2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado

Rooted to its SUV core

The 2018 Prado can be best termed as a facelift."

"The best effect of KDSS can be felt on tougher terrains when the 'need of the hour' is to keep all four wheels planted on the ground."

"Prado is one of the deep-rooted names in the global, as well as local, SUV market and the new facelift will definitely make things harder for all the 7-seater SUV competitors."

"Toyota claims that the grille openings are larger now, which will help the cooling systems."

"The Prado holds a special market position which the competition has long been fighting tooth and nail," said Ershad.

At the Frankfurt Motor Show, along with a lot of car premieres, we witnessed the automakers' school of thought for the future. Toyota had a lineup, which included a high-power hybrid crossover: the C-HR, a pumped up Yaris GRMN, which was Toyota's foray into the performance hatch category, a kitted-up Hilux and the 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado – something dear to our region. Scheduled to go on sale in November, the unveiling at the show was definitely promising.

Fast forward and here we are with the 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado Limited (affectionately called 'The Prado'). We got it right after the launch event in Dubai and it stayed with us during the weekend. One of the favorite SUVs in the region, having the ultimate combination of practicality, reliability and ruggedness; the Prado holds a special market position which the competition has long been fighting tooth and nail.

There are cars with big engines but with cramped space inside. In some cases, it's the other way around. Some cars excel due to soft suspension, which can soak up the rough, and there's another set who demand a stiff drive. In my opinion, it's a combination of factors, plus a strong heritage, that will ensure a command on sales all day long.

The 2018 Prado can be best termed as a facelift. It does not involve any major redesign, but basically a bit of tidying up with modern elements. The most obvious update is on the Prado's front end, featuring new headlamp units, new grille section, a redesigned bumper and new sculpted hood. New headlamp units now feature clear-cut lines and are akin to the design language on its bigger Land Cruiser cousin. While the previous units featured an amoebic shape, which contributed heavily to the 'tall' looks of the front view, the new unit is simpler in design with horizontally stacked lighting elements that help to provide a flatter visual impact. On our top spec 'Limited' test car, the headlamps feature LED and halogen powered bulbs with integrated turn signals and LED daytime running lamps. In this trim, the Prado also features auto headlamp leveling, auto headlamp on and washer units for the headlamp cluster. The updated radiator grille looks similar to the vertical five-slat unit on the previous-gen Prado but the slats look much shorter and stouter. Toyota claims that the grille openings are larger now, which will help the cooling systems. The overall grille and headlamp unit now has a much cleaner look and has a certain timeless feel to it. The new front bumper now incorporates a lot more cuts and angles compared to the rather bland looking one on the older model. Fog lamps are now LED units fitted into a nice looking trapezoidal section. A comparison to the big round fog lens on the older model and we know how much technology has improved. The smaller new-generation LEDs provide much more illumination and are energy-efficient compared to their halogen counterparts. The bumper also has a wrap-around element on it that looks like the side fender has grown onto it.

Another key update is the new sculpted hood, which features sinusoidal elements that offer a muscular appearance as well as helps to improve visibility for the driver. This is bound to help when tackling tough off-road terrain. Walk around to the rear and the changes are much more subtle. Tail lamp cluster has undergone some minor redesigning and now features some accents in black within the unit. It gives a bit of an aftermarket look, which is common in most of the new model launches. The rest of the Prado remains largely similar to the previous generations and helps very much in instant recognition, any time you see it. Prado is one of the deep-rooted names in the global as well as the local SUV market, and the new facelift will definitely make things harder for all the seven-seater SUV competitors.

Stepping into the new Prado, you are greeted by the familiar sense of spaciousness and excellent all-around visibility. The large doors allow easy access and can accommodate fairly large occupants with ease. The top end 'VXR' and 'Limited' models feature leather upholstered ventilated seats. Generously sized and well cushioned, the seats are more about passenger comfort than heavy bolstering and high-speed compatibility. Long distance drives and off-road irregularities are easily taken care of and you seldom feel a hump or rock big enough to filter through to the seats. Being a seven-seater, it is important that every passenger gets enough room for them to enjoy the drive experience. I decided to take a 300-kilometer drive with full occupants to see how things would turn out. Second-row passengers were pleasantly surprised with the improved legroom and one of them even said that it felt as comfortable as the front seats. Third-row occupants also enjoyed a comfortable drive time and also get cup holders along with an under-seat storage area. This is a first for the Prado lineup and can improve the load carrying capacity even with all seats up. Third-row seats are now powered and feature a 50:50 split. The central armrest for the front seats has a concealed storage box under it which is temperature controlled and can take up to four half-liter bottles. Add to this a huge glove box and ample door pockets. A central armrest and cup holders are provided for the second row as well, which has a 40:20:40 split configuration along with sliding and reclining functions. One of the best things in the Prado cabin is the headroom and it is maintained in the new model also. To further increase the airy feel, a sunroof is available. 12-volt power outlets on the first and second rows can act as charging points for your personal devices. In the load area, a 220-volt power supply is provided and there is a clever toolbox hidden in the rear tailgate.

Efficiency of an A/C unit is a big factor, since we're talking about the Middle East region where the sun blazes red hot throughout the year. And for big seven-seat SUVs like the Prado, it would be of utmost concern that all passengers remain equally cool. Our test car came without tints and this ensured that all the sunlight passed unrestricted into the cabin. But even during the afternoon, the powerful A/C unit ensured that all three rows of occupants stayed comfy – thanks to the fully automatic triple-zone independent controls.

Settling into the eight-way powered driving seat and gripping on to the large steering wheel, the first thing that you notice is the redesigned instrument cluster. A four-gauge binnacle featuring 'Optitron' meters with a metallic base, raised scale markings and polished dials. A 4.2-inch display within the instrument cluster acts as a MID (Multi Information Display), which shows navigation, audio, vehicle info and warning messages. The MID can be controlled via steering mounted controls and is pretty easy to flip through. Another noteworthy feature is the improved road visibility, mainly due to the lowered center console and sculpted hood accents. A nine-inch high-definition full color display takes up center stage and enables centralized control for navigation and audiovisual systems. It also serves as the reverse camera monitor when required. The audio system features a 14-speaker JBL unit with audio restoration technology, which helps to bring back all the musical magic which was lost during its compression to mp3 format. The usual Bluetooth, USB and mini-jack inputs are provided for increased connectivity as well. The central JBL unit can also take in DVDs, which are displayed on the screen fixed behind the front seat headrests. This should keep the passengers entertained no matter how long the trip is. Enough info. Time to put the new Prado through its paces.

The Prado 'Limited' features the favored 4.0-liter V6 petrol engine with dual VVT-I, pumping out a healthy 271 horsepower and 381 Nm of torque. Not super fast, but enough to push this 3,000-kilogram SUV quickly off the line and propel it to some respectable speeds. The power is transmitted to all four corners through a six-speed super intelligent gearbox with optional manual mode. The new full-time four-wheel drive system comes with TORSEN limited slip differential, which can distribute power to the left and right wheels as the situation demands. Toyota claims that the new system helps improve straight-line capability as well as high-speed cornering, but given the dimensions and forever top-heavy feeling, I have no idea who is ever going to use all these high-speed features!

The Prado is made to play rough and so it has to be. The drive mode selector gives you Eco, Normal and Sport settings, but is best left in Normal. There is not a big difference between these modes. You also get the familiar differential lock with low and high gearing. Featured in the new Prado are some systems that are bound to wake up the off-roader in you. First of this being the Crawl Control System, which controls engine output and brake pressure automatically to keep the wheels rolling in off-road or slippery situations. This helps us to focus on steering the vehicle while the Crawl Control System does its job. A Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system varies acceleration, braking and traction control according to the selected terrain mode. Five terrain presets are available; namely 'Rock', 'Rock & Dirt', 'Mogul', 'Loose Rock' and 'Mud & Sand'. If you are unsure about any of these there is the 'Auto' mode, which acts together with Crawl Control and you get additional prompts to engage H4 or L4 four-wheel drive transfer range. A new feature is the Multi-Terrain Monitor, which gives the driver front, side and rear views to check possible bind spots. In tough conditions, this system can give you an underbody view or a panoramic view to get a better understanding of the surroundings. Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC) help the Prado ascend and descend the toughest terrains with ease.

During a launch session for the Prado, I was lucky to have spent some time with an off-road expert driver who gave valuable pointers on how to keep the Prado on four wheels in any condition. We drove the Prado through various terrains, approach angles and steep descents. The high ground clearance of the Prado was the confidence booster when approaching tough terrain and along with the support systems, we were sure that the number of surprises on our track would be less!

The last, but one of the best; a special mention to the suspension on the new Prado. An independent double wishbone set-up at front and four-link rigid suspension in the rear ensures that the ride remains plush and comfortable. Electrically controlled Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), available on the 'Limited' trim only, optimizes front and rear anti-roll bars according to terrain. In real world, the system gives you tighter suspension geometry on-road and you get a flexible and forgiving set-up for taming off-road conditions. The best effect of KDSS can be felt on tougher terrains when the need of the hour is to keep all four wheels planted on the ground.

Safety features on the new Prado include familiar systems like Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA), which work together to provide the best possible braking performance depending upon the terrain and approach speed. Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) controls engine output and braking force on each wheel to prevent understeer or oversteer situations. The 'Limited' trim also features Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA), which rings a buzzer and flashes lights on the rearview mirror in case you miss that fast lane changer! Front and rear sensors ensure that your new Prado bumpers remain sparkling for a long time.

Verdict
Wrapping it up, the new Prado remains essentially rooted to its SUV core: a true SUV which can be a go-anywhere passenger hauler or an off-road fun machine. The facelift works well to keep the Prado on top of the SUV pyramid and will still be one of the most sought after SUV brand names globally.

Pros: Proven configuration, full-fledged seven-seater, updated off-roading elements
Cons: On road ride still bouncy, largely a cosmetic facelift, V6 has the grunt but is it the weight, prince of the limited edition
Rivals: Nissan Pathfinder, Mitsubishi Pajero, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Hyundai Gran Santa Fe, Kia Sorento
one word: tough and plush
4 stars

Specs
4.0L V6 dual VVT-I, 271 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 381 Nm @ 4,400 rpm
4x4 full time, 6-speed automatic
0-100 km/h: 9 sec, top speed: 200 km/h, fuel consumption: 12.7 L/100 km
Weight: 2,950 kg

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