They’re almost unstoppable off-road, but is the venerable Prado or the reborn Defender the ultimate daily drive?
The Rolling Stones mega-band of the large SUV segment, the Toyota Prado is hugely popular and, buoyed recently by yet another update, has been around in this current-generation 150 Series guise for 11 years almost to the day – and it’s got the grey hairs to prove it…
The Land Rover Defender, by contrast, has just been completely reborn with a high-tech focus. You might call it the Fatboy Slim of the 4WD world…
We’re comparing the bullet-proof and top-selling Toyota Prado with the all-new Land Rover Defender not only because of their similar size, off-road capability and price, but chiefly to see which is the better all-rounder.
After all, these are going to be family wagons, school taxis and shopping trolleys.
Despite the way they’re promoted, these vehicles will ultimately get more use in the suburbs and on asphalt roads than they will out in the bush on sandy fire trails.
So which one would we rather live with?
What you pay for
The flagship Toyota Prado is an $111000 proposition which ain’t chump change.
Despite its relatively high price point Toyota Prado has been a favourite with Zimbabwean corporates and CEOs, so clearly it’s hitting a sweet spot with buyers.
The most recent upgrade to the ‘son of LandCruiser’ in October 2020 adds a larger 9.0-inch infotainment touch-screen system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (finally!), along with more safety features and more grunt from its 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine which improves drivability slightly.
The 3.0-litre turbo-petrol Land Rover Defender 110 P400 S on test starts out with a higher $160000 and is fitted standard with a bigger (and higher-resolution) 10-inch touch-screen infotainment system also with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus it gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, outshining the Prado’s analogue dials.
The Defender and Prado are both fitted with all-LED exterior lights – headlights, daytime running lights and tail-lights.
Standard equipment on the Prado includes 18-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, side steps, three-zone climate control and a handy in-built car fridge/cooler nestled between the front occupants.
The Defender gets bigger 19-inch alloy wheels but only two-zone climate control, and the in-car fridge is a cost option, as are third-row seats.
All of the Prado’s seven seats are finished in beige leather, plus there’s fake woodgrain trim on the steering wheel and dashboard that look as fresh as mouldy bread, as do most of the controls and switchgear.
That said, despite countless buttons and dials, everything works well in the Prado. The power-adjustable front seats are also wide and welcoming, their soft cushioning making this a comfy vehicle on flat freeways and ideal for long-distance touring.
By comparison, the Defender’s cabin looks and feels like it came from a far-flung utopian future compared to the 1990s-esque Prado fit-out. There’s some serious interior design flair here, but it’s also tinged with a ruggedness evident in the multiple grab handles and hard-wearing rubber floor mats.
The Land Rover’s seats have greater aesthetic appeal, the upholstery blending luxury (acorn-grained leather) with toughness (woven textile trim). But the front seats are only partially power-adjustable, there’s no heating or cooling function like there is in the Prado, nor is there electric steering column adjustment.
The Defender has a total of seven USB ports including a fast-charging USB-C port up front. Like a kid who forgot his school lunch, the Prado only has one solitary USB port. Tut-tut…
Finding a convenient spot to stash a smartphone in the Prado is challenging although the sunglasses holder that doubles as a mirror is a nice touch. However, occupants will be spoiled for choice in its competitor, the Defender’s incidental storage significantly greater and more varied with a large hidden area under the neatly arrayed temperature controls able to swallow a huge amount of junk.
The top-shelf Toyota Prado gets niceties such as a premium 14-speaker JBL sound system, a sunroof and heated and power-folding side mirrors. Carpeted boot and floor mats are in there too. The Defender gets a six-speaker stereo as standard, heated power-folding and auto-dimming exterior mirrors, and rubber floor linings in the cargo area and passenger compartment. A sliding panoramic roof is listed for more cash on the Landie.
Both vehicles offer excellent interior space for five passengers with copious boot space, and while the 4825mm (4995mm with spare wheel mounted on the tailgate) Prado is similar in overall length to the 5018mm Defender, the difference in wheelbase is telling – 2790mm versus 3022mm. This extra length helps make the Defender cabin feel more spacious.
It should be noted that our Land Rover Defender on test was fitted with some of the 170 available optional extras, including the comfort and convenience pack that adds wireless phone charging, an upgraded Meridian sound system and, yes, an in-car fridge like the one in the Prado.
Together with a range of exterior upgrades, including a black roof, Indus Silver paint and several other extras, the final price as tested comes out to more dollars.
But even at its base price of $160000, the Defender offers a far more modern interior ambience and a more advanced and connected tech-driven experience. As such, it’s a better place to be.
Sorting through the tech
As part of the Toyota Prado’s latest upgrade, the big 4WD gets an updated infotainment system in the form of a larger 9.0-inch central touch-screen that finally delivers smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices, and by and large it works well.
However, the Land Rover Defender’s larger widescreen 10-inch display has a classier execution, a higher resolution, a better menu system and more functionality. It’s also easier to use.
Both vehicles feature a road sign recognition camera system that provides real-time updates on the speed limit, but only the Prado comes standard with adaptive cruise control.
The Defender on test has the feature but it’s part of a driver assist pack which also adds blind spot assist, clear exit detection, rear collision monitor and rear traffic monitor – and comes highly recommended. The British SUV is a big unit with decent blind spots.
Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is standard on both models, as is a 360-degree surround parking camera and lane keep assistance. However, the Land Rover’s parking and lane keeping systems are more effective given the more numerous and higher-resolution cameras and steering-based lane keep assist. The Prado dabs the brakes to attempt to bring the car back into its lane.
A full complement of airbags is fitted to both vehicles and the Prado has a five-star ANCAP safety rating from way back in 2011. The Defender is yet to be tested but is likely to get top safety marks.
Both vehicles have automatic headlights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and adaptive dampers but the Prado’s rear-only adjustable air suspension (to improve departure angles) is trumped by the Defender’s dual-axle adjustable air suspension with greater scope.
The Prado starts with 219mm ground clearance to the Defender’s 218mm, but the British mud-slinger can boost that up to 291mm, gifting it significantly better off-road approach, ramp-over and departure angles.
Defender also has a 900mm wading depth, versus Prado’s 700mm.
Both SUVs feature a capable full-time 4WD system with low-range gearing, and centre and rear locking differentials, all controlled by easy-to-use dials with various terrain mode settings. The Prado also gets adjustable anti-roll bars (KDSS) to improve wheel articulation off-road.
Diesel four versus petrol six
The Toyota Prado’s upgraded 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is shared with the HiLux ute and gets the same 20kW and 50Nm power and torque bump to 150kW at 3400rpm and 500Nm between 1600rpm and 2800rpm. It hooks up to a six-speed automatic transmission and can tow up to 3000kg.
The engine provides adequate propulsion for the hefty 2455kg behemoth off-road, and the low-end torque is well suited to slow-speed, low-range power moves on challenging terrain.
In built-up city and urban areas it feels acceptable rather than special, and overtaking at freeway speeds can take a bit more time and patience than more modern diesels, for example.
The Defender’s 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, by comparison, delivers a meatier 294kW/550Nm punch and is significantly quieter, smoother and more refined than the clattery (and controversial) Toyota oiler.
Land Rover’s petrol six-cylinder is not as well suited off-road as the Toyota diesel, and while you could previously specify a smaller 2.0-litre diesel with the Defender to be replaced by an all-new 3.0-litre diesel (147kW/500Nm to 220kW/650Nm) in early 2021.
The Defender’s petrol-powered mechanical heart pumps through an eight-speed automatic transmission, and maximum braked towing capacity for the Land Rover is rated higher at 3500kg.
Unsurprisingly, the Prado’s diesel is more efficient with an as-tested 11.9L/100km figure after a week driving the vehicle. The petrol Defender could only manage 15.2L/100km.
Despite the controversy that surrounds Toyota’s diesel engine (which is currently at the centre of a legal class action being brought against Toyota by disgruntled owners), it seems to us to be a far better choice if you’re planning some serious off-road adventures.
With more Toyota dealers spread across the nation and spare parts available almost anywhere, it’s a strong motivator to choose a Prado or its big brother LandCruiser.
Where Defender shines
The Land Rover Defender is a more sophisticated, more refined and more comfortable vehicle due in large part to its new D7x car-like monocoque platform. And it’s here, in the driving and comfort department, that the British wagon really starts to pull ahead in this comparison.
While most serious 4×4 off-roaders are built on a rugged ladder-frame chassis (as per Prado), which typically sacrifices on-road dynamics in the process, the Defender defies convention – and the 11-year-old Prado – by achieving exceptional off-road and on-road competency.
It sits flatter through corners, is easier to steer and navigates roundabouts and car parks more effortlessly. It dispatches pretty much everything suburbia can throw at it with a calmer, more relaxed demeanour.
The Prado feels slower and more ponderous, yet the suspension takes longer to settle down after traversing speed bumps, for example. Ride comfort is not as supple either, something you really feel when in the second row.
Little things like the push-button park brake and advanced multi-view parking camera system in the Land Rover Defender make the Toyota Prado’s hand-operated park brake and pixelated camera system feel archaic.
The Prado’s seats offer better long-distance comfort when roads are uniformly smooth, but on shorter trips across crumbling roads and during everyday use the Defender offers a more relaxed and supple driving experience.
Both vehicles have a full-size spare wheel and side-hinged tailgate which makes access to the boot easy, but the Prado on test has an optional split-window tailgate which offers greater versatility, ideal for quickly loading stuff into the boot.
However, because the spare wheel moves from the tailgate to the undercarriage with the (no-cost) split-window option, the secondary fuel tank is deleted, dropping capacity from 150 litres to 87L. Toyota says urban buyers typically go for the split-window tailgate while rural buyers choose the massive circa-2000km cruising range.
The Defender has a 90L fuel tank.
A clear winner
Just like The Rolling Stones’ front-man Mick Jagger, the Toyota Prado is still performing well in its advanced years and its popularity is as strong as ever.
The Prado is solid by most measures and its reputation for reliability has been hard-won over the decades – something that still needs to be ratified with the reborn Defender.
We note that Land Rover is currently sweetening the deal by turfing its three-year/100,000km warranty for a promotional five-year/unlimited-kilometre offer that matches the Toyota. And the brand wants to continue this level of cover moving forward.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Defender has lower regular maintenance costs, with petrol variants of the 110.
The Toyota also has six-month intervals which means the vehicle will be off the road twice a year, not once.
Overall, the British mud-slinger’s slick interior execution, balanced chassis, intuitive technology and advanced safety features make it a better choice for those living in, and spending more time around, the urban jungle.
Given what’s on offer from Toyota for a similar outlay, and the fact that the Land Rover is superior off-road, the Defender wins this stoush by a fair margin.
How much does the 2020 Toyota Prado Kakadu cost?
Price Estimate: $110000
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 209g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star (ANCAP 2011)
How much does the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 P400 S cost?
Price Estimate: $160000
Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 9.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 230g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Not tested