Change, they say, is as good as a holiday. While it is often unwise to question the wisdom of those wiser than ourselves, change often comes at a price.
Stepping back in time a little there once was the Toyota Land Cruiser presented in a range spanning several models, specifications and engines with the behemoth VX at the top of the pile. Although technically a Land Cruiser, the original Prado stood to one side, different enough for most people not to even realise it was family and to identify it simply as the Prado.
Now, there is the Land Cruiser 200, two models from many and the Prado with five variations. Land Cruiser is the most widely available model in the global Toyota product range – being sold in more than 190 countries worldwide.
That is not the major change. This comes in the fact the Prado is now bulked up and loses its niche slot along with the cuteness of the previously much smaller – and often – more practical offering especially for those only intending the thrill of parking lot kerb crawling.
Indeed, I parked my test Prado at the airport, deliberately choosing a spot between two other large size SUVs and really battled to open the door to get out! (Admittedly, the designers of most parking lots appear to have to share a single brain cell between them).
Parking lots aside, the new Prado is truly a formidable beast and would probably climb a vertical wall if pressed to do so.
I just think Toyota could have kept the status quo with Prado a smaller, high-end version of the Land Cruiser family.
The overall length is now 5 010 mm, width 1 885 mm, wheelbase 2 790 and height 1 880 mm and it has a GVM of 2,9 ton – so, certainly no midget.
The Prado range traditionally consisted of two grades, the mid-level TX and high-grade VX. For the first time, a new third grade, called VX-L has been added to the model line-up that combines all the features of the VX whilst adding a power-operated tilt-and-slide moon roof and comprehensive active safety assistance package to the mix.
The exterior design of the new Prado is unmistakeably Land Cruiser and maintains the core strengths of that brand in providing practicality, with headlamps and cooling openings positioned to maximise protection and wading depth, durability, with the powertrain and all functional parts well protected and capability, with a tight turning circle and generous ground clearance, essential for the most demanding off-road driving conditions.
The bonnet has been shaped to improve downward visibility at the centre and it is sandwiched by the sides of the bumper to help protect the engine bay. The corners of the lower part of the bumper have integral fog lamps and kick upwards, while the centre section is shaped like a skid plate for easier manoeuvring off-road.
The top section of the wings has been raised so that it is easier for the driver to pinpoint the vehicle’s extremities.
The front grille apertures have been made as large as possible for optimum engine cooling, while the headlamp main beams are positioned inboard to avoid damage when driving off-road.
In keeping with Land Cruiser Prado heritage, the grille itself features broad vertical bars with slit-shaped cooling openings, finished in chrome. The headlamp clusters comprise high and low beams, front turn indicators and daytime running lights, contained in a distinctive housing. VX-L models feature high brightness LED units. All models have LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) and fog lamps, in addition to automatic light control system, as standard.
Ground clearance is 215 mm, with 31-degree approach, 25-degree departure and 22-degree ramp break-over angles.
VX and VX-L derivatives ride on 18-inch wheels and tyres and it comes with an 87-litre fuel tank.
New elements at the rear include a redesigned lamp cluster (featuring two stacked C-shapes) with an LED stop light, a smaller rear garnish plate and a restyled bumper.
I was unable to join colleagues on the official launch activation where the new Prado took on Sani Pass, the mightiest of all South African mountain roads but based on Instagram and Twitter activity coming from the event, it appeared Prado turned this into a ‘doddle’.
My own off-road test route is far less scenic, but has a few good really technical sections and the advantage of repeatability in terms of comparing like vehicles against each other.
At a few Rand short of R1-million for the VX-L, this route is significantly more strenuous than the average owner is likely to choose for such a luxury vehicle – a sad reality for most SUV sales with massive ability unrealised by equally massive under use.
How good is the new Prado? Well, if the ‘Crawl’ function is activated, the clever systems in the car will analyse and assess the obstacle, deciding how much power is needed at each wheel and move the car along with a perfect combination of throttle and brake.
All that is left for the driver is to steer – and, possibly, to die of boredom.
I cannot fault the technology but it does take all the fun out of off-road driving.
Inside, he top of the centre console tower has been set lower (by 25 mm) for a sleeker appearance and better front-on visibility when driving off-road. It is fitted with a new 8-inch, full-colour multimedia screen, a flush-fitting air-conditioning control panel and the drivetrain-related instrument cluster.
The controls for driving and comfort functions are located in separate panels for ease of use, positioned behind a new, leather-trimmed gear lever. They include switches to operate new integrated heating and ventilation for the front seats.
The redesigned instrument binnacle has a four-gauge layout with precision Optitron (high-definition backlit) meters with a metallic base panel and polished dials with raised scale markings. The meters flank a 4,2-inch TFT colour multi-information display (VX and VX-L) which presents comprehensive vehicle and infotainment data, controlled using switches on the steering wheel.
The top-tier VX and VX-L models are outfitted with Satellite Navigation and an enhanced surround-view Multi Terrain Monitor camera system, which also includes Panoramic and overhead view modes.
The standard convenience specification list includes automatic dual-zone climate control, audio system, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, illuminated entry, cruise control, park distance control, keyless entry, three power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity, USB, 3rd row seating and reverse camera.
High-grade models add memory function for the driver’s seat, a 14-speaker Premium audio system with woofer, multi-information display, power tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, rain-sensing wipers and power-fold-down 3rd row seats.
The VX-L retains the 3.0 D-4D engine, offering 120 kW and 400 Nm available between 1 600 r/min and 2 800 r/min. This is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with gear ratios optimised for low-speed tractability and off-road use.
All Prado models 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 applying braking pressure to wheels individually to maximise traction. A low-range transmission with user-selectable rear and centre diff-locks and Hill Assist Control (HAC), naturally forms part of the standard ensemble.
The Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system (VX and VX-L only), operated by a centrally mounted rotary knob, allows the driver to select the correct mode depending on the ‘road’ ahead. The system has five pre-configured modes (mud & sand, loose rock, mogul, rock & dirt and rock), to tailor the vehicle’s traction control, transmission characteristics, power delivery and suspension settings to the terrain at hand. Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is included on VX and VX-L models.
VX-L grade versions of the new 2017 Prado are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense active technologies to help prevent accidents from happening, or mitigating the consequences if an impact does occur.
The package includes a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with pedestrian detection function, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) and Automatic High Beam (AHB).
Further driver support is provided in the form of a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (both VX and VX-L) and an upgraded tyre pressure warning system – with digital read out in the multi-information display.
These active safety systems complement the standard seven air bags and comprehensive brake and stability control systems and all Land Cruiser Prado models include a 5-year/90 000 kilometre service plan and 3-year/100 000 kilometre warranty.
Not particularly significant in terms of its market positioning but the VX-L will amble off from rest to reach 100 km/h in 12,1 seconds and reach a terminal velocity of 171 km/h. CO2 emissions are 224 g/km and Toyota claims an overall fuel consumption of 8,5 l/100 km.
My own experience – highway, rural and urban – came closer to 9,2 l/100 km, still an acceptable figure considering the overall mass of the vehicle.
On the road, it is hugely comfortable and, despite the size, easy to drive with the changes to the front improving vital visibility – augmented by the wide choice of exterior camera options. It is not a great fan of sudden directional changes at speed but has no really bad habits and, as mentioned, will probably scale a vertical wall if correctly cajoled.