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It doesn’t matter if you don’t fall in love with this chunky beast at first sight – the history and pedigree comes alive as you bond with it sooner than thought. Alvin Thomas tames the third-generation monster in challenging terrain.
The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado has to be one of the most stereotyped cars of all time. It became the vehicle of choice for millions of people, mostly expatriates in the Middle East, who revered it for its family-friendly cabin, reliable drivetrain and off-road capabilities – and it soon became a household name.
As a matter of fact, there’s a long-standing joke that every second Land Cruiser Prado on the road is run by a moneyed expat. My facts may be erroneous, but I’m sure readers can understand what I’m trying to say here; the Prado really is that loved by the expats in the Middle East.
It’s so popular that the Prado was even the lead car in several Indian movies shot in the GCC. Keralites (from South India) should remember the scene where superstar Mamooty walks – in slow motion (obviously) – out of his Prado to beat up a bunch of baddies. This makes the Prado the Bond car of India (no jokes!).
All of this gained the SUV its notoriety – in a good way – among the community but also overshadowed the scores of locals who have been worshipping the Land Cruiser badge and its affiliate Prado for decades.
Yes! The Prado may be considered the smaller sibling; the car you buy before you step into the original Land Cruiser, but I’ll tell you this: it is no longer shadowed by its elder brother.
This may only be the company’s fourth attempt at building the Prado, and even though there isn’t a lot to differentiate my test car from its predecessor, all the changes that have been made are quite striking.
It’s still the wide, chunky beast that it always has been. But now it looks a tad broader (albeit it actually isn’t) thanks to its chunky grille with vertically slotted chrome ornaments. That’s not all: the headlamps are now chiselled, and is protuberated on either edge to give it a bulbous look. The fascia is completed by the bumper protector that also spells out “PRADO” in embossed capital letters so that you’ll know which car is (terrifyingly) tailgating you on the highway.
All jokes aside, the side profile remains unchanged. As always, the SUV rides tall, so you get a strong plastic footstep and a ton of real estate for the windows. The A, B and C pillars are quite thin and unobtrusive compared to other SUVs in this class but the doors are heavy and have equally thick chrome strips on the sides. This should also protect your SUV’s overly-curvilinear doors from dings caused by other careless drivers.
Thoughtful addition, Toyota. Kudos!
The posterior keeps the classic stroppy tail lamps of its predecessor, but it is now enveloped in chrome. It’s easy on the eyes, though, which is good. My TX-L model came with the traditional tailgate mounted full-size spare tyre with an embellishment, and a chrome-plated exhaust.
The interior sees a lot of changes, too, beginning with the new 18cm-wide touchscreen. The new screen is easy to navigate through and extremely responsive. Other Japanese manufacturers should take note from Toyota, here.
Sadly, my tester didn’t come with navigation or pre-loaded maps. Still, the stereo system was up to the mark, and only hampered when the bass shuddered the plastic panels on the doors (characteristic of most SUVs in this class). I couldn’t find much else in line of tech-features. But, I hear the fully loaded version comes packing lane-departure warning, ventilated seats, driving modes (Sport, Normal and Eco), an upgraded infotainment and several safety systems.
Space (leg and head room) is available aplenty, especially for the first and second row passengers, but the third row can be a little cramping for adults. Still, I managed to haul myself in there as my friend took me for a spin. The large windows alleviate any sense of claustrophobia but thoughtful additions such as cup holders and a/c vents make life easier in the rear.
Also incredible is how well the interior has been put together. Surely, it is plastic galore but there wasn’t a single creak or squeak, or even a panel gap wide enough for a credit card to go through (*cough* G-Wagen *cough*). Now that’s definitely something I don’t come across every day.
The seats are extremely cushy and pleasant, especially in the fabric form that the tester was fitted with. It gripped my fabric clothes very well, and made up for the lack of bolstering on the sides. At no point during spirited cornering did I feel like I was going to be thrown away onto the far end of the cabin. On the plus side, the support from the lumbar is exceptional and the seating position upfront is commanding; I’m assuming the engineers kept that as a priority when designing the cabin.
Further snowballing the driver’s prominence are the numerous buttons that sit neatly tucked under the storage compartment on the dashboard. These take care of the differential lock, traction control, hill descent control and a thrust mode when you’re in deep trouble.
Now, it’s true: these are buttons you may never use if you own a Prado (or any SUV for that matter). But, I didn’t hesitate to head out for some wadi and dune bashing to see if the good ‘ol gal’s still got the Land Cruiser pedigree.
And dear Lord, it does.
You see, the Prado comes alive the moment it hits the sands. The 46cm alloys, wrapped around in high profile Dunlop tyres, offer tremendous grip and stability off road. This linked with the (front) double wishbone and (rear) multi-link suspension allows the Prado to achieve some truly amazing angles without rolling over.
I was able to take a 30-degree sandy slope with ease. Of course, I had to stay within the low gears and lock the differentials to conquer that hill. The 4.0-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine – producing a stingy 271hp but stout 382Nms of torque – provides enough gruff when required. The powertrain is completed by a six-speed automatic transmission sending power to all four wheels via a potent transfer box.
The torque and power is available high up in the rpm range, and is capitalised by the gearbox when you slam the pedal to the metal – especially if you find yourself stuck in sand.
Of course, it’s a very different story when you head back to the Tarmac.
The gearbox – which seems to be (rightly) tuned for efficiency – short shifts when you’re cruising along. What this means is that you’ll be hitting third or fourth gear when you’re at 30 or 40kph. Though, this can make kick downs a very feisty affair.
Slam the accelerator pedal, and the gearbox takes a good second or two to change the cogs and get the engine to crank harder. But because all the power and torque lie atop the rev range, the engine wheezes to about 6000rpm before it flexes all its muscle.
This means you’ll be hitting the 100kph mark from a standstill in about 10 seconds. The engine settles into its speed rather than sprint there; like the Land Cruiser. But it is relatively silent at average speeds with very little vibrations entering the cabin when cruising.
Meanwhile, the electric-assisted hydraulic steering is light and is a breeze to use in city driving. As is the case with most cars of today, the steering provides negligent feedback. The resistance, however, is mimicked well on sand and other rough terrain. The brakes are fabulous and offer strong stopping power.
Cornering is a mixed bag, as a fair amount of roll creeps in while taking corners past speeds of 40kph. This will not be a problem for the top-loaded VX model that comes with Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which should reduce the issue.
Set all the weaknesses aside, however, and you have a magnificent product with a great sense of character. It’s not a vehicle that you may fall in love with at first sight but is one that you bond with, share moments with your family, and spend hours in, before you finally realise that it has served you without a single hitch or complaint. The Prado is like Alfred – Batman’s (Bruce Wayne’s) reliable butler.
Little wonder that the Prado was – and still is – a sales success.