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Desert driven: Toyota Prado

2011-04-05 12:14

BARGAIN: Toyota's Prado has a fresh, modern look.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Toyota
Model Prado
Engine 2 982 cc
Power 120 kW @ 3 400 rpm
Torque 400 Nm @ 1 600-2 800 rpm
Transmission Five-speed automatic
Zero To Hundred 11.7 sec
Top Speed 175 km/h
Fuel Tank 87-litre main tank + 63l sub tank (total 150l)
Fuel Consumption 8.5 litre/100 km (in a combined cycle)
Front Suspension Independent double wishbones
Rear Suspension multilink with a solid axle
Service Intervals 10 000 km
Service Plan Five-year /90 000 km
Warranty Three-year/100 000 km
Price R546 400

Jaco Kirsten

When Toyota released the new Prado at the end of last year, everyone was impressed. And rightly so. After all, it’s a big improvement on its popular predecessor; especially due to the addition of clever electronics such as multi-terrain select (MTS). With switches on the steering wheel, it allows you to adapt the Prado’s electronics to the type of terrain you’re driving on.

But the VX’s R637 900 price was a little steep, to say the least, which meant some buyers rather opted for vehicles like the Land Rover Discovery 4 (R595 000 for the S model and R645 000 for the SE model).

Enter the entry-level Prado TX. Yes, it’s cheaper, but that’s all relative, because when an “entry-level” vehicle costs more than a half a million rand you can be sure that it’s anything but Spartan.


Good as the previous Prado was, the diesel model’s KZ-TE turbo diesel was its main weakness. If you were daunted by the thirsty petrol model (a livewire 4-litre V6), your only alternative was an extremely reliable, yet slightly feeble, diesel engine which battled to overtake anything at speeds approaching 120 km/h. This while Prados had been available in overseas markets with the much more powerful D4-D engine for quite some time.

This created the absurd situation that the much cheaper Fortuner D-4D ran rings around the Prado turbo-diesel in the performance stakes.

Just like the more expensive VX, the Prado TX has a D-4D 3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, which produces 120 kW. Although the Fortuner’s similar engine also produces 120 kW of power, the Prado trumps it with 400 Nm of torque, compared to the Fortuner’s 343 Nm – it’s get-up-and-go acceleration is therefore a bit faster than the Fortuner’s when you floor the pedal.

It cruises effortlessly at 150 km/h, without you ever getting the impression that the Prado’s pistons are about to fly through the bonnet. But bear in mind that Nissan has just released a Pathfinder with a 3-litre V6 turbo-diesel, which produces 170 kW and 550 Nm. The new Pajero 3.2 DI-D’s engine dishes up 140 kW and 441 Nm, while the Discovery 4 offers a plucky 180 kW and 600 Nm.

The more expensive VX’s Multi-Terrain Select system is similar to that of the Discovery, in which you choose the right setting for the vehicle’s off-road electronics for the type of terrain on which you’re driving. Should you for example choose the sand setting, it will allow more wheel spin and let the engine rev higher before another gear is selected. Rocks, on the other hand, obviously require less wheelspin and lower engine speeds.

The TX’s system is much simpler, because as a full-time 4x4, you basically only have to choose between high- and low-range, leaving the rest to the good judgment of the electronic traction control. The TX also lacks systems such as the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which can uncouple anti-roll bars (whose function is to ensure cornering stability at speed) in the bundu for greater wheel articulation at low speed. It also doesn’t have crawl control, which automatically controls the engine speed when, for example, you’re driving slowly over rocks.

What’s more, the TX lacks a lockable rear diff like that of the VX. Electronics such as traction control can overcome these deficiencies – the Land Rover Defender, for example, also uses traction control instead of mechanical diff locks.

Common sense also dictates that owners of the cheaper TX are more likely to take it to the bundu than owners of the pricier VX. So it is a pity that the VX is a better off-roader, on paper at least.

[Inside, the well-finished Prado looks anything but like a Land Cruiser farm bakkie.]


Well, “entry-level” or not, the TX’s interior is on par with many luxury cars. The black leather of our test car was tasteful and well finished and the seats provide good support.

Toyotas are renowned for properly using the space between the front seats, and the TX’s stowage space is no exception, being large enough for a big camera, cellphone, purses, sunglasses and possibly a small submachine gun ...

Another interesting feature is the panoramic rear-view mirror that folds down from the ceiling where the sunglass holder is normally situated. This enables you to see exactly which child is pulling which other child’s hair first, enabling you to make your time-honoured threat of offloading one even before the first one starts crying.

According to the brochures, the Prado has seven seats. Technically yes, but those two back seats are only suitable for
CIA torture sessions in Guantanamo Bay. Fortunately, the seats fold down quickly into the load bay’s floor, otherwise the welfare could have been on your case about your children’s living conditions.

The mechanism of the back hatch-type door can be locked in the “open” position to prevent the door from swinging shut on a slope and knocking you senseless from behind while you’re peeling a hardboiled egg. The toolkit is located in a panel in the back door – clever and practical.

When you engage reverse gear, the monitor in the front console displays what the small camera in the back spare-wheel holder “sees”. These systems are becoming increasingly common in vehicles, hopefully reducing the use of the explanation that “a tree suddenly walked in behind me”.

Behind the wheel: On the open road, we abruptly changed lanes a few times at 130 km/h to test body roll and high-speed stability. The TX performs well for a vehicle of this size, but despite all the clever electronics that can save your bacon, one should still put away the cellphone when driving a big 4x4. Because big vehicles with a high centre of gravity simply can’t swerve or brake as fast as a lower vehicle can.

But should you choose something that does handle well on tar - and now we’re talking firm suspension and little body roll – it compromises a car’s off-road ability.

During the test drive the Prado’s suspension impressed us on a very muddy, corrugated road at speeds of about 100 km/h. Over slippery, muddy obstacles the computer nips wheel spin in the bud to prevent you from getting stuck, and the only inhibiting factor is the type of tyres you fit onto your Prado.

It should also easily master rocks, but only if you ditch those big running boards. All it will take to bend it like a banana is one medium-sized rock.

What’s more, muddy running boards dirty your clothes when you get in and out. Keep the running boards on if you’re driving the Prado in the city, but replace it with something more practical, like rock sliders if you’re heading off-road.

Drive Out says: Whether it really is better than its competitors is arguable. But that current Prado owners won’t hesitate to trade in their old wheels for this one, is one thing few would argue with. It isn’t the most exciting offering in its price bracket, but a Prado is like a (very expensive) Spur: You know what you get when you order the nachos.

[If you engage the Prado’s reverse gear, a monitor shows what is going on behind you.] [The tool kit has been cleverly positioned in a panel in the back door.]


The new Prado has a fresh, modern appearance, without looking like something from Star Trek. (Compared to the Prado, the bigger 200 series Land Cruiser reminds one a bit of Jimmy Abbot.) The TX’s price will make it more attractive than the pricier VX, and although the 3-litre engine lags slightly behind its competitors, it will probably outlast them all.


Toyota could just as well have given the TX a mechanical rear diff lock and those running boards are large enough for landing a small microlight on. And yes, 30 kW more power wouldn’t have offended anyone.


Drive Out: 1961 Unimog 411

2011-04-18 13:59

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