For some time now, Toyota SA has offered two Land Cruiser models, namely the full-blown 100 and the slightly smaller 90, otherwise known as the Prado. As the 100 moved upmarket to tackle the Range Rover as a premium status (and priced) SUV, it left the Prado to carry the Toyota flag in the serious 4×4 world: the cultured off-roader that you would actually buy to go off-road exploring. At last year’s Paris motor show, a new Prado was unveiled. Toyota described it as offering “the ideal crossover between luxury passenger car and 4×4 leisure use”, which suggests there has been a slight shift in focus. First models to appear in what will be a gradual line-up replacement is the five-door 3,0TD in manual and auto transmission guises, the latter with a luxury – and comprehensive – VX spec level.
Maintaining separate chassis/body construction, but with an all-new design, the latest junior ‘Cruiser has increased in size over its predecessor. This, together with its still macho styling, gives it a very imposing presence. Length is up by 80 mm to 4 850 mm, width by 55 to 1 875 mm, matched by increases in the dimensions that affect vehicle dynamics: the wheelbase has been stretched by a substantial 115 to 2 790 mm, and front and rear tracks by, respectively, 70 and 65 to 1 575 mm at both ends. Height, however, has been reduced by 10 to 1 905 mm. The overall effect is a lowering of the vehicle’s centre of gravity that, combined with a stiffened chassis, is aimed at improving ride and handling – as well as NVH – to levels comparable with a monocoque construction.
The idea, then, is to be a little more car, a little less commercial. Climbing aboard, it is obvious we are talking BIG car, though. New Prado is a substantial piece of real estate, offering a fine view of the landscape. The enlarged dimensions afford acceptable accommodation for eight average-sized people, but with little luggage space for anything more than overnight bags. However, the rear (third) bench is split 50:50 and each side can be folded forward and sideways and clipped to the sidewall, or removed altogether, to provide some carrying versatility. (Folded, the seats take up 80 dm3 of space.) Typical of such layouts, there is no cargo cover to conceal goods, which is a drawback.
But no matter where you sit, a three-point seatbelt, a height-adjustable head restraint (the one for the rearmost middle seat can be stored in a zipped compartment to increase rearward vision), and some backrest angle adjustment is provided.
Upholstery is leather with perforated inserts. There are air-con vents either side of the roof above the second and third rows of seats, with temperature control (including auto mode) independent from that up front. Headroom is excellent throughout, and only legroom right at the back is limited. There are grab handles above each side window as well as on the A- and B-pillars. Drink holders are set into the rear-quarter panels and the middle seat’s fold-down centre armrest, so comfort aft is not compromised too much. Fixings for kiddie chairs are part of the middle row of seats. Oh, there is a 12-volt power socket in the rear, too.
Naturally, up front, things are a little more involved. Electric seat cushion height and backrest angle adjustment, side-to-side climate control, custom radio/cassette (with nice big buttons) plus six-CD shuttle (housed in the big lockable facia cubby), height-adjustable front seatbelts, dual drink holder in the floor console, a big centre armrest/cubby with movable pad, 12-volt power socket, illuminated vanity mirror behind both visors, dual map lights, a spectacles holder, and powered windows (all round) are all part of the kit.
The driver gets a rake- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, electric mirror adjustment (albeit hidden from view by the four-spoke wheel), electric lumbar support, cruise control, left-foot rest, remote fuel flap and bonnet releases awkwardly placed low down in the footwell, and a rheostat for the VX-only Optitron instrument lighting system.
Befitting the off-road persona, together with a digital clock there is a compass bearing readout, and a trip computer that also includes barometric pressure and altitude. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to play we go…
Tipping the scales at well over two tons, the Prado is obviously no lightweight and the three-litre turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine has to work hard to deliver any sort of performance. But the get-up-and-go can at best be described only as leisurely: 0-100 km/h in 15,65 seconds. This is not a vehicle to go places in a hurry…
It follows that fuel consumption is not a highlight, either, with CAR’s fuel index working out at 14,82 litres/100 km. But at least the big two-tank capacity of 180 litres gives a range 1 200 km or so.
Toyota’s now-familiar 1KZ-TE four-cylinder motor delivers 96 kW at 3 600 r/min and 343 N.m at 2 000, and is linked to a four-speed automatic with some bonus driving aids. Together with the permanent four-wheel drive with high and low range and centre diff lock, A-TRC active traction control and VSC vehicle stability control are standard. Exclusive to the VX auto are DAC (downhill assist control), which limits speed during descents, and HAC (hill-start assist control), which prevents rolling backwards when pulling away on inclines. And to avoid wheelspin when moving off in slippery conditions, there is a first gear override, too.
Plenty of sophistication in the drivetrain, then, and initial impressions on the road are of a smooth, comfortable operator. The conventional autobox’s shifts are barely perceptible, and ride quality is generally excellent, with none of the shimmy often found with big SUVs. Corrugations will set things jiggling, but the suspension – wishbones and coil springs up front, solid axle located with multi-links at the back – copes well with most surface conditions. Handling is predictably all-wheel drive “understeery”, a condition that is countered by easing off the electronic throttle control. Steering is light in feel with just over three turns from lock to lock. Subjectively, at least, we had to concentrate on steering a little more than usual to keep the big 4×4 on course. A turning circle of 11,4 metres sounds big, but none of our test team complained of the Prado being cumbersome. There is nothing shy about the wheels: impressive six-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 265/65 M+S tyres.
Off-road, the gizmos merely add to this capable, go-anywhere vehicle, so the swing towards luxury car-like packaging has not detracted from its all-terrain capability. A very short front overhang and a not excessive rear overhang offer excellent approach and departure angles, the 230 mm ground clearance is ample, and both maximum inclination and slant angles are an impressive 42 degrees. The Prado can wade through water 700 mm deep.
Ventilated discs all round provide the stopping power, with the ABS braking system enhanced by EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and BAS (mechanical brake assist). The set-up is certainly effective.
The tail-door hinges on the driver’s side, and has the spare wheel – complete with centre cover and lock – mounted towards the right on the outside. (The tool kit is housed in the door panelling.) It hardly hinders rearward vision, but the wiper arc is biased towards the nearside, so in grimy conditions the view through the back is limited. Loading height to the floor is 770 mm.
Key-operated central locking is standard, along with two-stage front airbags, front-seat side airbags, and full-length side curtain airbags. Front seatbelts have two-stage pre-tensioners and force limiters.