Jaco Van Der Merwe

By Jaco Van Der Merwe

Head of Motoring

New diesel engine rejuvenates Land Cruiser Prado

Toyota has found another gear to make this unique seven-seater more appealing.

The adage “if ain’t broke don’t fix it” sums up Toyota’s philosophy on its renowned Land Cruiser offerings. Whether it’s the 70-series, the 200-series or the Prado, it’s like the current line-ups have been around forever, barring a few tweaks here and there over the years. And judging by their popularity, Toyota has good reason to keep the faith in its tried and trusted recipes.

In December, Toyota sold 567 vehicles locally bearing a Land Cruiser badge. To place this into context, the Land Cruiser alone ranked 15th in terms of new sales on the list of top selling manufacturers, edging out all of 23 other car makers in terms of overall sales.

If you really had to single out one thing in the entire Land Cruiser family that needed some attention then it had to be the Prado’s diesel engine. Locally, the oil-burning Prado was never updated with the 2.8-litre GD-6 powerplant like it was overseas. Instead, until the end of last year it still featured the outdated 3.0-litre D-4D powerplant.

When both the Hilux and Fortuner, which already featured the original 2.8 GD-6, received the powered-up version of this engine as part of their upgrades towards the end of last year, the oil-burning Prado was basically stuck two generations in the past.

When it finally did receive the new powerplant among a few updates in the latter stages of 2020, the power bump made for impressive reading. Where the Hilux and Fortuner benefitted from an extra 20 kW of power and 50 Nm of torque from the original 2.8 GD-6’s output of 130kW/450Nm, the updated 2.8 GD-6 bumped up the Prado’s output by 30kW/100Nm from the 3.0 D-4D’s 120kW/400Nm. In addition, similar to the Hilux and Fortuner, the Prado’s 150kW/500Nm oil-burner is now mated to six-speed automatic transmission which replaces the five-speed box across the range.

But it doesn’t matter how good these numbers look, cars don’t run on paper and the proof was always going to be in the pudding. And after spending a good amount on time behind the wheel of the top-of-the-range oil-burner, the 2.8 VX-L, that joined our fleet over the holiday period, we are happy to report that its actual performance backs up its engine specifications.

After getting a feel for the powered-up diesel engine in both the flagship Hilux and Fortuner last year, we were wondering how the powerplant will cope with the extra weight of the Prado. At 2 420 kg, the Prado weighs in at 230 kg more than the Fortuner and is 391 kg heavier than the Hilux.

Again, we are happy to report that the Prado takes the additional weight in its stride. The extra load does make it feel fractional slower off the mark than the Hilux and Fortuner, but once on the move the Prado and its brand-new oil-burning heart is a match made in heaven. And once you hit the open road, you start to truly appreciate the powerplant’s versatile capabilities.

For its size, the Prado can be remarkably frugal if you manage to behave. When cruising at the national speed limit, the rev counter showing a reading of as low as 1 200rpm almost feels unreal. And when you require additional power for overtaking, it accelerates with very little fuss. Feeling as solid as a cruise ship while maintaining a very quiet cabin at higher speeds, we must admit that it is rather disappointing reducing your speed after overtaking.

Benefitting from the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension and Active Traction Control systems which enhances the Prado’s legendary off-road prowess, the car does feel extremely planted on the tarmac. This was no more evident than during a treacherous rain storm on the N1 north in the Free State which we had to contend with for almost two hours. Apart from its wipers working overtime, the Prado hardly flinched and rolled through the eye of the storm like a well-oiled tank during Blitzkrieg.

A new addition to the two top diesel models is Drive Select Mode, which was previously only found in V6 models. The five modes to choose from to suit your preference are Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+. Opting for Normal mode with the occasional use of the more responsive Sport for overtaking, we managed to achieve fuel consumption figures of 10.7L/100 km for a 2 250 km round trip to the Eastern Cape. Another 800 km round trip to Bloemfontein resulted in a round 10L/100 km, while the overall consumption over the almost 4 000 km we covered stood at 11L/100 km.

We were impressed with these numbers and when combined with the 150-litre fuel capacity (the 87-litre main tank is supplemented by a 63-litre sub tank), the Prado will give you a range of over 1 300km on a single fill. And these kinds of ranges on the open road can be undertaken in the greatest of comforts. While Toyota might not be considered a premium brand, the Prado’s interior – although a bit dated by now – is as close as the Japanese carmaker can come to offer premium-type luxury apart from the Land Cruiser 200 VX-L.

Our tester was clad in black interior consisting black leather seats, soft-touch panels and steering wheel, complemented by a matte-finish walnut wood trim and brushed silver inlays. Creature comforts include the upgraded nine-inch infotainment system with smartphone integration, 14-speaker audio system, dual zone climate control, power operated tilt-and-slide moonroof, refrigerated centre console, heated and ventilated front seats and heated second row seats.

While the Prado is a proper seven-seater which sliding second row can move forward to create more legroom for the two seats in the third row, boot space is very limited with those seats engaged. Should you wish to carry seven souls over long distances you’ll either have to strongly consider alternatives solutions for your luggage or opt for the larger Land Cruiser 200.

However, with the Prado’s electronically controlled third row seats folded flat, the boot has no problem swallowing plenty of luggage. Bearing a VX-L badge meant our Prado featured Toyota Safety Sense, which include Pre-Collision System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

While the Prado is renowned for its four-wheel-drive capabilities, we did not take it overland or put the increased towing capacity of 3 000 kg to the test, but we are certain the updated powerplant will no doubt boost both these exercises.

Priced at R1 105 800, the Prado 2.8L VX-L is not cheap. But, being uniquely positioned with no direct competitors in the local market space, the vehicle finds itself quite literally in a league of its own. And the upgraded diesel engine will ensure this league stay as solid as ever before the all-new Prado is expected to debut next year. All Prado models are sold with a nine-services/90 000km service plan and three-year/100 000km warranty.

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