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Petroheads: Prado takes on Discovery

don’t do joint reviews because I usually get one car at a time, but last week I was driving along Kiambu road when I happened upon a pair of similar cars, parked side by side.

The man at Windsor motors was kind enough to let me have them both for the day. They’re both gangster black SUVs with very different personalities, one the 2011 Land Rover Discovery, a brutish Brit and the 2011 Toyota Prado, the skilled samurai.

Aesthetics:

The Discovery wins this one hands down. It looks solid, like a brick, and sits low on the ground on 19-inch twin multi-spoke rims. It looks menacing yet contained and civil, like a bear in a suit and with impeccable table manners. It perfectly portrays SUV classicism in its proportions and unlike other boxy classics like its Defender stablemate, oozes with refinement. The only thing a bit unnerving is the back where the split tailgate, although more useful than the office door on the Prado, forces an unbalanced design. Some people like it but I think it looks lopsided.

The Prado is a bit more unconventional. By a bit, I mean a lot. Toyota has been criticised in the past for making cars that look as exciting as a photocopier but not with this one. The Prado looks like a girl who thinks that she’s not pretty enough, goes for plastic surgery only to end up looking much worse. It’s visually overwhelming. And there are so many of them! On the 2-hour test drive, I counted 89 Prados and four Discoveries.

Interior:

The Discovery wins this one again. You feel like you’re in the drawing room of a regal castle. The seats are plush, the materials soft. It’s a bit like sitting on a motorised fluffy pillow. You can tell painstaking attention was paid to every little detail like the horn buttons or door handles. The Prado, in contrast, feels a lot more clinical, like the office printer or the KRA iTax form.

Yes, the seats are comfortable and you do get about an inch more legroom in every seat than in the Disco, but it feels inorganic. The test car I had was all black on the inside too, no contrasting materials or colours. It gets dark and gloomy when the windows are up. Thankfully, it has a sunroof, but again the Discovery beats it by having three.

The dashboard is simpler and less cluttered than the Discovery unit, only because it has fewer features and therefore less impressive. In the Discovery you get Terrain Response System. To put plainly, it is a bit like having the world’s best 4X4 Driver sitting next to you, handling the hard stuff but giving you the credit. And the dial is much fancier than the one you get in the Prado.

Driving

Both have a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel but the Discovery’s puts out a colossal 520 Nm of torque and 208 horsepower to deal with two and a half tonnes of luxury. When you put your foot down it the twin sequential turbochargers turn it into a magic carpet, blurring the scenery at an alarming rate. It’s a wonderfully intoxicating feeling and the brakes perform miracles in bringing proceedings to a smooth and yet aggressively sudden stop. The dampening was a bit juddery for a car with air suspension. You feel every imperfection as the wide and very low profile tyres grip like Velcro.

You can adjust the ride height when you go off-road and dominate the great outdoors but I don’t see many Discovery drivers actually ever going off the smooth asphalt.

The Disco looks and feels like the cocktail suit you’d don to an ambassadorial party. It will rush if it has to but keep the revs at 1,500 rpm and its cruises effortlessly, making light work of steep hills.

The Prado is a lot less pretentious. You get the legendary Land Cruiser 4X4 underpinnings, which with Multi Terrain and Crawl Control should get you over or around anything mother-nature throws at you.

You know it will take you to the ends of the earth and back if you were so inclined. You get sensible ride height and you get sensible power. It’s not as fast or as comfortable as the Discovery on tarmac but that’s fine because where it matters, in the real world, the Prado inspires more confidence. It never seems excessive, just enough, like a perfectly portioned meal that leaves you satisfied to a T. The 171 horsepower 3.0-litre turbo-diesel is surprisingly spritely and the rack and pinion steering much sharper and communicative than the Disco. Because it’s over 200kg lighter than the discovery the 410 Nm of torque is enough to send it to 100kph in less than 10 seconds.

Verdict

You can drive from Nairobi to South Africa with either car but I’d go for the Prado every time, and judging by the numbers, so would most Kenyans. You just know that if something were to go wrong along the way, the Toyota will be simpler and cheaper to fix.

They were both 2011 models and the Prado was more expensive at Sh5.7 million to the Discovery’s Sh5.3 million, obviously a reflection of demand. The most expensive cars depreciate most because they still cost an arm and a leg to fix.

I absolutely loved the Discovery but the truth is it’s designed to pull way too much attention to itself, in essence being a poser’s car, while the Prado just gets on with it. It just looks how it looks, goes how it goes and because it’s reputably reliable and affordably fixable anywhere, you’ll have peace of mind driving it everywhere. There’s a reason there are so many of them over the Discovery and there’s a reason the local JLR dealership is in trouble. It falls a bit short in refinement but it more than makes up for that with a higher residual value. While the Disco is the more appealing of the Diesel demons, the Prado is the more practical.

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