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Drive Review: New Toyota Prado actually quite old

New car. Old engine. It’s not ordinarily a formula for success, but with Toyota – the improbable is usual possible. And when it concerns the Land Cruiser range, Toyota has never got it wrong.

The facelifted Prado does not look that much different: a dual-concave bonnet, reshaped lights, an odd five-bar grille and redesigned alloys. Certainly not an attractive car, but its chief rival (Land Rover Discovery) has regressed so terribly in terms of design, that Prado is not required to be a design icon.

Behind the newfangled grille is where the real story of ‘new’ Prado reveals itself. The 3-litre turbodiesel is a carryover from the previous-generation Hilux. It’s essentially a decade old and at 120kW/400Nm, laughably underpowered compared to rivals. Not that the transmission is any better. Really? A five-speed auto, in 2017?

You’d think Toyota would be on a path to failure with this powertrain, but new Prado will be every bit as successful as all junior Land Cruisers have ever been. Why? Because it can go where others can’t. Discovery has better engines and the on/off road adaptability of air-suspension, but Prado’s dated engine can compress African diesel. Dirty fuel is a fact of travel which limits Land Rover’s contemporary products to not being suited for travel beyond South African borders.

Prado’s also got a body-on-frame configuration. Yes, it wallows and leans through sweeps at speed, but off-road, in technical terrain, the virtues of a ladder frame make it unbreakable. At 215mm, ground clearance isn’t massive, but excellent traction  – assisted by sensibly sized 18-inch wheels – keep it rolling onward and over testing terrain long after most other luxury SUVs have failed or deflated to ‘limp-mode’.

There’s no denying that Prado diesel is a ponderous SUV to drive on tar. It’s agonisingly slow and the body-roll unlike anything else in class (except Geländewagen, perhaps), but once you apply the junior Land Cruiser engineering package to gravel travel, its lack of power doesn’t bother one much.  At off-road speeds that antiquated 3-litre turbodiesel’s 400Nm are plenty, and the crawl function, which allows you to simply steer at very low speeds, without requiring any throttle input, is a huge confidence boon for inexperienced off-roaders. Another gain in the field (literally) is added utility with the presence of a 360-degree surround view camera system, with an underfloor view too.

If the function of a true luxury SUV is to transport occupants to amazing locations, through inhospitable terrain, without sacrificing cabin luxury, well, Prado is the only vehicle in class, bar Geländewagen, which is a true African Safari capable SUV. Its junior Land Cruiser nameplate is not undeserved.

Ultimately, new Prado is an excellent example of Toyota’s winning formula: don’t give customers what they want, give them what they need. And in Africa, that’s a luxury SUV which keeps going long after the roads have gone to ruin and 10ppm fairy fuel has run dry.

*Since 80% of Prado sales are diesel, we’ve confined our analysis to the 3-litre configuration.

Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D TX R 821 700
Land Cruiser Prado 4.0 V6 VX R 930 000
Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX R 932 400
Land Cruiser Prado 4.0 V6 VX-L R 967 200
Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX-L R 969 600

 

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