Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst
2551. That’s how many Land Rover Discovery IV, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Prado vehicles were sold between August 2010 and January 2011.
That’s a lot, especially considering these vehicles are not aimed at people who do their monthly grocery shopping at the Crazy R5 store. And there’s also the small matter of a supposed economic recession to consider.
In this segment the Prado is the top seller. Of the 2551 units, the Prado can write the number 1336 behind its name (52,3%).
Next in line is the Land Rover Discovery IV, with 1102 sales (43,1%). The Nissan Pathfinder follows in third, representing 113 units of the 2551 total (4,4%).
In this segment the Prado has remained supreme in the sales game for a number of years. And even though the latest incarnation of the Prado has received some stick (even from ardent Toyota fans) for its styling, ergonomics and a turbodiesel engine that on paper lags behind its rivals, the Toyota keeps on raking in the sales.
The Discovery has, ever since the Series III version was launched in 2004, put up its proverbial hand in the medium SUV segment – and has grown into a force to be reckoned with.
While one had to be a really big Land Rover fan to be able to deal with especially the older Disco II’s mechanical mood swings, the Disco III and IV have managed to charm dedicated owners of rival brands into the Land Rover fold.
Thoroughly modern, luxurious and powerful, with a good dollop of 4×4 ability thrown in for good measure, the Disco III and the IV have changed many perceptions about the brand, and about the Discovery itself.
Nissan’s Pathfinder, on the other hand, has always fought a tough sales battle with the likes of Toyota’s Fortuner, Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport and Ford’s Everest.
But recently Nissan gifted the Pathfinder with a 170 kW V6 turbodiesel engine and a seven-speed automatic gearbox – and, along with a hefty price increase over its smaller-engined diesel and V6 petrol siblings, the Pathfinder suddenly found itself smack in the middle of Discovery IV and Prado territory.
But there’s another interesting statistic we can add. This is the number of petrol versus diesel vehicles sold for each of these three models.
In the case of the Land Rover Discovery IV, the numbers tell a very one-sided story – the TDV6 model outsells its V8 petrol sibling by a landslide 764 units (933 versus 169, from August 2010 to January 2011).
The Pathfinder continues this trend with 100 turbodiesel models sold for the same period, compared to only 13 petrol versions.
But the Prado prefers to swim upstream. In fact, it completely defies market trends in this segment, which lean heavily in the direction of turbodiesel models, and the Prado V6 petrol versions outsell the 3.0D-4D derivatives (723 petrol units versus 613 diesel ones).
Mmm. Some interesting fuel for thought? and you can’t help but ponder whether Toyota got it wrong with the D-4D engine, especially considering the power and torque numbers its rivals brandish about.
But back to the shoot-out. This is a panel test designed to find out which of these SUVs is best. And to help our judges decide on a winner, we devised our most arduous test to date. Mother Nature chipped in too, with two hours of early morning rain that turned a medium grade 4×4 track into such a slippery mess that we eventually had to call it quits.
But before we get to the nitty-gritty of the actual test, some background information on the three SUVs, in alphabetical order.
Land Rover Discovery IV
The Discovery first went on sale in the UK in 1989. Designed to offer a more upmarket option to the Defender, but still maintaining rugged off-road capability, the Discovery’s underpinnings were based on the even more upmarket Range Rover. Size and price-wise, it slotted in between the Defender and Range Rover, and was initially sold only in three-door format (the five-door became available in 1990).
With an interior designed to be a “lifestyle accessory”, and with many of its parts sourced from communal part bins, the Discovery sold well in the UK. Power came from a 2,5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, or a 3,5-litre Rover V8 petrol. Over the following years the Disco I received several styling and engine upgrades.
The Series II was launched internationally in 1998, and famously boasted “720 upgrades” over the Series I. This followed the acquisition of the Land Rover brand by BMW AG in 1994. Upgraded styling, more powerful engines and a revamped interior saw the Disco II continue to sell in relatively large numbers.
By 2000, BMW AG had sold Land Rover to Ford, and in 2004 the Discovery III made its international debut. It was a world apart from its predecessors, boasting power and luxury, sleek and modern styling, an independent air-suspension system and integrated body frame construction. The engine bay and passenger compartment were built as a monocoque and mated to a ladder-frame chassis for the gearbox and suspension. It had genuine go-anywhere ability, with a rear diff lock making its Land Rover debut in the Series III, and even refinement – an unheard of quality in the I and II.
But the winds of change continued to blow strongly at Land Rover, and in 2008 the brand was sold to Indian company Tata.
With Tata’s cash behind the brand, the Series IV was launched in 2009. It was originally intended only as a mid-life upgrade of the III but was such a big improvement that it was decided to call it the Series IV.
Boasting a vast array of electronic driver and safety aids, massive power, a mega-luxurious interior, air-suspension across the range, and real off-roading abilities, the Disco IV has not only managed to change some perceptions about the brand, but Land Rover SA is now selling as many Discos as it can import.
You probably wouldn’t have guessed it, but the Pathfinder has been around longer than the Land Rover Discovery. Launched in 1986 in international markets, and originally based on Nissan Hardbody underpinnings, the original two-door Pathfinder was mounted on a ladder-frame chassis, and featured both 2WD and 4WD derivatives. This Pathfinder was never sold here.
In 1996 the second generation Pathfinder was launched, and was on sale in many parts of the world, but not in Africa.
But Nissan faced dire financial times in 1999, with massive debts slowly forcing the company’s wheels to stop turning. Then French company Renault entered into an unprecedented alliance with Nissan. Newly-appointed Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn initially caused a stir when he fired a number of top Japanese Nissan executives, but his policies soon turned the company’s financial woes into a financial fairytale.
With a new focus on product development, courtesy of Ghosn’s efforts, the current generation Pathfinder was launched internationally in 2005, and it finally landed here in 2006. This completely new model featured a third row of seats and was locally available with a 2,5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, and the 198 kW, four-litre V6 engine. It shares most its underpinnings with the Nissan Navara – although the Navara bakkie uses leaf springs instead of the Pathfinder’s independent rear suspension set-up.
Traditionally the Pathfinder has presided, more or less, in the same class of SUVs as the Toyota Fortuner. However, this is a bit of a grey area. Some punters reckon the Pathfinder falls in exactly the same class as the bakkie-based SUVs (Fortuner and Everest, for instance).
Others say the Navara was designed with the Pathfinder as base. We say Nissan did their homework really well, and managed to create a proper SUV in the Pathy – and create a bakkie that moved the comfort, space and refinement goalposts in its segment, when it was launched.
Be that as it may, the recent introduction of the new V9X turbodiesel engine in the Pathfinder and Navara ranges has wittingly or unwittingly promoted the Pathfinder to the same playground as the likes of the Prado and Discovery, considering its price tag.
Yes, the top-dog Nissan Pathfinder gets all the bells and whistles for the interior, bucket loads of power, low range gearing and trick 4×4 system. But will it be able to stand its ground in this company?
The Land Cruiser Prado has the most candles on its birthday cake. Released internationally in 1984, originally as a “light duty” Land Cruiser (LC 70 Series Light) derivative, the Prado name was assigned to it when the second generation of this “light duty” 4×4 was launched in 1990.
This second-generation LC Prado (Series 70) boasted improved handling, a more comfortable interior, and some more powerful engines, although the range kicked off with a 2,4-litre turbodiesel engine with 71 kW and 240Nm of torque.
By 1993 the next generation Prado (Series 90) was launched boasting all-new styling, a more upmarket interior, a new range-topping V6 petrol engine, independent front suspension (with milti-link independent set-up at the back), and a permanent 4WD drivetrain (with low range and a lockable centre diff).
Next followed the 120 Series, in 2002. This is still the favourite derivative of many Prado fans. It boasted sleek new styling (courtesy of Toyota’s design studio in France), a revised front suspension, a standard 180-litre fuel capacity, genuine go-anywhere abilities, and an even more upmarket interior. Power came from a four-litre V6 petrol engine, or the older-generation 3.0KZ-TE turbodiesel engine.
The J150 Series, the latest Prado, made its debut in 2009. It featured an interesting and somewhat controversial new look, lots more technology, lots more glitz and glamour for the interior, more power from an upgraded V6 petrol engine and the addition of D-4D turbodiesel power, and a 150-litre fuel tank.
Today it is the best-selling medium SUV in its class? and by a long way, too. But how will the Prado stack up against its competitors? And, perhaps more importantly, how will the D-4D version fare against the more modern and powerful V6 engines in the Landy and the Nissan?
* You didn’t really think that we were going to give it all to you on the web, did you? So, what are you waiting for? Get the April issue of Leisure Wheels now and send us your thoughts on this one!