Trailblazer vs Prado J120: Perfect Game of Thrones

Tuesday September 12 2017

Prado J120 and the Toyota Surf may be highly

Prado J120 and the Toyota Surf may be highly capable Toyotas but they are outdated in the Chevrolet Trailblazer’s presence. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

Baraza, I am an ardent reader of your articles and I must congratulate you for the influence you have on our choices of cars. I’d ike to upgrade my current SUV to a used, three-litre, luxury, mid-size, diesel SUV priced at about Sh3.5 million. I have done a bit of desktop research but don’t seem to arrive at a convincing conclusion. I am a Nairobi resident who drives 20 kilometres on tarmac daily to and from work, and I do the occasional travel run upcountry once every three months.

I have narrowed down the options to a BMW X5 40d M-Sport, Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI, and Mercedes ML350 CDI BlueTec Sport, all 2011 to 2012 models. My preferences in order of priority are driving and performance dynamics (I’m an enthusiastic driver), reliability (a car that doesn’t just fail when I’m in the middle of nowhere), comfort, and manageable maintenance costs (not just fuel costs).

My preference for the three-litre diesels is because I know diesel fuel expenses are manageable since all these vehicles quote above 30mpg on urban driving conditions.

Which of these vehicles is best suited for me, given my situation and priorities? Which one would stand the tests of time and Kenyan terrain? What are the known defects of these vehicles?

Meanwhile, how would you rate the diesel sold locally in terms of quality and impact on the engine and consequent running costs or durability of these cars?

Fred MT

PS: Should you ever seek a political seat, I will definitely vote for you!


Straight to the point we shall go with your three entries, and we start off with:

1. Driving or performance dynamics

You can’t beat the BMW. The fact that it says ‘M-Sport’ on the tin is just the cherry on top; it means that it has been breathed upon, however slightly, by the inmates at BMW’s M Division asylum. It is not a full-on M car, but it looks the part, and handles passably as well. The Mercedes ML350 is anodyne in comparison, and the Touareg is nondescript.

2. Reliability

You are barking up the wrong tree here because you are talking reliability in cars that are a) European, b) diesel-powered, and, c) turbocharged. Ouch!

Can you say ‘The Trifecta Of Gloom’? There is no clear winner here since they all have their failings, which are broadly similar across the board. Oh, there is a fourth ‘Parameter Of Pity’ as well: they are operated via a network of complex electronics. It really doesn’t look very good for them.

That said, the Touareg is the most infamous of the three with its DPF-related ailments, but that was endemic with the first generation car. Its replacement seems to be holding its own fairly well and nowadays we import our entire diesel stash, so we need not worry too much about choking DPFs.

3. Comfort

It is very, very hard to beat Mercedes at this game, so the others don’t even bother trying. End of story.

4. Running costs

You did not need the disclaimer that we are not discussing fuel costs; after all these are diesel engines — they were invented to save fuel. Non-fuel-related costs are also likely to be tear-jerking because (see No. 2 above) the cars are all European, diesel-powered, turbocharged, and festooned with electronics.

The parts prices really are eye-watering, with numerous sundry odds and ends nestling comfortably within six-figure territory, so the next time you come across a grown man weeping copiously in a spares shop, fret not; he may have just been presented with an invoice for a turbo actuator replacement on his V6 TDI Touareg.

Of the three, which would I nominate for the Methuselah Award? It will have to be the Touareg. Electronics and first-generation hang-ups aside, these vehicles are very solidly built; they are the reason auto journos like me use words like “bullet-proof” when describing their build quality.

The Benz is a touch dainty, especially with dangly bits, and is strictly for suburban housewife application, while the BMW has ephemeral interior materials (the leather in particular) and is for yuppies performing drive-bys on Wall Street.

But the Touareg... the Touareg is the only one of the three that dares to get down and dirty and come out the other side smiling.

(PS: Thank you for your confidence in me. If they ever hold a poll for Best Columnist I will come looking for your vote).

Baraza, I’m a fan of General Motors cars after experiencing the prowess of the D-Max’s capabilities and roughness, especially the diesel turbo. I am eyeing their Chevrolet Trailbalzer and I would like your advice on the pros and cons of the car. How does it stack up against the Toyota Surf and the Prado J120? Clement.

Toyota Land Cruiser Prado J120. PHOTO| FILE

Toyota Land Cruiser Prado J120. PHOTO| FILE

Clement, the Trailblazer’s similarities to the Prado are uncanny, and I did a review of the car right here on November 9 last year. Here are some extracts from that article:

“So that means it is essentially a D-Max longroof, a la Ford Everest, Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner; or what exactly are you saying?

“Yes, and no. Yes, because that is what this wagon is intended to be in concept. Its placement in the market lies right in the firing line of the aforementioned vehicles, which are seven-seat covered versions of their respective double-cab pick-up stablemates. However; while the Everest, Pajero Sport, Fortuner — and Nissan Pathfinder — are obviously related to their truck versions, the Trailblazer is not immediately recognisable as a covered D-Max.

“And it actually isn’t. The similarities go only as far as using torquey turbodiesel engines and having a body-on-frame construction.”

Here’s my summary of the car, looking at the pros and cons:

Chevrolet Trailblazer. PHOTO| FILE

Chevrolet Trailblazer. PHOTO| FILE

On the comparison of the Trailblazer to the Prado J120 and the Toyota Surf; these two may be highly capable Toyotas but they are outdated in the Trailblazer’s presence. The only logical reason to shop here would be to save money or if you are a coward who is averse to straying from the mainstream.

The Trailblazer really is a diamond in the rough that’s yet to be found; but we found it last year in Amboseli National Park as part of an all-white convoy blowing dust at tourists who came expecting to see elephants but were instead affronted by entitled auto-journos in borrowed American demonstrators. Don’t judge us; we do it for your sake.

Chevrolet Trailblazer dashboard. PHOTO| FILE

Chevrolet Trailblazer dashboard. PHOTO| FILE

Greater visual appeal, both inside and out. Roomy interior, but it is a county government staff car, so you will look like one of them.

Well optimised suspension makes it comfortable with slightly better handling than the boogey-man J120 Prado.

A raft of new technology, particularly in safety and driver assistance.

Excellent NVH containment in what should be, for all intents and purposes, an agricultural implement.

Feels solid and unbreakable, which it probably is.

The brakes are... let’s just say try and stick to the speed limit; this is a big, heavy car and shedding speed lacks the immediacy and urgency you may be used to in lighter, sportier fare.

The engine has gobs of torque. Given that it is Euro 2 spec, it will practically swallow effluent and keep running without the moodiness expressed by overly sensitive, snobbish European mills such as the BMWs and Benzes and Volkswagens.

It may handle better than the J120 Prado, but it is still wobbly to some extent. Drive carefully. The ride is a touch bouncy, and the slab-sided design means crosswinds on the open road forcefully demand intimacy.

The engine has gobs of torque. Given that it is Euro 2 spec, it will practically swallow effluent and keep running without the moodiness expressed by overly sensitive, snobbish European mills such as the BMWs and Benzes and Volkswagens.