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Toyota Land Cruiser Prado Review: What Does It Mean for Toyota SUVs?

The long-running workhorse must remain the beacon that guides the brand’s off-roaders.

Marc NoordeloosWriter, PhotographerThe ManufacturerPhotographer

Trudging along through a muddy field in the English countryside as the sky dumps down buckets of rain provides a quick reminder of why the Toyota Land Cruiser is the vehicle of choice in exotic locations like the African savanna or Australian bush. And going beyond its expansive capabilities, the Land Cruiser's rugged simplicity and ease of servicing further enhance drivers' confidence it can tackle remote, uncompromising terrain.

Of course, Land Rover has long carried a stake in harsh environments, too. But now there's an all-new Defender, one that has eschewed its basic steel frame and tractorlike minimalism in favor of an aluminum unibody architecture fitted with a fully independent suspension and related to the underpinnings of the upmarket Range Rover. As Land Rover shifts its iconic model, the Land Cruiser carries on with its straightforward roots. The current versions of the Japanese SUV are sold in 170 markets, with worldwide sales reaching approximately 379,000 in 2018. The long-running model recently broke 10 million sales since first launching in 1951. I recently spent a week in a basic-spec Land Cruiser in England, and it had me contemplating the future of Toyota's off-road focused SUVs.

You don't see many Land Cruisers in England. That's especially the case around my U.K. base near Jaguar Land Rover in Gaydon. The Land Cruiser (LC) didn't officially come to the U.K. until 1975 and the only model currently offered is the smaller 150 series, called the Land Cruiser Prado in other markets. So, we'll call it a Prado, for clarity. The U.S. Lexus GX460 is a poshed-up Prado and the Americas-focused Toyota 4Runner shares the basic Prado underpinnings. Toyota sells the bigger 200-series LC in many regions, including North America. Lexus gets its own version of that large SUV, too, in the LX570.

Powering the Prado in the U.K. is a 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel hitched to either a six-speed manual or automatic. Full-time four-wheel drive with a lockable Torsen center differential is standard. You can also choose between the rare two-door or more common four-door version. My test vehicle was a four-door entry-level Utility model with the optional automatic. Silver 17-inch steel wheels, manually adjusted cloth seats, a very basic radio, and a lack of running boards or automatic climate control highlight its basic spec.

The diesel offers acceptable pace, but the Prado is by no means quick: Toyota quotes a zero-to-62-mph time of 12.7 seconds. There's only so much a 175-hp engine can do when lugging around something close to 5000 pounds. The key here is its 332 lb-ft of torque at only 1600 rpm—thank you, compression ignition and turbocharging. If you drive normally and don't try to hustle the Prado, there's plenty of power and the engine feels underworked, far more so than the numbers suggest. It's also a very solid and refined SUV, especially given its body-on-frame construction. The Prado feels like a Mercedes S-Class next to the old Defender, even in this peasant specification. Sure, you sense the size and bulk at low speeds and on the tight English country roads, but it's extremely comfortable and quiet on a motorway journey, even at 85 mph. But don't think that refinement dilutes the off-road capabilities of the Toyota.

My trip came during an extremely wet period in the U.K. As such, the roads were covered in mud and flooding was common. But the Prado didn't care, even with its original-equipment Dunlop tires, which are more road-focused, as mucky trails and impromptu river crossings posed zero challenge for the Toyota. The slow steering is welcome when the going gets rough, as well. A reassuring feeling of extreme honesty and pure functionality permeates from the Prado. Toyota knows that extended low-speed use is common with owners in certain regions. So, they fit an 'Idle Up' button, helping the cabin heat up more quickly when stationary. There's another switch to force-clean the diesel particulate filter. Smart.

You also sense that Toyota's marketing department was never allowed anywhere near the Prado. Thank God. There are no cheeseball Easter eggs here, and nothing is fitted that doesn't have a purpose. You drop the Prado into drive with a mechanical transmission selector and there's an old-school, conveniently placed handbrake. Land Rover could really learn a thing or two from Toyota. Overall, you get the sense that the utilitarian Prado will keep running and running for decades to come. It's the automotive equivalent of a mule.

Speaking of time, the current full-size LC and Prado, as well as the 4Runner, are now essentially 10-plus years old. I'm eager to see what route Toyota takes with their replacements, although I see why the company seems to be in no rush to come out with new versions. The 4Runner had its best sales year ever in the U.S. in 2018 despite its aging mechanicals. Still, competition is all around and soon to grow. We'll see the new Ford Bronco in the spring, with sales starting before the end of 2020. Jeep has done well with the latest Wrangler, with 2018 topping the historic sales chart for the iconic American off roader. It's clear the U.S. is very keen on SUVs designed to get dirty.

My hope is that Toyota advances its Land Cruisers and 4Runner but keeps the straightforward theme of traditional body-on-frame construction with a live rear axle and proper off-road credentials. As Land Rover looks to continue its upmarket move, Toyota has the opportunity to further fill in the gap around the world with more tried-and-true products providing proven reliability and serviceability. The Japanese company can then continue to pack these off-road SUVs with technology and luxury features to keep buyers happy in markets like the U.S. Simple diesel engines should stick around for certain markets while more advanced powertrains—including hybrid and full electric—could be used in other regions.

 

I'm particularly curious to see if the full-size Land Cruiser survives in America. Toyota only sold 3,235 in 2018 versus 139,694 4Runners. I'd love to see the Prado come to the States, but the current version is very close in size to the 4Runner. Toyota could drop the compromised and unattractive, chrome-laden 4Runner Limited model and replace it with a Prado. One can dream.

No doubt, Toyota has much to figure out. Traditional body-on-frame SUVs tend to be heavy and thirsty, even with more efficient engines. That's not a good thing when trying to meet fuel-economy standards and emissions regulations. Then there are the additional challenges of using a separate ladder frame while still meeting international crash regulations. Today's buyers also like technology, but technology introduces opportunities for failure. Toyota needs to get the balance right with the next-gen versions of its long-serving off-road SUVs. For huge numbers of people around the world, the rugged vehicles are a lifeline. They're a key component in everyday life. For others, they're a much-loved lifestyle vehicle. In driving the Prado, I was once again reminded why.

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