Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This "Mum's Taxi" could be your next expedition 4wd...

It might be a well known "mum's taxi" but have you considered the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado as your expedition vehicle?
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado D-4D
We all know about the Land Cruiser Troopy, the popular 80-Series but what about the 120-Series as a vehicle option for overland travel?
Stacked within the ranks of the Land Cruiser naming standards, the 120-Series is typically known as the Prado (or in the UK, the LC3).

The 120-Series entered the vehicle market in 2003 replacing the six year old 90-Series (known as the Colorado in the UK). Upon initial release, it was fitted with the same 3.0L diesel engine as its predecessor however many drivers claimed it was underpowered which potentially contributed to Toyota to replacing it with the 3.0L D-4D common rail diesel matched to a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic gearbox.

The Land Cruiser brand personifies reliability, durability and the Toyota 'sameness'.  The vehicles all seem to have that similiar driving style... that of comfort, and driveability. The brand attracts loyal follows who actively defend their vehicle decision especially against Land Rover fanatics.


To keep the naming standards simple, I will refer to the 120-Series as the 'Prado'. Admittedly majority of Prado's are used as "mum's taxi" due to the 8-seat layout.  Remove the Prado from an urban environment and you have a comfortable overland tourer offering ample interior space with good access, and a comfort level that will ensure the roughest drives are handled with ease.
The automatic gearbox transitions swiftly between the gears whilst the rear limited-slip differential (LSD) ensures traction to the rear wheels without the Torsen centre diff engaged.  Toyota statesThe Torsen,® or torque-sensing, differential is engineered to automatically send more torque to the wheel or axle with more traction, helping provide greater grip and better turning on uncertain surfaces. This is different to the Land Cruiser 70 or 80-Series which uses the decades old design of a traditional transfer gearbox [note: this is about as technical as I can get and might not accurately reflect the defined engineering!].

Here's 10 points to attempt to convince you that this might be an ideal overland 'platform' for keeping standard or building up as an expedition vehicle:

1. The Toyota 'lack-of-personality' factor

This vehicle won't be the talking point around the fire place especially if a Troopy driver and a Land Rover Defender driver are part of the fireside conversations. However, you will be the only one stepping out of the dust proof interior, fresh from the icy cold aircon and with energy levels that are ready to tackle camp setup.

2. You want modifications?

In factory form, the IFS permanent 4wd is ready to go. Ground clearance is adequate for trans-Africa travel in 2015 and the 180L factory fitted fuel tank is the perfect size for refueling in cheap countries, giving you a fuel efficient drive over 1200km per fuel tank.


Majority of the brand name 4x4 accessories have something on offer from bullbars, 50mm lift kits, snorkels, roofracks, interior drawer systems, and dual battery options.

ARB has a dedicated catalog for the Prado 120-series:
The biggest challenge for any DIY modifications is the 'city-style' body panels and the neat interior layout when compared to the Troopy and Defender.  This challenge affects all vehicles in this generation and will require the 'measure twice, cut once' approach.

3. Computers?

Yip, like majority of mid 2000 build vehicles, this vehicle does have an engine management system which includes an ODBII connector (near fuse box under steering wheel). A $10 bluetooth ODBII connector and Android App will read any errors generated, clear the logged errors (won't fix the errors though) and display certain information (turbo boost and fuel consumption, the latter not being very accurate).
ODBII Information on Android App

4. The Price Point

The Prado is well known in Australia but the cost of shipping a vehicle from Australia for a trans-continental journey is prohibitive for majority of overlanders.  They can use purchased 2nd hand in the UK and USA (branded as the Lexus).
The following video gives a good insight on 2nd hand Prado's:


The UK price point for 2nd hand Land Cruiser LC3 120-series can't be beaten. A quick search on Autosales produced the following results.  The vehicle had a higher resale value than expected and placed it midmarket with the 100-Series and the Land Rover Discovery 3.
Autotrader UK adverts

Comparing prices, you could opt for an 80-Series, 100-Series Land Rover Defender or a Land Rover Discovery 3.
Autotrader UK advert
The challenge the Prado faces is that not many people have used them as overland vehicles so buying a fully kitted vehicle will be a challenge.  Expect to double the price of the base vehicle if you opt for a factory condition vehicle and want to prep it for extended trans-continental travel.
Autotrader UK advert

5. Don't buy one if you want attention...

As mentioned previously... this vehicle potentially won't turn heads. At a recent event in Sydney, only one Prado D4D was represented and the owner was not asked one question! Regardless of all other capable vehicles, overlanders gravitate towards Troopy's and Defenders'.


Don't buy one if you want your vehicle to be the focal point of your travels however, buy one if you want a comfortable platform to enjoy your overland travels from and one that will be equally comfortable on sealed or unsealed roads.

6. Interior space...

Prado rear drawers & table setup
You can't live in this vehicle, like you can with a modified Troopy. The positive aspect of living outside the Prado is the large rear door which allows for ample access to the rear of the vehicle.

A rear drawer system integrates neatly into the rear and offers a simple way of keeping 'daily use items' dust free with good access.

Drifta, an Australian company, manufactures vehicle interiors and have created a number of drawer systems for all types of vehicles. Here are the drawer dimensions compared to other 5-door 4x4s.

Prado 120-Series: 1060W x 940D x 275H
Land Cruiser 100-Series: 1080W x 1000D x 275H
Land Rover Discovery 3 or 4: 1090W x 1000D x 275H
Land Rover Defender: Internal dimensions 730W x 1030D x 220H (provided by Outback Interiors)

7. Did you know...

Did you know that the Land Cruiser Prado 120-Series has an overall length longer than a Land Rover Defender and Land Rover Discovery 4?
Prado 120-Series vs 80-Series Photo Credit: Wombling Free

Overall Lengh:
Prado 120-Series: 4,850mm
Prado 150-Series: 4,930mm
Land Cruiser Troopy: 5,210mm
Land Cruiser 80-Series: 4,780mm
Land Cruiser 100-Series: 4,890mm
Land Rover Defender: 4,785mm
Land Rover Discovery 4: 4,829mm

8. PradoPoint.com

With over 25,000 registered users, PradoPoint is the forum to join if you are looking for an online community. The forum is very active with topics ranging from mechanical information, trip planning and reports and annual calendar competitions.  An annual subscription is available which minimises adverts and gives the user access to Tapatalk (mobile forum app).
PradoPoint Forum

9. Overlanders Handbook...

Overlanders' Handbook finishes the section on the Prado with the following paragraph:
All in all it's hard to think why a prospective overlander would choose a Prado, common rail or otherwise, over a bigger six-cylinder Land Cruiser available for the same price, but as with all these things, if you've owned one for a while and trust it, there's nothing stopping you.
Source: Overlander's Handbook by Chris Scott. PG 113

The Overlander's Handbook mentions the use of 17" rims and tyres and the potential difficulty of sourcing these whilst traveling.  It's a good point however tyre durability is no longer an issue these days with many overlanders claiming zero punctures throughout their travels.

10. Three-Generations

The Prado brand is now into its 3rd generation and is well respected in the mid sized 4wd market.  Mechanical issues across the three generations are known and all have a solution to resolving those minor gremlins.

The Prado is still a rare vehicle for Trans-continental travel and only a few have completed a full trans-Africa trip.  The Africa Overland Network is featuring trips which used Prado as the primary vehicle for travel.

Conclusion

The Prado is a very capable vehicle for trans-continental travel yet it has not gained the traction as a reputable expedition based vehicle which means that it probably won't make the list of top vehicles.  It will do the job and will match the Troopy and Defender across any terrain and current owners will verify the comfort, capability and driveability of this "mum's taxi".

Additional Reading: