Off-roading with the new Toyota Land Cruiser Prado

The updated model is much-improved, however, notably now with the crawl assist, making it a real desert contender

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 16 October 2017. Launch of the new 2018 Toyota Prado at Al Qudra. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Adam Workman. Section: Motoring.
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Certain cars are so ubiquitous in the UAE that they barely need any introduction – and the Toyota Land Cruiser is undoubtedly one of them. But the Prado is a relatively unsung little brother, possibly because of its reputation as a machine more adept at dropping off the kids at school than actual real-life off-roading expertise.

The 2018 Prado is out to dispel that stereotype, however. Given how many past Prados you spy during an average day on the roads here, it must have already been doing plenty right in the eyes of Toyota buyers. The updated model is much-improved, however, notably now with the crawl assist, making it a real desert contender.

We drive the 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado

We drive the 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado

That function is demonstrated by a Toyota off-roading expert during a sand-based tryout near the Last Exit Al Qudra in the picturesque surrounds of Dubai’s Al Qudra Lakes. As many cyclists pedal around this area as off-road devotees bash dunes, but the two-wheeled types certainly couldn’t extract themselves from the kind of deep sand that the Prado manages to negotiate. It is most impressive, though, from the vantage point of the driver’s seat. At one point, my test car becomes stuck after carrying slightly insufficient momentum up a particularly challenging incline, but with the five-speed crawl engaged and feet off the pedals, it self-reverses out of the granular bind with almost as much ease as manoeuvring in a marble-flat tarmac car park.

The mid-size SUV now has eight derivatives across three- and five-door variants, from the entry-level 2.7-litre option up to a healthy 4.0 – the latter is the unit powering my car. Those who enjoy bouncing over sandy crests will enjoy the front-end changes, with a raised front bumper giving the appearance of a skid plate, while the new grille, with vertical bars, carries a little more aggression than its predecessor’s nose, as well as offering better cooling to the engine – a boon in our scorching climate.

In addition to the crawl options, there are plenty of settings for on and off road – eco, normal and sport modes, plus a quintet of multi-terrain alternatives. A kinetic dynamic suspension system and extended wheel articulation also aid in not bouncing eyes out of sockets.

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The cabin is a more luxurious place to be than in previous Prados, with air-conditioned seats, 360-degree cameras and a nine-inch touchscreen. The front camera can even record and store video footage, which will probably come in handy to back up tall tales of off-road ability that, without evidence, might seem like unlikely achievements for a Prado.

Save for a short, sedate pootle on a service road from the Last Exit to the dunes of Al Qudra, I don’t get the opportunity to put it through its paces on the hard stuff. Although that isn’t a complaint, because precious few manufacturers seem to be comfortable allowing their SUVs of any size to be allowed off-road testing, full stop, let alone given a thorough going over. That in itself tells you that Toyota is mightily confident in the Prado’s ability. The overall result is one of a comfortable desert experience rather than an extreme event; we’re talking more navigating to an isolated camp site for a civilised barbecue than bounding over the landscape like a baja truck with an urgent appointment to reach.

Naturally, all of the above could be extraneous information were the Prado going to set you back several hundred thousand dirhams for the privilege. But with a starting price of Dh129,900, it has an awful lot going for it for the outlay. There can’t be many more capable propositions.