• Diamond in the rough

    On the automotive high plains – where toughness, utility and, now, luxury reign supreme – there’s been one go-to vehicle for 65 years. By Ray Leathern

    Step off, curb-hopping crossovers and school-run-only SUVs. The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is back. The nameplate has existed for more than 65 years and, most impressively for the world’s most prolific automaker, to this day the Prado is its most widely available vehicle – sold today in more than 190 markets across the world. Yes, from the snow of Lapland and the desert of Persia, to the concrete-jungle commute down I-95 in America, it’s on point. So, when it is time for the annual Griswold family trek to the Lost City, with grandma and unreasonably large amounts of luggage crammed in the back, a bike rack and Venter trailer hitched up, too, the Prado won’t let you down.

    In today’s age of forensic product planning for maximum profits, and manufacturers feeling the need to fill every nook and cranny with a high-riding something-or-other, the Prado’s genesis seems pleasingly spontaneous and unpretentious. That’s because its peerless off-road capability is rooted in a tough body-on-frame construction. It’s a layout that’s cost effective and highly durable versus the unitary constructions of most rivals, and one which is now truly unique in the premium SUV sector – a bit like holding on to those original stovepipe jeans or ripped punk-rock T-shirts from your youth, only to find something similar on the shelf at H&M commanding top dollar. Of course, by its very nature, sticking to tried-and-tested principles means not altering the essence of the car, and despite an overall length increase of 60 mm to 4 840 mm to accommodate the enhanced front grille and rear bumper aesthetics, this Prado is stoically unchanged.

    Naturally, a go-anywhere family car needs the practicality to match, and nothing is more practical than seven seats. Thanks to its wide and low aperture, loading groceries and baggage for the weekend is no problem. A 620 capacity is streets ahead of more fancied competitors (the VW Touareg is 580 for example) and with a 40/20/40 seat split, power-operated from the tailgate or upfront by the driver, even with the last row of seats in place you still get an agreeable 150 stowage space. Fold all rows down and a maximum interior length of 2.4 m is available. The Prado can also tow up to 2.5 tonnes should the need arise. The rest of the interior is lovely and this is arguably where Toyota has made the greatest strides of late. On the VX-L model, leather everywhere comes standard, as does a wood-panelled fascia and steering wheel. Beyond that, there’s a genuinely comfortable heated and ventilated seat with memory function and a commanding driving position, courtesy of the bonnet and dash being slightly reshaped for improved visibility. Confident vertical lines to the dash architecture give that premium big-car feel. The controls are slightly haphazardly arranged across the dashboard, however, but if you adapt to the Japanese way of thinking, it soon starts to make sense. Prado staples remain, such as the much-loved ‘coolbox’ in the centre console, perfect for a thirst-quenching beverage after a drive across Sub-Saharan Africa; while new additions include the latest satellite navigation system, surround-view Multi Terrain Monitor cameras, 14-speaker Premium touchscreen infotainment, and electric and auto-sensing everything.

    Two engines are available, including the 4.0 V6 petrol – a favourite among 4×4 enthusiasts for its long-legged power delivery in challenging conditions – and the well-proven 3.0 D-4D turbodiesel, which is without a doubt the pick. It may not win too many Top Trumps battles, but as an everyday proposition, its ease of use and reliability is unimpeachable. Offering plenty of low- and mid-range flexibility, it’s the type of motor that comes with low expectations and yet somehow seems to over-deliver. Making 120 kW and 400 Nm, driving all four wheels through a five-speed automatic gearbox, it strains vocally under hard loads, and does down tools after 3 400 rpm, but the silky smooth transmission does a good job of glossing over the narrow torque band. Simply put, the long-lived D-4D is the only way to traverse long expanses when overlanding where fuel qualities can differ wildly (a secondary 63 fuel tank is available in case you were wondering). Toyota claims a combined fuel consumption of 8.5 /100 km and CO2 emissions are rated at about 225 g/km.

    With Toyota’s Active Traction Control system (A-TRC) actively regulating wheel-slip in any situation, the Prado’s off-roading prowess knows no bounds, but don’t underestimate its on-road cruisability either – this is a sumptuously comfortable luxury vehicle. The road-and-wind noise is well muted, and the double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension set-ups ensure a gently lulling ride. Body roll is prevalent, as you might expect from a 2.4 tonne car with 215 mm ground clearance, and the car as a whole clearly prioritises comfort over dynamics, but it flows down a road with enough composure to warrant its R1 million price tag.

    The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is one of those rare cars nowadays that absorbs everything you dare throw at it. Seven-up epic family holidays, overlanding to areas Google Maps is yet to pinpoint, bundu-bashing with your mates on the weekend, and a plush commuter to the office on Monday – it does it all. I’d own one in a heartbeat, and you can see why Toyota has no intention of ever taking it out of production.

    Engine

    2 982 cc, 4-cylinder turbodiesel

    Power

    120 kW @
    3 400 rpm,
    400 Nm @
    1 600–2 800 rpm

    Performance tested

    0–100 km/h
    11.7 sec,
    top speed
    175 km/h

    Tyres

    265/60/R18

    Economy

    8.5 /100 km (claimed)

    Transmission

    5-speed automatic

    CO2 emissions 225 g/km

    Price

    R969 600

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