The beam sustained heavy injuries, the car, none. The foreman was terribly upset. I’d driven the Prado into his construction site and accidentally flattened a support beam sticking out of the ground. That’s the thing about the Prado. When you drive one, you’re not worried about the damage to the car, you’re worried about what you’ve damaged.
You are looking at the latest Prado — it’s as tough as rhino hide and makes you feel almost invincible. This new edition of the baby Landcruiser, in India for the first time, comes with a 3.0-litre diesel lump similar to the one in the Fortuner. We say it’s similar because it makes
an almost identical 170bhp. However, at 41.8kgm, the torque output is a huge bump up from
the lesser Toyota.
The extra torque is welcome because at 2140kg, it’s a good 185kg heavier than the Fortuner. This extra weight partly explains why the Prado doesn’t feel particularly quick when you put your foot down. But what you don’t realise is that the speedo needle is actually rising pretty fast and without much drama, much like a Fortuner behaves when you smack the throttle. The Prado’s engine is effortlessly torquey and the five-speed auto pleases with its discreet shifts.
The gearbox is best left to its own devices though; there’s not much point in you hurrying it through the gears in tiptronic mode. It’s slow to respond to taps on the gear lever and slow to upshift. This is the only bug in the Toyota’s engine and drivetrain; for all other purposes, it’s very accomplished. It responds well when you tap the throttle, it’ll cruise at acceptable speeds and it’ll do all this without a fuss. It’s also acceptably silent when cruising, but a bit too raucous when revved. There’s a reason for this — we’ll come to it later.
This is a very large car, but the driver is saved from its enormity by good visibility and a light and surprisingly accurate steering. Sitting miles above the road, you’ll feel like master and commander of all that is happening around you. As in any Toyota, the seats are comfortable, there’s good space and the sense of security you get is quite something. The insides are well built and fitted, though the textures and surfaces shout “durability” louder than “luxury”. The car’s practical too. It has seven seats and there’s a very neat trick up its sleeve. Push the buttons on the inside of the D-pillar and the last row of seats slides electrically into the floor to form a flat loading area.
It’s got a split tailgate (the glass opens individually) and there’s a biggish refrigerator between the front seats for those dune-bashing days. It is impressively kitted out as well. Standard equipment includes three-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry and go, six-CD changer, parking sensors, reverse camera, seven airbags, leather seats, air suspension and cruise control. Whew!
When you go off-road, the full-time four-wheel-drive system (40:60 power split, front to rear, or 50:50 when you lock the centre diff) gives it tremendous traction on the loose stuff. Drive fast over bad roads and it stays impressively level and irons out bumps nicely. It’s only the really sharp bumps that kick through — this is a body on a ladder frame with a solid rear axle after all. Still, you don’t have to worry about grounding out (there’s plenty of air under the car) and you know the suspension can take abuse.
The car we drove was what they call a ‘goushi’ vehicle. In English, this means it was used as a homologation vehicle, which explains the less-than-luxurious interiors of this car. Indian cars will get better textures as well as a better NVH package, which should quieten the engine down. Still, it was a disappointment to learn that Toyota won’t be offering the Multi-terrain Select function (‘mud and sand’, ‘loose rock’, ‘mogul’ and ‘rock’) in India.
The heart of a Landcruiser lies with its off-road capability and its legendary reliability. Taking a part of that away is like asking Batman to make do without his belt — effective but not as potent. Still, not many Indian Prado owners are going to go serious boulder-crawling, so the adjustable ride-height control, hill-descent control and low-range transfer case should do for traversing the road to the farmhouse.
On the road, there’s some well-tamed SUV bounce and the electrically adjustable damping keeps body roll under surprising control in corners taken fast, but you need to get used to cornering a car from your high perch. The steering’s a bit of a letdown too — it doesn’t weight up enough as you go faster. The suspension gets a ‘sport’ and a ‘comfort’ mode, which noticeably change the ride and wallowly characteristics of the car. Which leaves us with the looks. It is imposing, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not pretty. The toothy grille and massive headlights do have the ability to make small children cry. Still, it will get you noticed and getting the occupants noticed was a major reason for the earlier Prado’s ‘celebrity’ status.
What’s it going to cost? At the time of going to press, prices hadn’t been announced, but Toyota is aiming at the Mitsubishi Montero on the size and to a lesser extent the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, so expect prices to be in the mid-Rs 40 lakh range. Even at this price, the Prado is quite worth it. It may not get the European Prado’s video cameras, which allow you to watch what the wheels are doing when off-roading, and it may leave out the terrain response system. And it is not exciting to drive in a BMW X5 sort of way.But look at it as is and it’s impressive. It’s fantastically specced, it’s got the right image
along with the legend to back that image and, unlike the earlier Indian Prado, this one gets diesel power. If that’s not enough reason to go for one, then we don’t know what is. Now to sort out that foreman and the flattened beam.