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OFF-ROAD TEST

Off-road Test: Time warp to 2003 with Toyota Land Cruiser Prado





22 August 2012


Time Warp

The year: 2003, Leisure Wheels Issue 22

The car: Toyota Land Cruiser Prado

The scenario:  The worldwide love affair with recreational 4x4s continues unabated , with new arrivals like Porsche and Volkswagen intensifying the competition- although all the major players seem agreed that significantly enhanced levels of on-road sophistication are essential to success. And so it is with the second-generation Prado, which is notably more refined and car-like than its predecessor.

 

Toyota Land Cruiser Prado: Competent all-rounder

It comes to South Africa in long wheelbase guise only, and initially only with a 3, 0 litre turbodiesel engine, although by the time you read this the first of the new 4.0-litre petrol V6’s should be heading for local showrooms. Like the Mitsubishi Pajero , which was Toyota’s design yardstick for the original Prado, aggressively styled to cater for those buyers who want to make a bold lifestyle statement. And you don’t need a tape measure to tell that it has grown in its second incarnation, moving a little closer to the flagship Land Cruiser 100 Series in overall dimensions.

Compared with its predecessor it is 80 mm longer, 55mm wider and 10 mm lower, with a wheelbase stretched a full 115mm for greater comfort and roominess. It is also around 230 kg heavier. But big as it undoubtedly is, it still takes up less road space than a 100 Series, being 40mm shorter, 65mm narrower and more than 200 kg lighter.

The cabin aura is also more luxurious than ever, Toyota’s market research indicating that existing and would-be South African customers have lofty aspirations, expecting the high levels of quality for which the marque is renowned, along with comprehensive equipment lists. Three main models are offered: the five speed manual turbodiesel in standard trim, or plusher VX automatic with either the diesel or all-new 4, 0 –litre V6 engine.

 

FEATURES AND EQUIPMENT √√√√

The standard version- the subject of this test- arrived on the scene with a R 419 800 sticker price , making it marginally more keenly priced than its predecessor , with the automatic going for R 469 800. All versions boast permanent four-wheel drive, a central self-engaging Torsen-type differential lock , electronic traction control, seating for eight , ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist , front airbags, torso-protecting sidebags and curtain shield airbags for head protection.

A significant plus, especially for those planning a major expedition is the additional 83-litre fuel tank that increases the main tank’s 97-litre capacity to a class-leading 180 litres! You also get sophisticated climate control system, with individual controls for driver and front passenger, and separate outlets and controls for rear passengers, along with an audio system that combines a radio, tape player and six-disc CD changer. A handy auto-off feature for the headlights could save the embarrassment of a flat battery.

Spend the extra 50-grand on the VX automatic and you get a host of additional goodies, among them what Toyota calls Downhill Assist Control (DAC) , pioneered by Land Rover as Hill Descent Control , as well as Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) , which reduces the tendency to roll back in hill starts. Conventional analogue dials are replaced by Optitron instrumentation, which has been praised for its clarity on Lexus models: leather upholstery is offered in place of cloth, along with electric seat adjustments : and the steering wheel adjusts for reach as well as height.

Items like the classy toolkit that conveniently folds out of a flap in the tailgate of all models can’t fail to impress, but owners concerned by city crime levels are likely to be dismayed at the glaring omission of a security blind for the cargo area. This is standard on some rival models, both the Land Rover and Pajero boasting third row seats that do not preclude a handy roller blind to hide valuables from view. That oversight apart, the Prado wants for nothing of significance , with all versions imparting a feeling of real quality and class, something that was less apparent on previous versions despite their all-round ability and reliability.

 

ACCOMMODATION √√√√√

In overall cabin size the latest Prado beats its predecessors generous packaging and must now challenge the outwardly larger Land Cruiser 100 Series , boasting abundant leg, shoulder and headroom in the first two rows of seats , and just adequate space for three children in the pews that fold down in the rear cargo area.

The driving position seems near ideal, and the cloth seats supportive in all the right places, with middle row passengers also offered generous space to stretch out in. When there are only two in the middle row, they enjoy flip-down centre armrest incorporating handy slide-out cup-holders , with the added convenience of split backrests that recline individually. Even in standard guise the Prado won unamious praise from all those travelling in it, not only because of its obvious space and comfort , but it’s perceived quality and luxury.

Admitideelly, full-sized humans wouldn’t want to spend a three-week safari in the third row seats , as there is little legroom and you sit with your knees around your ears because of the height of the floor area,. But they do add to the Toyota’s versility, especially for young children , and can be removed in a couple of minutes and stored when not needed. When not in use they fold to either side of the luggage compartment , and cause only a minimal intrusion to your rear vision. Obviously , when in use they gobble up most of the luggage space, neccistating a roofrack or trailer for holidays a with a full complement of passengers. Otherwise you enjoy a generous luggage compartment than can be extended by tumbling one or both of the middle seats forward. Heavy items can also be secured via four sturdy tie-down anchorage points.

The underseat tray found beneath the front passengers seat on some earlier Prados had sadly disappeared , but theres still plenty of stash space for oddments in the huge centre console box, glovebox, beautifully sculptured door pockets and magazine pockets in the front seat backseats. What is missing though is a secure covered place to keep your camera or briefcase, which is something Toyota needs to address urgently for those who live in high crime environments.

 

PERFORMANCE √√√√

You would be forgiven for imagining that because the Prado has grown bigger, but retained the 3, 0-litre turbodiesel, it might feel less energetic than before. But the reality is quite the contrary. Adoption of an intercooler and some fine tuning sees the power and torque soar from 92 kW at 3 600 r/min and 295 Nm at 2 400 r/min to 96 kW at an identical 3 600 r/min , and a lusty 343 Nm at just 2 000 r/min. But more important than the stastictics , is the way it feels, pulling strongly from low revs and being happy to flatten many a daunting climb without a downshift. Improved sound insulation also makes the performance seem more effortless.

At legal highway limits the vehicle is pleasingly qiet, and even at higher speeds of which it is capable, noise levels remain very acceptable, making it a much more agreeable companion on long trips. Compare the performance figures with the previous model and we find that top speed is higher, thanks to superior aerodynamics, although acceleration figures are similar, the extra power and torque offset by greater overall mass.

Check out the credentials of the equivalent Mitsubishi Pajero model, and it is clear that the Pajero accelerates harder and achieves a dramatically higher top speed. To maximise grip in any situation the Prado employs full-time four-wheel drive with a Torsen limited slip differential to spread the power between front and rear axles. And when tricky terrain demands it, a second smaller lever engages low range, electronic traction control automatically coming to the rescue when it senses a loss of grip. A 10 mm reduction in ground clearance and slightly less aggressive approach and departure angles , suggest that it is now more biased towards on-road sophistication, but it remains an accomplished performer off-road.

In low range first or second it scaled intimidating rockly climbs , rarely scraping its underpinnings and endangering great confidence in both its power and traction. Over the same off-road route the Pajero scraped often, lifting wheels in the air, and generally proved less accomplished.

 

RIDE AND HANDLING √√√√

The marketing strategists decreed that more car-like handling was desirable, so the new Prado tames body-roll with poise and fluidity its predecessor lacked, tackling the tight turns and fast sweeps with altogether greater confidence. Inevitably some comparisons will be made with the bigger Cruiser 100 Series, which feels like the larger, heavier and more uncompromising off-roader it is. If anything the new Prado is the more rounded personality, recognising that most owners will spend most of their time on tarmac , and providing a tighter turning circle with greater nimbleness and agility.

Desspite its obvious bulk it is easy to threads through tight spaces and to park, although it corners now seem less obvious , the more rounded and aerodynamic nose making it a little harder to judge. Power assisted rack and pinion steering places the Toyota accurately , with a good compromise between road feel and bump insulation. Off-road it is simple to drive, traction control intervening over rough and slippery ground to maintain momentum. Although the stastitics indicate a slight loss of ground clearance , it still clears most obstacles without fuss and shouldn’t be bothered by Botswana’s middle-mannetjies.

Stopping is now more reassuring , the ABS braking system featuring electronic assists to increase the pedal pressure in an emergency situation, and to distribute braking force to those wheels that can best use it.

 

VERDICT √√√√√

Toyota has achieved an excellent compromise between on- and off-road ability with the new classy Prado, creating a vehicle that pampers with its comfort, roominess and all-round competence. While it cannot rival the feeling of the impregneability the Land Cruiser 100 inpsires in off-tarmac situations, it compensates with nimbleness and conveniently tight turning circle on road, while exuding an undeniable aura of quality and class. The opposition has cause for concern.