After years of Toyota fans having to be satisfied with the oldergeneration 3.0KZ-TE turbodiesel engine in the Land Cruiser Prado, the latest incarnation puts things right with a more modern D-4D turbodiesel engine. Or does it?
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 fi ne 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 oft en 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 catchup, 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 plastic in 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 (fi ve-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 multi-media 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 growth on the outside translates into 35mm extra cabin length and a small improvement in width, though the distance between the driver and passenger seats has grown by a generous amount. But despite this, the vehicle doesn’t feel especially roomy: some of the architecture seems to be closer than feels natural, and not all of the finishes have the tactile quality you’d expect for R637 900. The overall eff ect is slightly retro, but we don’t think that was the intenti on. Unfortunately there’s no sparkle in the cabin, and not much in the ambience to suggest this is a lifestyleorientated product. But the driving positi on of the Prado, relati ve to the exterior, feels good: you sit high up, and in charge, even if some drivers felt that the seats lacked support. They adjust electrically, and can be heated if required. A bunch of cameras assist vision all round, though they can’t help out with the blind spot created by the confluence of the wide A-pillar and large mirrors – especially on the left -hand side.
More useful is the cooler box between the seats, capable of swift ly cooling your favourite ti ns while also acti ng as a handy armrest. Instrumentation is clear and concise, if largely conventional apart from an Eco warning light encouraging you to pussy-foot around rather than go stomping on the gas. Stalk controls are comprehensive and easy to use, while satellite controls on the wheel – which features a mix of faux aluminium and wood trim – take care of the audio system and the driving computer functions. The sat-nav touch screen acts as interface for various functi ons and in some ways it all feels like the Lexus we tested last month. But that extends to the scatt ered and busy switchgear for the 4×4 controls. Some are hidden by the steering wheel and the Crawl Control is down on the centre console. This means that altering the setti ngs while driving requires moving your left hand a long way from the steering wheel. Yep, ergonomics are not the Prado’s strong suit, whether you’re talking about the off -road driving aids, climate control, or the switchgear in general – steering column stalks aside. With its 60/40 cushion split, which allows the second-row seats to slide through 135mm, the Prado’s interior can be configured for a healthy mix of space. The floor level is lowered around the third row of seats and foot space isn’t bad as a result. There’s also just enough headroom for a six-footer, but anyone much over five foot must sit with knees around the ears. Still, no one makes third row seats for real people and in this regard it is as good (or as bad) as the opposition. Pity, though, that there’s so little luggage space when the Prado’s fully laden. Even with only the front two rows in use, the luggage capacity is only middling in volume. A high sill and the side-hinged tailgate with the spare wheel on it means loading is best left to the brawnier sex.
With its modest 120 kW and 400 Nm, the Prado doesn’t really stand a chance in the performance stakes, especially when compared to the Disco’s benchmark 180/600. And with Mitsubishi recently upping the Pajero’s oilburner to 140 kW and 441 Nm, the Toyota is outgunned in any company save bakkiebased SUV wannabes. It shows in the performance numbers, with the 0- 120km/h dash taking some 19 seconds, or five seconds off the Disco’s pace. Overtaking is equally leisurely and expect to hit 100km/h some eight seconds aft er passing 60km/h, compared to less than six in the Disco. However, in normal driving it doesn’t actually feel that slow, though for those planning on towing it has to be a factor. The driver is ultimately forced to take a more leisurely approach to things and the gearbox – a five-speed unit in a marketplace increasingly populated with six and seven ratios – can also prove to be a little slow-witted, with a perceptible delay between throttle application and gear engagement. With four big cylinders, engine refinement is also, understandably, merely average. Of course, off-road it doesn’t matter much. There’s plenty of lugging power and with the appropriate ratio “pre-selected” in the manual gate, sluggish changes aren’t noticed. Toyota’s terrainspecific engine and drivetrain management system is called Multi-terrain Select, engaged by selecting the appropriate menu option from the steering wheel mounted multi-information control, and this will adjust throttle and brake responses accordingly.
As far as stopping ability goes, the Prado holds no surprises, thanks to all-wheel discs of decent dimensions, and we recorded consistent results from 100 down to zero. Economy seemed to be another strong point and the gauge suggested 11 litres per 100km, so with an astonishing 150-litre tank, visits to the pumps will be infrequent. In fact, a range of more than 1300km between refills should be attainable, especially on the open road.
With the raft of technology engaged, including KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) which effectively loosens up the anti-roll bars when low-range is selected, there’s good axle articulation, especially at the back. Here a four-link with lateral rod system, combined with coil springs and assisted by an air suspension system, does service (compared to an independent double-wishbone and coil spring set-up at the front). With the centre diff locked and the rear diff then also employed (the rear diff lock only engages in low range), the Prado will go just about anywhere.
But… the front of the Prado seemed to make contact with the undergrowth a little too easily, despite a measured approach angle of 35 degrees. Once clambering (which it does unaided thanks to Crawl Control) it was happy to get up and over anything, and the Dunlop Grandtreks seemed well up to the task, too. Unfortunately handling is compromised by a turning circle which is irritatingly large, whether you are playing in the dirt or looking for parking. Multi-terrain Select has four modes (Mud and Sand, Rock, Loose rock and Moguls), and interfaces with the TFT screen to display the road immediately ahead of the vehicle.
Comparisons are odious, but to return to the Ullrich/ Armstrong analogy: In isolation, we’d be saying that the Prado is impressive (despite maybe being unnecessarily complicated on the feature front, and not being particularly refined in the engine/gearbox department). But when you can buy one seven-seat mid-sized SUV with 120 kW/400 Nm for R640K-odd, or sacrifice a few nice-to-have features and buy another with 180 kW/600 Nm for an extra 7K (the Disco SE), which one would you buy, all other things being equal? Well… But here’s another question: if you want to drive from Cape Town to Cairo via only the remotest of areas, which one would you have? The Prado, or the Landy? In the end, it probably comes down to one word: reputation. In this department the Prado, even with “only” 400 Nm of torque, less than ideal ergonomics and controversial exterior styling, has the opposition covered.