Future strong for old-school heavyweight

A re-engined Toyota Prado sets out to show there’s life yet in those ‘dinosaur’ old-style off-roaders.


IMPENDING utility-spun off-road wagons that revert to a chassis technology considered outdated enforce argument that Land Cruiser wagons will maintain as a core choice among serious off-roaders, Toyota New Zealand agrees.

While the Palmerston North-based distributor accepts the numerous car-like offers within the sports utility sector will always gain more sales, it also proposes its own Prado and full-scale 200-Series – heavyweight models built to a body on frame formula - still have a place in SUV-dom.

“Absolutely. There’s a place for what we have … and there are also a whole lot of new entrants (with car-like unitary chassis),” commented TNZ general manager of sales Steve Prangnell.

“Our brand, with these models plus RAV4, Highlander (unitary) and the upcoming Fortuner (separate chassis) covers all the bases.”

The viewpoint was expressed as TNZ reveals Land Cruiser wagon updates.

Prado’s switch to a new 2.8-litre engine and six-speed automatic and a technology and styling lift for the V8 turbodiesel 200-Series are see-me-out changes for models that have respectively been in production since 2009 and 2007 and will potentially stay on until at least 2017.

Making slightly more power than the outgoing 3.0-litre but presenting 10 percent more torque and better economy, the Prado engine also goes into the next Hilux, launching in November, and the ute’s wagon off-shoot, next year’s Fortuner.

The Land Cruisers, Hilux and Fortuner also unify by having ladder frame chassis construction, an approach the majority of rival offers – outside of utedom - have divested. Or had, until now: Mitsubishi and Ford have also turned back the clock, adding Challenger and Everest seven-seat wagons that, by being spun off utilities in the same way Fortuner does, join the old boy club.

Although Toyota Japan has not released detail about the next-generation Land Cruiser wagons, Prangnell says there’s no reason to believe those vehicles will deviate from the current construction method. The core markets of Africa and the Middle East demand the toughness and durability that only a body on frame build can provide. “I think they would be very reluctant to change.”

Yet unitary construction is now the primary choice, he agrees. As much as increase in the old-school vehicles is an interesting quirk, he laughs off suggestion there will be a design u-turn.

A reminder of this came with a presentation preceding Wednesday’s first drive of the updated Prado (not the LC200, it’s still on the water).

Provision of historic Land Cruiser data reminding how long this nameplate has been around also showed the progressive disinterest in these tough-as trucks.

Nonetheless, TNZ remains confident there’s life left in these old stagers, not least Prado which is now the strongest-selling of the Land Cruiser family that also includes the ancient 70-Series. Well, to a point.

It sees Prado hitting 800 sales this year, then slipping back in 2016 to matching a more modest 2014 count of 620 units. The 200-Series, meantime, will plug on with around 200.

Those turnovers won’t see them win overall SUV leadership, but should be enough to keep them on top of the large and medium rugged sub-catchments. They’re also more than enough to keep both viable in New Zealand, Prangnell said, given the core Kiwi support for truly credible off-roading and heavy-duty towing talent.

That’s why Toyota has determined to maintain Prado in GX, VX and VX Limited specifications and continue the 200-Series in VX (with and without leather) and VX Limited.

The biggest Land Cruiser’s pricing has yet to be determined. The current models presently offer at $118,000 to $125,000, depending on trim, for the VX rising to $140,950 for VX Limited. Despite a big change in styling and a technology uplift – previously outlined by this column – the hope is that these prices will be maintained.

With Prado, meanwhile, the entry and mid-grade models revise slightly, the GX at $78,490 being up by $945 and the VX diesel at $88,490 increasing $360 (and the alternate, unchanged V6 petrol positioning at $89,490, a $1360 increase). The top version reduces $3140, to $99,990.

So after all that, the crunch question: How different are they?

It’s a question visual inspection doesn’t answer. This second update for this model will vex even Toyota trainspotters as, unlike the 2013 revision, this time there are no external alterations, a surprise given the new modern look meted 200-Series.

The GX picks up sat nav, a power driver’s seat and there is a range-wide step-up to a nine-speaker stereo, whereas VX specifications don’t change.

Dynamically speaking, it’s also more of the same; the long-travel front independent/ live rear axle suspension is sophisticated enough to cop a workout, and the VX models benefit from having a dynamic suspension and traction control system that adjusts torque delivery depending on the nature of the surface being driven.

Yet, as a large, tall and hefty offering, it remains a handling heavyweight whose confidence, in true off-roader style, improves as conditions degrade.

The engine is a plus point. While power only lifts from 127kW to 130kW, the 450Nm torque output is pleasing; it’s still a lumbering leviathan but there is more mid-range muscularity. Given the Prado is the heaviest of the three recipients, this enhanced punch bodes well for Hilux application. The change from a five-speed transmission for smoother, quieter delivery: It’s nowhere near as ‘shouty’ as the old unit.

A fuel consumption fall from 8.5 to 8.0L/100km also makes the Prado diesel more fuel-efficient than all its rivals, including the Everest.