2010 Toyota Prado exclusive desert road test
As far as we know, we are the first people to review the 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado in the desert. Everyone else drove it “off-road” at the launch event, to which we were not invited, but that was a carefully-planned event with easy gravel jaunts anyway. We took our Prado VX-L tester on the same dunes used by desert safari outfits in Dubai.
Tagging along was my wannabe safari-driver friend, who suggested the location because he is tight with the local tour companies who use the Aweer trails regularly. In case we get stuck, there will always be someone a phone-call away to get us out, just like in our last sandy excursion.
However, the Prado is not some European crossover for yuppies, even though it is deceptively popular among the conservative set. We pulled out the tyre valves on the 18-inch wheels, deflated the 265/60-width rubbers, stuck the valves back on, and set off in our V6-powered camel.
Our VX-L had the optional “multi-terrain” 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.
It did not bog down at all. Even though I felt the engine did not have as much of a low-end kick as my V8 Jeep, 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. Only later did we realise that in “mud and sand” mode, the air suspension automatically jacked up the ride height by a couple of inches, so we were towering over the ground.
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 we started hurtling over the sand at relatively higher speeds, in true Arabian offroading style.
Also, the “multi-terrain” 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 all who drove it. Apparently it is supposed to do that, to reduce excessive wheelspin, although most offroaders prefer manual control of the brakes. Thankfully, it never went off long enough to bog down the vehicle.
We also tried the “crawl control” feature that takes the vehicle down a dune slowly without touching the brakes. It worked as advertised, with five speeds to choose from, instead of three in the larger Land Cruiser.
A few seasoned safari drivers and their boss checked out our Prado, and were easily wowed by the available techno-babble. They were especially impressed by the button-operated “lift kit” suspension, the electric-folding third row and the starter button. But they did not appreciate the traction control intruding on the downhill slopes, however brief. Most will probably prefer the lower-trim Prado models, without the “multi-terrain” gizmo. The safari boss knew what the “Mud & Sand,” “Loose Rock” and “Rock” options meant in the system, but joked whether the “mogul” option referred to Moghul Restaurant. Frankly, we didn’t know any better.
The day ended as the sun set and we sat down for a free dinner at the camp among foreign tourists. Interestingly, we never got to use the low-range gearing. It only comes in handy when stuck.