Not that many luxury SUVs can truly tackle a tough 4×4 trail. The Toyota Prado, however, is an exception. It allows you to hit the off-road trail in complete luxury, which is a very tempting proposition…
There was a bit of controversy when the current-generation Land Cruiser Prado was released in 2009. People didn’t like all its bulbous protrusions and generally awkward looks. Five years on, those who never warmed to the Prado’s design are unlikely to be swayed by the changes made to the face-lifted model.
The basic design from the previous version is still there, but the front of the vehicle has received a rather significant update. Most noticeably, the grille has swollen a lot, and is now very prominent. In order for this to happen, the headlamp clusters have been slimmed down and narrowed. The bumper has also been tweaked, and now features a two-step design that, according to Toyota, protects the headlights, while its sharply trimmed lower section minimises the effect of the front overhang on the vehicle’s off-road abilities.
We’ve never been particularly offended by the looks of the Prado. And, in our opinion, the new front end has improved the overall looks of the vehicle. When it comes to judging a vehicle’s looks, however, it is a very subjective matter, so let’s rather look at what’s lurking underneath all that metal.
*** Features and equipment
Engine options in the Prado remain unchanged. Buyers can choose between a three-litre D-4D oilburner that develops 120 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque, and a four-litre V6 petrol mill that generates 202 kW and 381 Nm of torque. Both are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
The D-4D oilburner is essentially the same unit found in the Hilux and Fortuner (though it produces more torque in the Prado), and in the plush Prado it can seem a tad unrefined and underpowered. The Discovery 4’s V6 SDV6, by comparison, offers 188 kW of power and 600 Nm of torque, and feels more refined. Of course, the Disco is quite a bit more expensive than the Prado, but still, a vehicle as refined and plush as the Prado demands a smoother and more powerful engine.
The four-litre V6 petrol engine, which powered the vehicle we tested, is better suited to a luxury SUV, but local buyers are far more interested in oilburners than petrol mills when it comes to luxury SUVs. An obvious reason for this is the fact that a four-litre petrol powerplant isn’t exactly frugal. Toyota claims that it can average 11,3 litres per 100km, but that will undoubtedly demand very careful driving. Realistically, you’ll be averaging significantly above that, especially if you’ll be spending a lot of time driving in town.
At least the Prado has a 150-litre fuel tank, so while it might not be frugal, you won’t have to visit the service station too often.
The new Prado also has an improved version of Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). The refined KDSS optimises handling stability and ride comfort, including smoother front/rear weight transfer during cornering.
KDSS controls the Prado’s front and rear stabiliser bars, providing optimum stability and ride comfort on road, and longer wheel stroke for optimum traction off road.
Upgrades to the Prado’s KDSS include increased front-cylinder rod diameter and rear-cylinder piston diameter. These changes have increased input force by optimising the performance of the hydraulically-controlled front and rear cylinders.
Prado VX versions have the added features of Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) front and rear, and height-adjustable rear air suspension.
As with the outgoing Prado, there is something slightly “off” about the new model’s cabin. As we mentioned during our test when the original version was launched in 2009 (issue 77, page 18), some of the architecture inside the cabin is closer than feels natural, making the interior seem cramped, despite the Prado’s size.
The finishes and overall interior design inside the cabin also conspire to make it seems somewhat old-school, but not in the cool “retro” way of the FJ Cruiser’s cabin. The Prado’s cabin just seems dated.
That said, the vehicle’s cabin is undeniably well equipped, and boasts just about every accoutrement you could ask for. Features include automatic climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and USB jack. The centre console bin is even cooled, and the overhead storage console has a wide-angle mirror that allows the driver to see the rear occupants.
New features include an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and four-way adjustable passenger seat with memory. Within the upper console, a new audio control panel has been placed above the seven-inch screen, which shows reverse camera images and satellite navigation (on VX models), as well as displaying multimedia and audio content.
The Prado VX also has a new 4.2-inch colour TFT screen between the dials on the driver’s instrument binnacle. Operating in conjunction with a switch on the steering wheel, it provides enhanced off-road driving assistance. Information regarding individual-wheel traction control, steering angle and differential lock operation can be displayed simultaneously for maximum driver assistance over challenging terrain.
*** Performance and handling
With a burly four-litre petrol mill under the bonnet, you’d expect the Prado to feel quite powerful, but it doesn’t actually feel all that eager.
When low range is engaged, and the vehicle is slowly making its way up a hill, the powerplant seems tough and potent, but during everyday driving it feels a bit lethargic, and accelerating from standstill is particularly problematic. Its performance isn’t terrible by any means, but with 202 kW of power one tap one expects more oomph.
The main issue, obviously, is that the Prado is a heavy vehicle (it has a GVM of 2900kg). Moreover, the petrol mill might generate 202 kW, but its torque figures are less impressive (381 Nm). Add a sometimes frustrating five-speed auto ’box that’s slow to respond to the equation, and the Prado simply doesn’t provide the sort of on-road experience that its competitors offer.
That said, the Prado does an admirable job of hiding its immense weight when it comes to handling. While driving the SUV on a twisty road near Hartbeespoortdam, we were impressed by the way in which it cornered. Yes, there’s some roll in the corners and you don’t get the sort of handling you’d get from a sporty SUV such as the Cayenne or Range Rover Sport, but the Prado performed well nevertheless.
This is due in part to its KDSS, which gives you good articulation off road, but improves handling and roll on the road.
**** Trail capability
Take the Prado off road, and it positively shines. For a large luxury SUV, the Land Cruiser Prado is phenomenally capable, and definitely deserves to carry the “Land Cruiser” nameplate.
It has a permanent four-wheel-drive system with a lockable Torsen centre differential, and a low-range transfer case. VX models are equipped with a rear diff lock and Crawl Control – Toyota’s low-speed off-road cruise-control system.
Like the Disco, the Prado has a 4×4 dial aimed at simplifying off-road driving and optimising vehicle systems for a 4×4 environment. Toyota calls its system Multi-Terrain Select, and it has different terrain settings such as “sand” and “rock”. A new setting has also been added for moguls (middelmannetjies).
Ground clearance is pegged at 220mm, but thanks to Toyota’s Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), the Prado VX has a height-adjustable rear air suspension.
With all that technology on board, the Prado is formidable in an off-road environment. It is one of the most capable luxury SUVs available.
The only thing that really hampers it off road is its size. Piloting such a long and wide SUV along a twisting 4×4 trail can be tricky.
Another issue – and this can’t be called a shortcoming – is that the Prado takes much of the driver involvement out of off-road driving. With the Prado’s countless off-road aids and a very well insulated cabin, the driver is left feeling oddly divorced from the 4×4 proceedings.
This can’t be called a shortcoming, since the Prado isn’t the sort of vehicle one purchases as a trail 4×4. It is a luxury SUV, and as such, it should dispense with off-road obstacles as quickly and comfortably as possible. Toyota’s SUV doesn’t disappoint in this respect.
***** Overland suitability
Thanks to its comfortable ride, loads of packing space and impressive off-road ability, the Prado is a fantastic overlander. Yes, both the 120 kW oilburner and the 202 kW petrol mill seem somewhat antiquated when compared to the refined and powerful engines powering some of its competitors, but when you’re heading deep into Africa, tried-and-trusted engines that are admired for their reliability suddenly start to look very tempting.
Indeed, it is the Prado’s combination of modern comfort, safety and off-road systems with a proven and reliable drivetrain that makes it so perfect for overland travel. On top of this, it also has a wading depth of 700mm, and with that 150-litre tank you can travel a good distance without needing to refuel, even if you’ve got that thirsty four-litre under the bonnet.
A final useful feature is the fact that it can run on 17-inch rims, so there’s no need to venture onto gravel while riding on inappropriately low-profile tyres.
Land Cruisers are as common in Africa as wildebeest are on the plains of the Serengeti. Wherever there’s a community in need of aid – and in Africa, frankly, there are a lot of those – UN-branded Land Cruiser 200s will be close at hand.
Land Cruisers, as Toyota is fond of saying, is at home in Africa, and the Land Cruiser Prado is no exception.
Not many luxury SUVs truly seem at home in Africa, but the Land Cruiser range does. So, if you’re looking for a luxury SUV that can provide some peace of mind when heading into deepest Africa, the Prado makes sense.
However, if you’ll be spending the vast majority of your time on tar, there are better options out there. If you don’t utilise the Prado’s off-road ability, you’ll be missing out on the vehicle’s biggest selling point.