Prado shows its prowess!

Prado shows its prowess!

Toyota’s new version of the Land Cruiser Prado conquers Sani Pass with consummate ease. Wynter Murdoch reports

South Africa’s Sani Pass, which winds its way across the Drakensberg to link KwaZulu Natal with Lesotho, has a formidable reputation for providing a 4x4 challenge.

Often described as the mother of all South Africa’s mountainous routes, it tends to eclipse its competitors for deeply eroded gravel, hairpin bends, bad weather and treacherously slippery slopes.

Due soon to be tarred – with preparation work already underway in the foothills – the pass was recently chosen by Toyota South Africa to provide the test bed for the launch of the company’s latest rendition of its Land Cruiser Prado.

With an off-road heritage that spans more than 65 years, the Land Cruiser line-up is perceived to be unique in its segment for its ability to combine quality, durability and reliability with off-road performance and high levels of luxury and comfort.

“Unmatched off-road abilities have earned the Land Cruiser a rock-solid reputation as one of the world’s toughest and most reliable 4x4s,” says a statement issued by Toyota. “The new Prado enhances this reputation with more modern and robust exterior styling, a more sophisticated, comfortable and higher quality interior and improvements to its user-friendliness – both on and off-road.”

That all the vehicles in the Sani Pass convoy – each equipped with the company’s popular four-cylinder, 3,0-litre D-4D engine which produces 120kW and 400Nm – conquered the route without incident bears testimony to Toyota’s faith in the Prado’s capability though, in my view, a significant improvement could be made to the derivative’s auto gearbox.

In highway driving the five-speed unit is slow to respond to prods of the accelerator, hesitating often before down- or up-shifting. Company spokesmen say gear ratios have been optimised for low-speed tractability and off-road use, so perhaps the explanation goes some way clarifying the diesel model’s real purpose.

Not that the vehicle is slow on the highway. It will eat up kilometres at a steady 120km/h with ease, leaving plenty of power in reserve. And it’s superbly comfortable and secure on the road, too, contributing to an overall feeling of well-being in the cabin.

However, perhaps a six-speed auto ’box similar to that which is fitted to a petrol-driven sibling – which is powered by a 4,0-litre, V6 unit that produces 202kW and 381Nm – would provide the diesel-driven derivative with the cog-swapping slickness it deserves.

But, back to the Prado’s off-road prowess: All derivatives in the line-up – which bear familiar TX and VX specification grade badges, complemented by a new, top of the line VX-L addition – feature Toyota’s Active Traction Control system (A-TRAC), which actively regulates wheel-slip by directing torque to the wheel with the most traction. The system is capable of braking wheels individually to maximise grip.

Low-range transmission with user-selectable rear and centre diff-locks and Hill Assist Control (HAC) is part of the standard drivetrain make-up, with a Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system – operated by a centrally mounted rotary knob – available on VX and VX-L derivatives, which also get Downhill Assist Control (DAC).

While much of the Land Cruiser’s off-road capability is rooted in its drivetrain, the vehicle’s highly durable and deformation-resistant body-on-frame construction adds considerably to its competence.

According to company spokesmen, the vehicle’s combination of strength and durability provides a high level of damage protection and is designed for easy maintenance and repairs. The body-on-frame build also efficiently isolates the cabin from suspension impacts, promoting comfort even in challenging off-road conditions.

In terms of styling, Land Cruiser models have tended to combined fashionable aesthetics with a robust image – and the new Prado conforms. Length has been increased by 60mm to 4 840mm, while new-look frontal elements such as the bonnet, grille, headlamps, bumper and wings have been shaped and placed not only for form, but to provide practical benefits that include engine bay protection and improved forward visibility.

The front grille and headlamps have been arranged in a single, powerful graphic and set higher for better off-road functionality, with vent apertures made as large as possible for optimum engine cooling. Headlamp main beams are positioned inboard to avoid damage when driving off-road.

In terms of lighting power, the TX model utilises halogen bulbs, while VX and VX-L models feature powerful LED units. All models feature LED Daytime Running Lights and fog lamps as standard equipment.

Ground clearance is 215mm, with 31-degree approach, 25-degree departure and 22-degree break-over angles. The vehicle rides on new-look alloy wheels that measure 17 inches on TX derivatives and 18 inches on VX and VX-L models.

New elements at the rear include redesigned lamp clusters that featuring two stacked C-shapes, an LED stop light, a smaller rear garnish plate and a restyled bumper. Paint colours include a new, red-hued Crimson metallic and earthy Avant-Garde Bronze metallic finish.

Inside, the Prado features a centre console stack that is 25mm lower than that of the predecessor to facilitate better front-on visibility. It is fitted with an eight-inch, full-colour multimedia screen, a flush-fitting air conditioning control panel and a drivetrain-related instrument cluster.

Controls for driving and comfort functions are located in separate panels positioned aft of the leather-trimmed gear lever. They include switches to operate new integrated heating and ventilation for the front seats.

The centre console features a silver textured finish with a metallic effect. Soft pads are provided on either side to cushion the driver and front passenger’s knees.

The redesigned Optitron instrument binnacle houses polished dials in a four-gauge layout which, on VX and VX-L derivatives, flank a 4,2-inch TFT colour multi-information display. A combination leather- and wood-trimmed steering wheel is new, similar to that used in the larger Land Cruiser 200.

The luxury and sophistication of the interior have been heightened by white illumination for the instrument panel, centre console and door-mounted switches. The new cabin lighting scheme uses LEDs for the front foot-wells, headlining, glove box and door panels.

Two interior colour schemes are available: Black and Neutral Beige. Matt-finish Walnut wood trim is paired with the Black interior, while the Beige iteration gets matte blonde wood accents. 

The TX model inherits the much favoured cool-box located in the centre console binnacle and, in keeping with the cool theme, all models are equipped with seat ventilation for driver and passenger in addition to a seat-heating function for first and second row occupants.

Top-tier VX and VX-L models are outfitted with a satellite navigation system and an enhanced surround-view camera system which includes panoramic and overhead modes. The touchscreen infotainment system incorporates a tablet-like design and easy to operate switchgear.

Standard features across range include automatic dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker audio system, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, illuminated entry, cruise control, park distance control, keyless entry, three power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, third row seating and a reverse camera.

High grade models add a memory function for the driver’s seat, a 14-speaker Premium audio system with woofer, a multi-information display, power tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, rain-sensing wipers and power-fold-down third row seats.

Additionally, VX-L grade versions feature a moon-roof and are equipped with active technologies to help prevent accidents from happening, or mitigating the consequences if an impact does occur.

The safety package includes a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with pedestrian detection function, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) and Automatic High Beam assist (AHB). The ACC system uses radar sensors in the front grille to monitor the vehicle in front, applying throttle or brake to maintain a specified following distance.

Other safety systems on both VX and VX-L derivatives include a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and an upgraded tyre pressure warning system with a digital read-out in the multi-information display.

The systems complement standard safety features such as seven airbags and a comprehensive range of brake and stability control systems – ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, VSC, Trailer Sway Control and Traction Control.

3,0D TX R821 700
4,0 V6 VX R930 000
3,0D VX R932 400
4,0 V6 VX-L R967 200
3,0D VX-L R969 600