latest Prado is hard pressed to match the brilliance of the Discovery 4, and its significant price advantage (about R87 000 less than the Disco’s HSE version) may not be enough to swing things its way, despite the Prado having loads of bells and whistles at an attractive price.
The Prado’s biggest trumpcards, however, are the Toyota badge on its grille and the Land Cruiser decal on its rear door. The reputation of reliability and dependability are synonymous with those names. The Prado has, over many years, earned this reputation the hard way. And this is the problem for Landy: when it comes to “reputation”, Land Rover is still playing catch-up, no matter how brilliant the latest Disco 4 may be.
Launched late last year, the new Prado is 45mm longer, 10mm wider and 20mm lower than before. But it is hardly sleeker looking, though Toyota says the wind-cheating ability is considerably improved. A fashionably high belt-line looks modern, while the bulbous rear wheelarches and three-dimensional front and rear light clusters certainly give it an identity all of its own.
That wasn’t necessarily seen in a positive light, and in what seems to be Toyota’s design language right now, it looks like a lump of plasticine which has been hand-warmed and then plucked, tugged and squeezed into a new shape.
Features and equipment
Whatever you think of its looks, it remains pretty hardcore: ladder-frame chassis, permanent 4×4, centre and rear diff locks – the full cast.
Now it also gets a bunch of driving aids (five-speed crawl control, rebound-adjustable suspension and three firmness settings on the dampers) so there’s no doubting its intentions. The approach and departure angles have remained unchanged, despite the increased length.
The interior is designed for seven and the sliding second row allows for “walk-in” access to the third row of seats. When not in use they store under the floor and can be deployed electrically – nice, and a big improvement over the dated side-mounting of the previous version.
In the VX specification (the higher of two levels) other nice-to-have features are the cooler box between the front seat, satellite navigation (with disappointingly limited maps), comprehensive 6-CD sound system with full multimedia compatibility, three-zone climate control with temperature and fan speed controls for the rear compartment, and a “conversation” mirror which provides a wide-angle view of the passengers.
Under the bonnet is Toyota’s proven 3,0-litre oilburner, which was a clear class leader a few years ago, mated to the equally well tested five-speed auto. As far as technology goes though, these are hardly state-of-the-art anymore, and the powerplant’s 120 kW/400 Nm headline numbers look decidedly modest by modern standards (especially with the recent upgrade to the Mitsubishi Pajero).
* The proof is in the pudding, isn’t it? Get it in our September issue. Out now!