Johannesburg - Toyota's Land Cruiser Prado barely needs any introduction as an SUV that’s earned its stripes.

Its reputation as a big and comfortable go-anywhere family vehicle is well established, and now it’s been given a makeover with improved practicality and technology. An external restyle sees the headlights reshaped into flatter, neater-looking things that no longer look like they’re awkwardly melting down the sides of the grille.

It’s not just about aesthetics. The headlamps have also been repositioned inboard to better protect them from branches when driving offroad, and the front gets raised top edges so the driver can better see where the corners of this super-sized vehicle are, making it easier to guide it through the undergrowth of an offroad trail and simpler to park.

I found the turning circle to be pretty compact for an extra-large SUV, and a reversing camera with a ‘helicopter view’ also takes some of the stress out of negotiating tight parking spaces. Inside the huge cabin, the dashboard’s been lowered to provide better forward visibility and there’s a nice big new 20cm full-colour touchscreen for the infotainment and navigation systems.

The control panel isn’t as neat and integrated as is becoming the modern trend and there’s still a large clutter of buttons scattered about the dashboard and steering wheel, but this actually makes it quicker to find what you’re looking for.

Along with a redesigned instrument binnacle the Prado’s leather- and wood-trimmed steering wheel is new, shared with the larger Land Cruiser 200.

One of my favourite features in the Prado is one of the most low-tech: a slide-out flap that extends the sun visor. I wish to campaign for this to become standard on every vehicle.

Inside that cavernous cockpit are seven seats arranged in three rows, with the rear row able to be electrically folded flat at the touch of a button. The third row is ideally for children but it’s also roomy enough for a pair of adults at a bit of a squeeze.

With a full complement of passengers there’s barely any room left for luggage - a couple of gym bags at most - but with the rear seats down the Prado swallows a huge amount of cargo, which we tested to the max by taking it on a holiday expedition with four adults and two small dogs (and their kennel).

The middle row can fold down too, turning the cabin into a panalvan-sized maw for more extravagant shopping expeditions.

With four passengers on board everybody gets plenty of stretch-out room along with a versatile seating setup: the middle row is able to be slid forward or back, and the backrest angles adjusted for comfort.

Occupants sit in the lap of luxury in comfortably padded leather seats, and pampered by a lengthy list of luxuries including three-zone climate control (which was impressively effective at chilling such a large cabin), and front electrically-adjusting seats that can be heated or cooled.

The middle row seats also have a switch to warm your tush, in a choice of two temperatures.

A 14-speaker audio system includes a sub woofer and you can connect your music device to it via USB, aux port or bluetooth. Also part of the well-stocked spec sheet are electrically tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, auto headlamps, and rain-sensing wipers.

There’s an abundance of oddments space including a refrigerated storage bin between the front seats to keep the drinks chilled.

Three 12v sockets, as well as a USB port and a 220v two-pronged socket in the boot, will keep the family’s devices happily charged without any squabbling over having to share.

Previously the Prado came in two specification levels and now a third grade has been added: the VX-L. It comes with an electrical tilt-and-slide sunroof and a new driver assistance package which includes radar cruise control that automatically maintains a safe following distance, blind spot warning, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection function, and lane-departure alert.

There’s also a tyre pressure warning system which gives a digital pressure read out in the multi-information display. These active safety systems complement the seven airbags stability control, and trailer sway control.

Nothing has changed engine-wise, and under the bonnet of the upgraded Prado range is a choice of either 3-litre turbodiesel or 4-litre petrol power. We tested the diesel version with the well-known 120kW/400Nm 3.0-litre D-4D engine, paired with a five-speed auto gearbox.

It’s a torquey engine that competently hauls this heavy vehicle without excitement or fanfare once you get past an initial reluctance to move off the line; the turbo lag is quite pronounced particularly at high altitude.

I think the more powerful new 130kW/420Nm 2.8 GD turbodiesel used in the new-generation Hilux would find a happy home in the Prado, but nevertheless the old D-4D made for fairly relaxed cruiseability even with the vehicle holiday-loaded with mammals and luggage.

And it’s not overtly thirsty either. Our test vehicle’s fuel consumption averaged a respectable 10.6 litres per 100km, which ensures an 800km-plus range from that mega 87 litre fuel tank.

One of the main reasons for owning a Prado is its offroading ability and it’s certainly not underendowed with trail-exploring kit. This includes a robust ladder-frame chassis, full-time four wheel drive, high and low range gears, centre and rear diff locks, hill assist control, and modes for five different types of terrain (mud & sand, loose rock, mogul, rock & dirt and rock).

Riding on independent front and rear suspension, the Prado boasts generous 31 degree approach and 25 degree departure angles, along with a 215mm ground clearance which all help to keep its undersides from getting scraped in the dongas. And the rear suspension can be raised for better ground clearance at the press of a button. There aren’t too many offroad trails that will stop this big boy in its tracks, and the old-school body-on-frame design also better isolates the cabin from suspension impacts.

The handling is old-school too, and driving this mega-sized SUV is all about mile-munching comfort and squishy handling. None of the slick cornering precision of an X5 or a Cayenne to be found here; this is more of a sofa on wheels.

VERDICT

With its adventurous, outdoorsy vibe combined with heaps of space and practicality, the Toyota Prado is like the Swiss army knife of SUVs, with a trick up its sleeve for almost every situation. The time-honoured comfort and offroad ability now come in a modernised package with improved practicality.

The price of the VX-L is R969 600, which includes a 3-year/100 000 kilometre warranty and 5-year/90 000 kilometre service plan.

FACTS

Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0DT VX-L

Engine: 3-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Gearbox: 5-speed automatic
Power: 120kW @ 3400rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1600-2800rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):11.7 seconds
Top speed (claimed):175km/h
Ground clearance:215mm
Towing capacity (braked):2500kg
Price: R969 600
Warranty: 5-year/unlimited km
Service plan: Optional

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