By Andrew Muzamhindo
The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 2.8GD VX-L is for those 16ruly after an extremely comfortable family SUV with proven off-road credentials, plenty of in-cabin tech and trimmings, and a big-shot character, the Prado is in a class of its own. It’s the perfect antidote to traffic stress; effortlessly, quietly and economically eats up the miles on a cross-country trip; and is always ready to head into the bundu. Unless your commute regularly includes a few laps of a race track, the Prado 2.8GD VX-L is really the one vehicle to suit everybody.
When you drive it, you begin to appreciate why it’s a favourite with executives in Zimbabwe.
The fact that the latest Toyota Land Cruiser Prado’s skeleton is more than a decade old shows through in numerous areas. However, judicious revisions through the years have kept it competitive — and none more so than the diesel engine upgrade it received in 2020. If you want an off-road capable luxury SUV that majors on comfort and effortless all-round ability, look no further.
In a marketplace that’s now dominated by car-derived SUV-crossovers, usually originating from premium brands, the Toyota Prado seems like a bit of an odd contender. Instead of its rivals’ unitary construction, the Prado still uses a traditional body-on-frame architecture, with real off-road ability designed-in rather than added as an afterthought. This gives the Land Cruiser Prado a very different driving experience to that of its price competitors, and certainly sets the Prado apart from its opponents.
There isn’t a lot left to say about the styling of a car that’s remained essentially unchanged for 12 years (and looks very much like its 20-year-old predecessor). It looks like…. well, like a Prado, really. At least, the last cosmetic update in 2017 eliminated the odd “inflamed tear duct” shape that was applied to the older model’s front DRL elements, and returned to a more-conventional but classier visage instead.
The Prado’s somewhat old-fashioned styling suits its personality to perfection, though. It’s not really meant to be a style leader for the brand, and functionality takes precedence over fashion, just as it should be in a burly go-anywhere SUV. This no-nonsense approach permeates every aspect of the Prado – it wants to get down to business, and so what if it doesn’t follow the latest trends?
The Land Cruiser Prado does not pay any attention to the current trend of shoving ever more power under the bonnet. Yes, it is available with a 4.0-litre petrol V6 with 202 kW and 381 Nm as well, but the diesel is still the one you really want — especially now that the rattly old 3.0-litre D4-D has finally left the stage. In its place is a new, high-tech 2.8-litre GD-series turbodiesel, in the same trim as used in the latest Hilux and Fortuner ranges.
In 2.8GD format, the Prado has 150 kW and 500 Nm on offer from its 4-cylinder turbodiesel powerplant. This is the latest evolution of the well-regarded 2.8GD engine, now with an uprated turbocharger, reinforced internal components, a revised fuel system, and the fitment of a vibration-reducing balance shaft.
Cumulatively, these enhancements make for a much more-agreeable drivetrain, and marks a massive step forward from the outgoing Prado’s 3.0 D4-D mill in performance, efficiency, and refinement. This power is sent to a full-time AWD system (with low range and electronic diff control) via a new 6-speed torque converter automatic gearbox.
Bearing in mind that the Prado registers a kerb weight of 2 420 kg, its acceleration will never be rapid, but the new engine’s hearty torque delivery (with a peak plateau from 1 600 — 2 800 r/min) and wider gear ratio spread gives it fair performance for a vehicle of this type. In-gear acceleration is also quite satisfying, with the gearbox smartly dropping a ratio or two to enable safe (if not blistering) overtaking on the open road.
As mentioned before, this is an old-school body-on-frame SUV, so the driving experience is unlike almost anything else in its price bracket. There is no pretense of sportiness at all, the steering is light and devoid of feel, and body roll through corners are very noticeable at speed — in spite of the presence of KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) and adaptive shock absorbers.
The former is a hydraulic roll-compensation system, and the latter adjusts the damping force depending on the selected drive mode, but neither of them can fully mitigate the physics at play. This is still a high-riding off-roader with a suspension layout that’s biased towards go-anywhere capability, and no amount of technical trickery can hide that fact.
There is an upshot to this slightly archaic chassis design, however, and that’s in ride insulation. Because there’s an extra layer of rubber mountings between the cabin and the chassis (as is common for ladder frame-chassis vehicles), and thanks to the good work done by those adaptive shocks, the ride quality is excellent. Long wheel travel and compliant springs filter road surface imperfections (and even potholes) with aplomb, and gives as close to a magic carpet ride as you’re likely to get at the price.
Complimenting the supple suspension is a cabin with lots of space and plenty of noise insulation. Imagine driving down the road in your lounge, and you’d get close — the only differences are that the Prado’s standard audio system may actually be better than the one in your living room, and the seats are probably more comfortable.
In combination, these attributes allow the Prado VX-L to offer effortless, relaxed and dignified progress, quite out of proportion to its market segmentation. The same sense of old-school respectability as you’d get in a big-body Cruiser 200 is present in the Prado: It doesn’t even pretend to be sporty, and it’s all the better for it.
Because it’s equipped with three seating rows, the Prado offers seating room for up to 7 occupants. However, as is the case with most 7-seater SUVs, the rearmost seating row is meant for smaller occupants, and eats into the available luggage space as well. The other 5 seats are superbly sculpted to accommodate even large adults in comfort, however, with massive head-, shoulder- and legroom at their disposal.
A particularly welcome feature is the refrigerated centre console, which is standard across the Prado range. This isn’t just a box with some cooled air blowing through it, though: it’s powered by the car’s air-con compressor, so it really is a small fridge between the front seats.
A 5-star ANCAP safety rating is a great starting point for a family SUV, and with 7 airbags, rear ISOFIX child seat anchors, stability control and automatic emergency braking, all the essentials are there to create a very safe vehicle. In VX-L trim (as reviewed), added safety kit includes pre-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, surround-view cameras, and high-beam assistance for the LED headlamps.
Most buyers in this price bracket likely don’t care about things like off-road capability and prefer something with some sportiness, which explains the proliferation of on-road-biased, car-like SUVs from all the premium brands. In this field, the Land Cruiser Prado stands apart like a monument to priorities past, with its uncompromising focus on all-terrain ability and occupant comfort.
If you’re an enthusiastic driver who wants an SUV anyway, and only have room for one vehicle under your carport, you’d probably be happier with a BMW X5 or Audi Q7: Those are really luxury cars with raised ride heights, and they’ll serve their buyers very nicely indeed.
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