When it comes to off-roaders that are designed to transport you across some of the harshest landscapes on the planet – in high luxury, no less, the Toyota Prado and Land Rover Defender are near the top of the pile. The new Defender's racking up sales, but how does it stack up against the ageing, but ever-popular, Prado?
These 2 nameplates are synonymous with extreme off-roading. The Defender has a cult following because of the British icon's storied 60-year history. It started its life as a purposely utilitarian off-roader with few sops to passenger comfort, so while it has countless fans, most of them curse their vehicles when they need to execute parallel parking manoeuvres on busy city streets, for example. Since the new Defender’s arrival last year, however, things have changed drastically; the L663 model is much easier to live with as an everyday vehicle and even better off-road thanks to its array of tech features.
The Toyota Prado, on the other hand, has been one of the most popular luxury off-road vehicles in South Africa since the late 1990s. Considering the age of the current generation (it was launched in 2009), it still outsells the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE, all of which offer reasonable off-road capability in combination with vastly better on-road dynamics than the Japanese SUV.
Does the ageing Prado have enough going for it to match the new Defender P400? We pitted the 2 rivals against each other to see which of them represent the best way to spend R1.25 million on an off-roader.
How do they compare in terms of…
The Prado has proven its off-road effectiveness over the span of 3 generations.
The Prado’s nameplate is legendary in South Africa; it’s revered as a vehicle that's extremely capable in virtually all off-road conditions – in fact, the worse the route, the better the Toyota is said to perform. The model's underpinned by a tried and trusted Land Cruiser chassis that’s optimised for off-roading. Its suspension is specifically set up to be softly sprung so it soaks up impacts and jolts, such as when climbing over rocks or traversing poor gravel roads. The steering is light for this very reason – one finger is all you need to control it through technical terrain and, when the wheel fights you, it doesn’t "take your arm off".
Having said that, the Prado feels the more analogue of the 2 vehicles to drive; it’s old-school insofar as you simply point it at where you want to go and modulate the throttle and steering as you see fit. Whether you get stuck along the route you undertake depends largely on your off-roading skill level. That’s not strictly true, however, because the Toyota has been endowed with modern off-roading equipment such as Terrain Select, hill descent control, a crawl mode... and even the option to pull away in 2nd gear with the 2nd Start button. It doesn’t feel as if these systems take centre stage in the Prado's overall packaging, whereas the Defender puts the tech "in your face and ready to use". The Prado’s simplicity evokes a sense of invincibility; its driver instinctively trusts there’s nothing too fancy that could go wrong or break.
Our Defender test unit was specced with air suspension (something which you can’t have on a Prado) and it does make off-roading more comfortable, especially when travelling along long stretches of gravel road. It also gives the Land Rover considerably more ground clearance, while simultaneously affording its user the option to manually lower the vehicle to make it easier to load up their detritus.
The new Defender looks the part and has all the right credentials to be the most capable off-road car you can buy.
While the vehicles' off-road spec is quite similar (incl. low range and selectable modes), the Defender’s controls feel slicker to use: the interface is more intuitive and the exterior cameras provide much better resolution. You can even select a view that allows you to "see through the bonnet". The Prado’s camera set up, by contrast, feels basic. Due to its lower resolution, it’s not always clear what you’re looking at.
Speak to the guys at the Land Rover Experience centre (they drive Defenders off-road all day, every day) and they’ll tell you that the Discovery was the most capable Land Rover ever made until the new Defender came along and blew it away. Every aspect of the drive can be adjusted through the Pivi Pro touchscreen system (from throttle control, to the locking of the diffs and traction control settings etc).
Digging into off-road potential specs, the Prado is claimed to have an approach angle of 32 degrees, a departure angle of 24 degrees and a breakover point of 22 degrees. The Defender, with its wheels positioned at the extreme corners of the chassis (oh, and it's even boxier than the Prado) has better off-roading stats... Land Rover claims its newcomer has a 38-degree approach angle, a 40-degree departure angle and a 28-degree breakover point. The wading depth of the Defender is also better – 900 mm, compared with the Prado’s 700 mm.
Both vehicles are extremely capable in tough terrain and more than a match for where your average holiday destination might be located, but if you’re the Overlanding type who likes to forge their own path and are looking for the most off-road capable vehicle, the Defender ultimately has the edge.
Ladder frame vs monocoque, there's only one winner when it comes to tarmac manners.
The on-road manners of the combatants are relative to the ages of the vehicles. The brand new Defender has a monocoque (it's not a body-on-frame design) and incorporates the latest chassis tech from Land Rover. Its aluminium architecture is reportedly 3 times stiffer than a ladder-frame chassis (like the Prado's). The stiffness translates into sharper steering responses, less body roll and, as a consequence, more sure-footedness. Air suspension is just as useful on-road as off it and the Defender smooths out its path. They may have to start building more effective speed bumps, because I anticipate that Defender owners may just blast through them as there is little to identify you’ve hit something harsh from behind the 'wheel. What you don’t need on your Defender, unless you really need to butch up the SUV's looks, are the mud-plugging tyres. They are noisy at anything above 80 kph and stiffen up the ride with their hard sidewalls. The standard all-terrain tyres will serve you better over the long run and are still excellent off-road.
The Prado, meanwhile, is approximately 12 years old in 2021 and while it has had a facelift, there’s no getting away from the age of the frame (technologically speaking) that the Toyota's body is mounted on. That said, it does have adaptive dampers that adjust the suspension depending on the conditions, um, underfoot. There’s certainly more lean in the chassis when cornering and the light steering doesn’t provide much of a connection to the road for the driver, but, by all accounts, it’s comfortable and familiar, much like your favourite couch, except your couch is probably newer.
Petrol or diesel, the Defender has the more powerful engines, but they are thirstier too.
The 2 engines here might ignite different types of fuel (the Defender is a turbopetrol P400 and the Prado a 2.8 GD turbodiesel), but this match-up provides valuable insight into the differences between petrol- and diesel-engined SUVs. We have driven the D240 Defender before, so we do have a reference point for comparison with the Prado’s new, more powerful 2.8-litre turbodiesel.
The more powerful diesel (150 kW/500 Nm) is the same unit as in the facelifted Hilux and Fortuner. It delivers better in-gear overtaking acceleration and while it doesn’t make the Prado feel sportier, it delivers a driving experience befitting a R1-million-plus SUV. Out on the freeway, the Prado’s consumption averaged 9.2 L/100 km, but that increased to over 11 L/100 km when driving on suburban and city roads.
By comparison, the Defender’s turbodiesel unit in the D240 derivative produces 177 kW and 430 Nm of torque. The focus for Land Rover appears to be a more linear power delivery over high torque and extra pulling power. It does lag momentarily before accelerating quite aggressively (until you get used to making slightly lighter applications of the throttle pedal), but it then runs out of puff when the revs surge past 2 500 rpm. Ultimately, the Land Rover D240 motor feels the quicker of the 2 turbodiesels and during our earlier test of the D240 derivative, we found indicated fuel consumption would drop as low as 10 L/100 km and climb as high as 12 L/100 km. We might suggest waiting for the new straight-6 turbodiesel that’s due any day now (Q1 2021), as it will likely provide the perfect sweet spot for Defender owners.
The P400 petrol we have here uses a 6-cylinder turbopetrol to chuck out 294 kW and 550 Nm of torque. It’s a strong engine that gives the Defender uncharacteristic overtaking prowess, it also pounces quickly off the line making it super fun to drive around town and on country roads. The downside is that fuel consumption is, in a word, terrifying. We gave the car back with the average consumption reading 18.5 L/100 km. You will certainly achieve better results than that in the long run, but it will require much more sedate driving and there’s not much point to that if you have a sonorous 6-cylinder under the bonnet.
When it comes to ultimate tank range, the Prado is fitted with a 150-litre tank, meaning that you can, in theory, travel in excess of 1 500 km on a tank, so that you won't need to stop at that dodgy-looking 1-pump petrol station town that sells 500 ppm sand fuel. The Defender only comes with a 90-litre tank, but you could probably store a small Jerrycan in the side box, if you'd like to (Adventure pack option).
The Prado's door aperture is wider than the Defender's making for a slightly larger load bay (in 5-seater mode).
These are large SUVs so you’re not going to find many vehicles out there that can accommodate as many people (and their things) as these can. They are surprisingly closely matched in terms of length, with the Defender being just 8 mm longer (5 018 mm vs 5 010 mm) than the Prado. Stack them side-by-side though and the Defender seems to dwarf the Prado. Maybe it’s the chunkier design and roof rack creating a bit of an optical illusion, but the same goes for the interiors. The Defender feels roomier (almost vast) inside, with huge-but-comfortable seats that make the Prado’s items feel puny by comparison.
In terms of packaging, the Defender demonstrates how far SUV interiors have advanced in the past 10 years. Whereas the Prado has a cubby hole, cup holders, door pockets and a nice big (and cooled) centre console, Land Rover's newcomer features a tiered centre console in which you can store phones or bunches of keys and whatever else you want to bring with you, and it still has room for a cooled centre box.
You can spec the interior of the Landy with a washable covering.
The shelf-like space to the left of the infotainment screen is useful for storing passenger-specific goods (like padkos), plus there's a USB port on the shelf – ostensibly so that the front passenger’s phone won't t clutter the centre console. Moving to the rear, where the Prado comes standard with 7 seats (a 3rd row is optional in the Defender), both cars offer enough legroom to seat all sizes of people in comfort. The Defender’s 3 022 mm wheelbase (versus the Prado’s 2 790 mm) does mean the former offers more legroom, but you’re not going to find the accommodation cramped, by any measure, in either of these SUVs.
Luggage capacity actually favours the Prado, probably because the rear door aperture of the Land Rover is narrower than the Toyota’s. As a result, claimed load space for the Prado is 104 litres with all the seats up and 974 litres in 5-seater mode. The Defender is slightly bigger in 7-seater mode (160 litres), but only offers 743 litres in 5-seater configuration.
When you're spending R1.2 million, looks matter – and the Defender attracts more eyes than the Prado.
Aesthetic appreciation may be subjective, but in the eyes of most onlookers we chatted with, the Defender looks so much cooler than the Prado. Its retro design hits the right notes and judging by the envious looks and attention it got, you would never know that we had a seriously rare red Prado with us (have you ever seen a Prado that wasn’t white, beige or silver?).
The Defender is going to be the car that catches your eye and tugs at your heartstrings when you need to sign on the dotted line at the dealership. It’s no wonder sales have rocketed since its launch last year.
It’s also entirely customisable to your lifestyle; there are add-on packs for all kinds of cosmetic (and, okay, functional) addenda and a plethora of external designs to choose from, so much so that you can easily get lost on the online configurator for hours while you choose which adornments you want – much to the detriment of your bank balance, of course.
Modern and sophisticated but still extremely practical.
Tech-wise, it seems the Prado has brought a sjambok to a gunfight (again), although perhaps the gun in question is a little too fancy for its own good. Metaphors aside, the abundance of USB ports is reason alone to award this section to the Defender. The Prado has 1 USB port, whereas you can lose count of the number of USBs you can spec in a Defender, which is also available with a wireless charging pad.
The updated Prado does come with Android Auto and Apple Carplay compatibility, which is a step in the right direction and allows you to use 3rd party apps for media and navigation. It does feature Toyota’s Safety Sense suite as well, which incorporates pre-collision detection, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert. All of this you can have on a Hilux and Fortuner as well, but it is nice to have electrically operated front seats and steering-column adjustment over and above what the other Toyota models offer.
Prado interior showing its age. Is that wood trim from someone's skirting board?
Swapping to the Defender's cabin, however, time warps you into 2021 with a glossy touchscreen that can be customised to display whichever layout you want on it. The system works very quickly thanks to a new processor and feels very much like a large smartphone (because it offers similar features and adjustability). The 3D camera screens are impressive in 4x4 mode; they allow you to rotate your view around the entire SUVs while looking at things like steering angle, lean angle and differential settings.
The Landy does seem to have teething troubles, however. We came across a few software glitches when using Android Auto and Apple Carplay, not to mention the electrics on the door windows and mirrors stopped working. It was quickly rectified via a software update, which can be done "over the air", which means if you encounter issues, they can be sorted without having to visit a dealer (drivetrain issues too).
The Prado has earned its spot as the go-to vehicle for traversing Africa and its untouched landscapes. Defender is the young upstart.
If you've read intently up to this point in the comparison, you may think that this is a walkover for the Defender... The Defender is better on- and off-road, looks more attractive and is jam-packed with modern technology and connectivity options. What it hasn’t done yet, however, is prove its reliability and die-hard attitude under punishing African conditions. It may have clocked up millions of miles in testing, but we all know that the real test is what happens when there is no signal, no repair shop within 100 km and you’re deep in the bush, mud or sand and your SUV presents your only chance of getting back to civilisation.
The Prado and its Land Cruiser platform has spent decades proving itself in our conditions and has an enviable reputation for reliability. Prado owners swear by (as opposed to at) their vehicles and the new-vehicle sales figures show that some 12 years since this iteration of the 7-seater SUV arrived in local showrooms, in excess of 100 units still find new owners in the Republic every month.
The previous Defender similarly spent much of its life proving itself in rural Africa, but was never able to attain the Toyota's level of robust reliability. The new one still needs to prove itself in that department!
When all is said and done, if you're looking for the last word in reliability and brand strength, the venerable Prado should be the one that gets your nod. If, however, you don’t intend to spend every waking moment thrashing through the bundu and happen to live a more urbane city life for 90% of the year (as most people who can afford these vehicles do), the Defender is, unsurprisingly, the better all-rounder.