The Prado gets a facelift

Top engineering and performance come at a cost – and not only a financial one! After test-driving the new Prado, Chris Nel finds himself admiring its technology, but questioning its complexity.

Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
Driven well, the Prado could tackle virtually any terrain. But its sheer complexity weighs against it.
Photo: Chris Nel

The new Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is one of the most technically advanced 4x4s in the world. Expertly driven, the large, comfortable seven-seater is able to take on practically anything thrown at it.

It also drives effortlessly and smoothly on the open road, as I discovered on a test drive at the vehicle’s launch in Namibia.

I covered a distance of 1 005km between Walvis Bay and Karasburg at an average speed of 100,5km/h. Fuel consumption for the journey was 9,15l/100km.

A very different animal
The original Prado had simple, clean and uncluttered lines. Through successive model ranges, it has grown in size to become quite distinct from its predecessors.

As a result, the changes to the latest model, focused partly on its bold and dramatic exterior, may not be quite to the taste of dyed-in-the-wool Prado enthusiasts.

These include a radically redesigned deeper front bumper, newly styled alloy wheels (43cm six-spoke on the TX, and 46cm 12-spoke on the VX) and redesigned and repositioned headlamp clusters.

The headlamp clusters now form a single unit, positioned higher and protected by the oversize bumper’s two-step design and sharply trimmed lower section.

Toyota says this is to minimise the effect of the front overhang on the vehicle’s off-road ability and make it less vulnerable to damage. Exactly how this works is unclear, though, as the approach angle remains unchanged at 32°.

Moving to the rear, the tail-light clusters have been redesigned with clear lens blocks inset with red accents and the Land Cruiser logo neatly integrated within the lamp casing.

Stabilising fins on the exterior mirror bases and rear combination lamps are said to increase aerodynamic stability.

These are in addition to front and rear spats that smooth airflow around the tyres and wheel housings, and a rear undercover that channels airflow behind the rear tyres to exit behind the vehicle.

The front bumper pushes the airflow away from the sides of the vehicle, while a front deflector corrects the airflow coming through the radiator grille to reduce turbulence and smooth the flow towards the rear.

A rear spoiler smoothes the airflow from the roof. All of these design features combine to give the new Prado a drag co-efficient of 0,35.

Improved suspension
The new Prado also boasts an improved version of Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), originally developed in Australia to optimise handling stability and ride comfort and afford smoother weight transfer when cornering.

It now includes larger diameter front-cylinder rods and rear-cylinder pistons, with increased input force to optimise the performance of the hydraulically controlled front and rear cylinders.

The diameter and thickness of the front stabiliser bar, the inner diameter of the front stabiliser bar bushing, the thickness of the front lower-arm stabiliser bracket and the frame KDSS bracket have all been improved.

An electronic control unit (ECU) now makes the KDSS more responsive to inputs on vehicle speed, steering angle, yaw rate, and longitudinal and lateral acceleration and deceleration. The KDSS ECU varies stabiliser bar resistance – via hydraulic control cylinders front and rear – to suit the driving conditions. At low speed, the ECU minimises stabiliser bar resistance to provide optimal wheel articulation.

In other words, KDSS optimises and balances two previously conflicting benefits – long suspension articulation for challenging off-road driving and greater on-road roll-control and handling – to actively improve off-road capability and on-road driving comfort and confidence.

The Prado VX models are also fitted with adaptive variable suspension (AVS) front and rear, as well as height-adjustable rear air suspension.

The turning circle (11,6m), approach angle (32°), departure angle (25°) and ramp-over (22°) angle all remain unchanged from the previous model.

The interior
Thanks to a redesigned dashboard, the Prado’s drive systems are easier to access and monitor. The instrument cluster includes new tachometer and speedometer dials, with Optitron in the VX.

This is a bluish-white light that illuminates gauges in such a way that they seem to float in the middle of a dark background at night, and are also easier to see in daylight.

A new audio control panel sits in the upper console above the 13cm colour monitor (new for TX) that displays multimedia content and reverse camera images on all models, as well as satellite navigation on VX models.

The forward-folding angle of the second-row seats has been increased for easier entry and exit for third-row occupants, who also have more foot space in the new Prado.

Leather seat upholstery is now standard on both the TX and VX, as is dual automatic climate control, which replaces the old manual air-conditioning system.

The front seats in all models are now power-adjustable and seat heating has been extended to the outboard second-row seats in VX models.

You can choose between a 4-litre quad-cam V6 with dual VVT-I and a 16-valve DOHC 3,0-litre turbo-diesel.

Both deliver their power through an A750F Super ECT 5-speed automatic transmission. The petrol engine develops 202kW at 5 600rpm and 381Nm of torque at 4 400rpm.

Combined-cycle fuel consumption is 11,5/100km and carbon dioxide emission is 266g/km. The diesel engine develops 120kW at 3 400rpm and 400Nm of torque between 1 600rpm and 2 800rpm.

It consumes 8,5l/100km on a combined cycle, while carbon dioxide emission is pegged at 224g/km.

The transmission is a sequential shift unit with an electronically controlled hydraulic gated shift lever for optimum control.

It can be operated in conventional automatic mode with the lever in ‘D’, or manually by using the sequential shift function.

The transmission is matched to a full-time 4WD drive system with two-speed transfer case and lockable Torsen centre differential. A dial selects high/low transfer. VX versions have a differential lock on the rear axle and CRAWL control, Toyota’s low-speed, off-road cruise-control system.

Yes, but…
If driven skilfully, with proper use of its many electronic driver aids, the Prado will be almost unstoppable. But complexity could also be its Achilles heel.

I wonder how many new owners would have the patience to wade through the 1 207-page instruction manual, which includes the Owner’s Manual (736 pages), Off-road Driving Owner’s Manual (160 pages) and Navigation System Owner’s Manual (311 pages) – despite the admonition on the cover of each: “For your safety and comfort, read carefully and keep in the vehicle.”

To paraphrase Howard Paul of Standards Australia: Never underestimate the ignorance and stupidity of the user.

What’s more, in some cases, the best result will only be obtained with some aids engaged and others disengaged. The wrong combination is sure to get the driver into trouble – especially considering that the Prado only comes with an automatic transmission, which may curtail the driver’s ability to ‘override’ an incorrect combination.

To a curmudgeon who got his driver’s licence half-a-century ago on a manual gearbox vehicle and who still believes the best control system lies in the hands, eyes and ears – and what’s in between them – this is a problem.

Alternatively, if you reckon the new Prado is for you, read the instructions!

Farmer’s Weekly was a guest of Toyota at the company’s media launch of the revamped Prado in Namibia.