– Premium cabin feel
– Excellent off-roader
– Economical engine
– Cramped third row
– On-road handling limits
– Pricey with options
Easily the most anticipated new model in the region, the new-for-2010 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is the epitome of middle-class Arabia. All sorts of hard-working family-men dream of this washing machine — not the ugly Audi R8, nor the unreliable Range Rover, but the Toyota Prado.
Thankfully, our Prado VX-L tester was not washing-machine white. It was silver, and actually looked quite decent. The new styling is not a design icon by any means, but although it looks ugly in most photos, it turned out to be rather acceptable in real life. Ridiculously enough, it looks like a cross between the old Prado and the new Land Cruiser, so most people on the street did not even notice this “dream” car, except for a few who realised what it was on second glance and only then stood around staring at it.
The Prado VX-L trim apparently comes in three trim levels, so we got the top-of-the-range trim of the top-of-the-range version. All Prado models do get unique new styling touches, such as the rear wiper hidden away in the rear spoiler, the rear tailgate handle disguised within the number-plate holder, and the complicated new “3D” grille up front.
Like the exterior, the interior looks more friendly in real life than in pictures, with soft-touch materials along upper surfaces that firmly move the Prado into a more premium segment than the likes of the Honda Pilot and the Nissan Pathfinder, all of which use excessive hard plastics. The ergonomics are fine for basic functions, but some buttons are hidden in darkness behind the steering wheel. The cabin is literally a barrage of buttons and switches, but we surprisingly found our way through the maze rather easily, thanks to understandable labels.
Even the use of a touchscreen in our VX-L did not reduce the clutter of buttons, but the use of separate stereo and a/c controls are appreciated. The easy-to-use screen houses, among other features, a navigation system that leaves a trail on the map, so one never gets lost off-road. The screen also displays the distorted views from four cameras around the vehicle, intended to help in scaling rocks, parking and entering blind junctions, although we only found use for the rear camera. The automatic a/c is very strong, and comes with controls for the rear as well. Even the 14-speaker CD/MP3 stereo is rather good, with AUX/USB ports near a little bucket perfect for holding cellphones and iPods. Other gimmicks in our tester included power-foldaway third-row with buttons both in front and behind the split-folding bench. Turning HID headlights, sunroof, cruise control, Bluetooth phone, memory driver’s seat, cooler box, power-adjustable steering wheel, parking sensors, full keyless entry with starter button, multiple front-side airbags and all the usual power accessories were all there too. There were even front heated seats and a 220V Euro-style socket out back, both somewhat useless in the GCC. However, the optional rear-seat DVD system was conspicuously missing.
The Prado is an excessively tall 4×4, and even wider for 2010, so there is no shortage of space inside. The top models come with smooth leather and better-bolstered front seats. The split-folding second-row seats are extremely spacious, and can even recline. Access to the third-row seats is absolutely awful, as the second-row seats barely fold out of the way. This is one area where the Japanese can learn from the Americans, as various Chevrolet SUVs handle this much better. Once back there, there is barely any legroom for adults. However, the second-row seats can be moved forward to create more knee space, so passengers can negotiate between themselves how much leg space each one is entitled to. With the third-row seats up, there is absolutely no luggage space left, especially with an “emergency kit” bag taking up space. The floor is also a bit high, to make space for the spare wheel underneath. We aren’t fans of the side-hinged tailgate either, although it has hydraulic support and a pop-up rear window. With the third row down, there is good cargo volume, but less floor area than we expected. However, the second-row seats can be moved forward to compensate, or even folded down to create van-like room. And there are at least 10 cup-holders spread about the cabin, and space for four more bottles in the cooler box.
The upgraded 4.0-litre V6 is good for 271 hp at 5600 rpm and 381 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm. The gruff-sounding engine doesn’t have much of a punch at low revs, and only picks up speed beyond 3000 rpm. It made the 0-100 kph run in 8.7 seconds during our November testing, with the 5-speed automatic in sport mode. The transmission itself is smooth and has an interesting manual mode that holds gears at redline, but with responses too delayed for regular use. The most astonishing figure was our 15.3 litres per 100 km of fuel consumption, about the same as a Nissan Murano crossover, and it was even lower before our off-road excursion.
Speaking of off-roading, we took our silver bulldozer onto the same trails used by desert safari operators. Our VX-L had the optional “multi-terrain” computerised system, so we set it to “Mud & Sand” mode. We tried turning off the traction control, but once “multi-terrain” is activated, the traction control cannot be deactivated, and we were supposed to trust the computers to adjust the traction control to suit the sandy conditions. So we instead locked the centre differential and charged head-first into the sand. Although manually adjustable, the VX-L’s air suspension automatically jacked up the ride height by a couple of inches in “mud and sand” mode. It did not bog down at all. Even though the engine lacked a bit in low-end kick, it still had enough mid-range grunt to simply sail over the desert sand. It can climb moderate dunes using only partial throttle, and there was always enough ground clearance to not get beached on any peaks. We also tried the “crawl control” feature that takes the vehicle down a dune slowly without touching the brakes, with five crawling speeds to choose from.
Some of the gimmicks are unnecessary though. The front camera was activated in “multi-terrain” mode, showing us which way the front wheels were headed, using lines on the screen. However, the camera only works at low speeds, and turned off as soon as our speed increased. Also, the traction control occasionally made itself known while travelling down some dunes, hitting the brakes briefly once in a while, and annoying the crap out of us. Apparently it is supposed to do that, to reduce excessive wheelspin, although most offroaders prefer manual control of the brakes. Thankfully, it never went on long enough to bog down the vehicle.
On the road, it remains a lumbering oaf, like most Japanese 4x4s, kept from stumbling upon itself by high-tech features such as the “KDSS” air suspension and stability control. We pulled off some quick moves, changing lanes sharply to induce some bounce, and the Prado actually handled it rather well, with the grippy 265/60 tyres on 18-inch wheels, and the KDSS seemingly killing body roll about half-a-second after it starts. Then we upped the ante, going into off-ramps a bit quickly, which is where it got a bit shaky, as the tyres started squealing and the stability control kicked in to induce understeer, sending us towards the outside of the turn when what we really wanted was to mildly slide out the rear. Still, it was just doing what inexperienced drivers would find more comforting, but it revealed a chassis that is still too truckish, with the lifelessly-soft steering and the overly-soft brake pedal effectively making it a bit scary to push around fast curves. The “sport” mode just doesn’t do enough to firm up the suspension.
But most owners would be interested in ride comfort instead, and the Prado does not disappoint. With the optional air suspension, it rides over bumps like a hovercraft, without the recoil bounce that will likely affect non-air lower models. It is quiet enough at highway speeds, but not class-leadingly so, as wind noise becomes audible at 120 kph. And the available rear camera, tight turning circle and soft steering all definitely make it easier to park.
The Prado has gone up in price for 2010, putting it in a class somewhere between a Nissan Pathfinder and a Range Rover Sport. However, while it is certainly better than the Pathfinder, it is not a cut-rate Range Rover, even if it has almost exactly the same gadgets. It lacks the sporting on-road dynamics that make European luxo-trucks so cool, but it nails every other field, including comfort and quality. Indeed, it wouldn’t be wrong to call it a cut-rate Lexus.