Since its launch in 2009, Toyota’s current generation Land Cruiser Prado has consistently sold about 90 units a month in SA, an indication of its popularity, but it is something to behold when one considers where the model is priced relative to its rivals.
The model was given a few cosmetic and interior updates in 2013 to remain relevant among competitors, such as the Land Rover Discovery which has recently launched in its fifth incarnation. So, it comes as no surprise that the Prado has again gone under the knife for 2017 to try to keep it fresh.
Subtle cosmetic changes include new, elongated headlights replete with daytime running lights flanking a spruced-up grille.
The front valance has been jazzed up and includes new foglight housings, while the overall look is a nod towards the larger and plusher Land Cruiser 200. The side profile has essentially remained the same with a similar 18-inch alloy wheel design. The rear has updated 3D tail lights with C-shaped (for Cruiser) brake lights.
While the basic TX specification remains, there is a new flagship trim level introduced in the form of the VX-L, which takes the already comprehensive VX trim and beefs it up with extra kit.
This includes features such as a moonroof (sunroof in Toyota parlance) and several safety nets including a Pre-Crash system that warns you of your approaching speed should the vehicle ahead suddenly reduce speed.
There is Lane Keep Assist and auto high beam headlights that automatically adjust for approaching vehicles at night so as not dazzle their occupants.
Hop into the cabin, particularly the VX-L variants which we drove at the model’s launch in KwaZulu-Natal, and there’s a marked difference from the outgoing model. This includes a new drop-down fascia, replete with a rotary dial setting for the Multi Terrain Select to alter driving modes.
An enhanced surround-view camera is useful for parking and off-road driving to see where the vehicle is treading. Arguably, the latter aspect is where the vehicle truly proves its mettle, which we will get to shortly.
There are also wood trim inlays decked out in the cabin if you still classify that as luxury in your premium lexicon.
Pricing for the model starts at a competitive R821,700 for the 3.0D TX model, plateauing at R969,600 for the 3.0D VX-L.
Interestingly, Toyota Australia has slashed prices on its updated Prado models, in similar fashion to what we reported previously in the instance of the recently upgraded Fortuner and Hilux models. But SA will get no such price cuts.
Motivation still comes in two engine options — the 4.0l V6 petrol with 202kW and 381Nm and the 3.0l turbodiesel variant with 120kW and 400Nm.
The former is paired to a six-speed automatic, while the latter makes do with an antiquated five-speed auto box. For me, it is in this area that the model seems to lose competitive edge to its rivals. Both these engines have been carried over from the previous Fortuner models and it is the diesel in particular — said to account for 80% of sales — that falls short.
While Toyota SA admits that it has the latest Euro 6 2.8l turbodiesel engine available in other markets, it will not be offered in SA as it will require the engine to be calibrated for Euro 3 emission standards and this country is apparently too small a market for the company to make those adaptations.
That’s a pity as this is the one area I feel the Prado falls short of its rivals. The engine employed is decidedly underpowered for open-road use as it requires every ounce of throttle input to slingshot past long trucks.
Then there is the lack of refinement which, at this price level, seems out of character for a vehicle of this stature.
One of my biggest criticisms of the pre-facelift model was its wallowing disposition when going around bends and even that seems to have been dialled down in this model, which is a good thing. This has been done without the expense of ride quality, which remains one of the model’s fortes, particularly off the beaten track.
To put the Prado’s 215mm ground clearance to the test, we subjected the vehicle to one of the most challenging terrains in southern Africa — the torturous Sani Pass which winds up the Drakensberg into Lesotho from KwaZulu-Natal
The vehicle scaled the gruelling pass, which is strewn with rocks and has relatively high inclines, with relative ease, thanks to low-range and that generous ground clearance.
It is arguably under these conditions that the Prado’s capabilities shine through.
It’s here that you truly begin to appreciate the tried-and-tested underpinnings of the model and the appeal it has for those who prefer to explore the roads least travelled.