Colin-on-Cars: Road Review – Toyota Prado 2.8 Diesel VX-L

As a young boy I had quite an extensive collection of Dinky toys (and I wish I had kept them) that made way for an extravagant Marklin train set that threatened to banish both my parent’s car from the garage (it too, would have been worth keeping) that made way for an eclectic collection of motorcycle parts acquired with the idea of resurrecting an old Garelli; the space shared with car parts to get cousin Cyril’s Renault Dauphine up and running.

Of those Dinky toys my favourite was a battered old Land Rover and that ignited my ongoing affair with life off the road.

However, interest only turned to adoration when Toyota first introduced the Prado to South Africa. I cannot properly explain why I fell so hopelessly in love with the Prado – perhaps it was the first less than conservative design from Toyota, perhaps it was its ability in the bush.

Who knows, who cares?

The fact is the Prado has been a bucket list car for me since then and, will almost certainly remain on that list until I kick the darn thing considering the more than R1-million price tag on the latest generation – the top-of-the-range 2.8 Diesel VX-L the subject of this test.

I had not had the opportunity to park my bum in a Prado for quite some time, so the arrival of the VX-L was awaited with much anticipation along with a touch of trepidation – would it measure up to my expectation; would it still be the car I would buy instantly if I won the Lotto.

Short answer. Yes.

Like pretty much all vehicles, the Prado has grown in size with each new iteration and the current model is undeniably big, although not disproportionately so. However, there are some Sandton socialites who tend to buy vehicles like this as pose-mobiles that will need some driving pointers to get in and out of silly little shopping centre parking bays.

Not that it is a problem with high-definition reverse camera and the wealth of driving aids packaged into the Prado.

For anyone intending to put the vehicle through its paces as an on/off-road tourer, the good news is the latest range offers an additional 30 kW of power and 100 Nm of torque derived from the switch to the 2,8-litre GD-6 turbo-diesel engine, that is now mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission (previously five-speed).

Prado’s overlanding and towing credentials benefit from the higher-performance engine that now delivers a maximum of 150 kW at 3 400 r/min and 500 Nm over a wider 1 600 r/min – 2 800 r/min band.

The latest generation 2.8 GD-6 engine (as debuted in the updated Hilux) has received a raft of upgrades including a new ball-bearing turbo-charger with a larger turbine and impeller and improved engine rigidity and cooling. Better fuel economy is realised through optimised pistons and piston rings, changes to the cylinder block and head, higher fuel-injection flow rate and the adoption of high-performance materials for the exhaust manifold and cylinder-head gasket.

A newly-fitted balance shaft helps smooth out engine vibrations, improving NVH performance and contributing to an even higher degree of refinement.

The new six-speed transmission has revised torque converter lock-up mapping, to provide smooth gearshifts and a newly-added paddle-shift function. A low-range transfer case makes off-roading a cinch, while user-selectable differential locks (centre and rear) keep the wheels ‘in sync’ when navigating slippery conditions.

While those aforementioned socialites may shudder at the thought of their ‘precious’ getting all dusty, it is precisely what the Prado is designed to do and, with little effort, it makes the likes of the mighty Sani Pass and Naude’s Nek seem like slightly bumpy flat surfaces.

Despite the stronger outputs, fuel consumption improves to 7,9 litres/100 km and CO2 emissions are down to 209 g/km. Fuel capacity is 150 litres with an 87-litre main tank and 63-litre sub tank.

More strenuous work off the beaten track obviously impacted the on-road consumption, pushing it up to around 10 l/100 km in some instances.

Along with the evolved body shape and lines, the Prado remains a luxuriously appointed carriage and there is now a new-generation multimedia system that incorporates a larger 9-inch touchscreen display, enhanced voice recognition and compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Users are able to utilise mobile-phone-services such as Google Maps, Waze, Spotify, SoundCloud etc.  and an embedded satellite navigation system backs up smartphone functionality – particularly useful when out of signal range.

All variants come with automatic dual-zone climate control, 6-speaker touch audio system, electrically adjustable driver’s seat (with memory on the VX-L), illuminated entry, cruise control, park distance control, keyless entry, auto door lock, three power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity, USB, 3rd row seating and reverse camera.

Seat heating and ventilation are provided for front row occupants while second row occupants also benefit from seat heating. The refrigerated centre console helps make light work of road trips or bushveld excursions.

VX-L models gain a 14-speaker Premium audio system with woofer, multi-information display, power tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, rain-sensing wipers and power-fold-down functionality for the third-row seats along with Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), which encompasses Pre-Collision System (PCS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Blind-Spot Monitoring (BSM), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). In addition, the Automatic High Beam (AHB) function provides enhanced visibility via the LED headlamps when activated. A power-operated tilt-and-slide moonroof completes the VX-L package.

Its off-road ability lies embedded in 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. Hill Assist Control (HAC) forms part of the standard ensemble.

The Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system, 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 and sand, loose rock, mogul, rock and 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) and Crawl Control are included on VX and VX-L models.

Over and above that it has Drive Mode Select, which offers five modes; Comfort, Sport, Sport +, Normal and Eco; to adapt vehicle dynamics according to driver preference.

All Land Cruiser Prado’s have a body on frame construction with a double-wishbone front design and multi-link rear layout. The VX and VX-L versions have Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS).

KDSS employs a hydraulic system attached to the sway bars, to effectively link all four wheels reducing body roll and improving wheel articulation. In addition, there is Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) to allow adjustability of the shock absorber damping level. This is linked to the Drive Mode Select function.

All pretty on paper! So, does the Prado meet the bucket list requirement?

Indeed, it does. Those fortunate enough to own one should fully embrace its capabilities by pointing it at the wide-open spaces that make South Africa such a great country and go, see and experience all of the goodies not visible from motorways and highways.

The Prado is light and nimble, despite its size and responds quickly to driver commands whether on or off the road where, its sure-footed stance inspires confidence.

All Prado models are sold with a 9-services/90 000 km service plan – with 10 000 km service intervals. A 3-year/100 000 km warranty is also provided.

Well, back to the bucket then.

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