When Toyota introduced the latest generation Land Cruiser Prado, it was impossible not to notice that it had grown in size — a lot.
It went from being a great SUV that could do the urban school run and then cross Africa to being a massive truck that could barely squeeze into shopping mall car park spaces and the kids needed a stepladder to climb into. It could still cross Africa though.
Late in 2017 Toyota updated its Prado and chose to make it even bigger still, increasing its length by 60mm to 4,840mm. Not a massive increase but when we parked it next to a first generation Prado in the office car park it was clear just how big the latest version is.
But this does mean masses of interior space, including enough room for a third row of seats in the rear or loads of luggage capacity. As SUVs go, the Prado is very spacious.
It is also rather well equipped, which you would expect from a Toyota costing nearly a million bucks. It has all the modern essentials like a touchscreen infotainment system, satellite navigation, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, heated and cooled leather seats and buttons dotted all over the place that can move seats at all sorts of angles. And a fridge in the centre console.
What it doesn’t have is a modern engine, with Toyota sticking to the old Fortuner 3.0 D-4D motor that makes lots of noise without really going anywhere in a hurry. Not surprising really given that it generates just 120kW but it’s 400Nm is useful, not just to haul this 2 435kg SUV but also because it’s a Land Cruiser and it is engineered to get off-road.
So we did, even crossing the Crocodile River after making sure it was safe by watching a farmer in a an old GWM bakkie do it first with a cage full of chickens in the load bay. So possibly not the greatest challenge and it did it with ease, although the current did its best to try to push it a little.
Our not-so-epic river crossing was in the middle of our usual off-road route which is not the most testing but does reflect what many will put their Prados through. The suspension proved a little disappointing on sections where the rain had created channels across the gravel tracks but on smoother sections all was good and it is here, and while tackling rocks and more tricky off-road obstacles, that the Prado with its old-tech engine does prove its worth.
The VX-L on test was equipped with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Response system. Stop, put it in neutral, push this dial then turn that knob and you can choose between a number of different off-road modes, including one we had to actually look up — Mogul mode. Apparently that provides better grip on more extreme rocks.
While we did not cross Africa, our off-road route showed that nothing has changed when it comes to the Prado’s character. It might have ditched its urban appeal and it is definitely less comfortable on longer gravel stretches than a Land Rover Discovery or Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it is a masterpiece of off-road engineering, designed to leave urban roads long behind in search of new adventures, new destinations and night skies that are untainted by city lights.
It has levels of ability that many owners will never discover the extent of as they enjoy looking over city hatchbacks in the daily traffic jam.
But for all its ability, all its interior space and its modern exterior design, it is still a little uninspiring when it comes to many facets of its design. Some of the interior plastics and design features have a distinctly five-year-old Chinese SUV look and feel about them. The trim options and dashboard design aren’t a patch on a product from Land Rover, BMW or Mercedes with that clear Middle East crossing the desert dunes kind of vibe going on.
None of those rivals is going to be able to drive from De Doorns to Dubai though, and while it might have cast aside some of its urban appeal it is even more capable than ever of going further, much, much further. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX-L
Engine: 2982cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 120kW at 3 400rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 1 600rpm
Transmission: five-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 11.7-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 175km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 8.5l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 226g/km (claimed)
Price: From R979 600