Ever keen to introduce you to some of the world’s most novel forms of transport, Iain Robertson, no fan of SUVs, believes that the ultimate off-roader is produced by a Czech manufacturer with aspirations for greatness and recent recipient of a German Red Dot design award.
With a design base in the Ukraine, a manufacturing centre in Slovakia, a head office in Prague (Czech Republic) but a decade’s worth of pan-European successes in the specialist vehicle sector, Pulsar Expo has developed an indomitable reputation. Using proprietary hardware, such as truck chasses from Iveco (for road sweepers, mobile cranes, recovery vehicles), Peugeot for police cars, VW Crafter for riot vans and both Toyota and Ford light vans and pickups, several special purpose vehicle contracts and commissions have been satisfied.
Around four years ago, having received a client request for a mid-size single-decker bus, possessing a strong 4×4 capability and, then, discovering that none was available, the Ukrainian management team of Pulsar Expo determined that it was time to develop its own vehicle and Torsus was the new subsidiary company established to carry out the task. As the Praetorian Guard was the all-conquering protection squad for Roman emperors, Praetorian was repurposed as the model name, most apposite for a company already familiar with repurposing.
Intriguingly, what had commenced as a normal customer request for a typical heavy goods vehicle conversion, had turned into a broader product opportunity, as the Pulsar team started to appreciate that an immensely capable, multi-seat vehicle that could be used in quarries, jungles, deserts and extreme climatic conditions was simply unavailable. Fortunately, having worked closely with MAN, the German truck and bus manufacturer that used to have close links to VW Group (until 1993), Torsus would re-engineer its TGM 4×4 chassis but design an attractive and integrated body for it.
Being able to use a proprietary chassis short-circuited the development programme considerably and, within just a year, test examples of the Praetorian were already making a name for themselves at major venues, such as the Hillhead Mining & Construction Expo, held historically at Buxton, in Pennine Derbyshire, as well as major site and off-road events across Europe. Although early sales are based on its 35-seat coach conversion, the Praetorian can serve equally as a field ambulance, goods transporter, military mobiliser, or the leisure market, especially if converted into a semi-luxurious, go-anywhere campervan. Its range of potential applications is enormous.
Powering the Praetorian is a straight-six-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine that develops a helpful 240bhp but a significant 683lbs ft of torque to deal with even the most cloying of off-road situations. Of course, its four-wheel drive system is also from MAN and is built to deal with the most exacting of conditions. Using a Tiptronic-style semi-automatic transmission makes for ease of driving, while a high-low transfer box deals with the steepest gradients and trickiest of surfaces. A ground clearance of 389mm up to the heavy-duty axles, allied to practically chamfered front approach and rear departure body angles and a fording depth of 700mm, provides the sort of off-road potential normally the preserve of the Mercedes-Benz Unimog.
While on the subject of that vehicle, it is priced similarly to the Praetorian, from around £140,000. It is costly but still represents good value for money in the category. You could reckon on a luxurious camper version costing in the region of £200,000, or more, dependent on specification. Needless to say, you do not expect high-performance, of a conventional form, from a vehicle such as a Praetorian and, while its acceleration is sleep-inducing, its top speed is a modest 70mph and it needs a large fuel tank to extend its reach.
Naturally, in bus mode, each of its reclining 35 seats features hand grabs and climate-controlled comfort, with a central sound/vision system and good overhead storage. The driver’s seat is typical Isringhausen, pneumatically damped and multi-adjustable. Although the instrumentation is fairly basic and the switchgear scattered, it provides most of the information and durable ease of operation that a driver needs. While the side glazing is tinted, stone protection grilles can also be fitted for working environments. Needless to say, the 395/85×20 section Michelin XZL tyres are intended for serious off-road use. Torsus provides a two years, unlimited mileage warranty on the Praetorian, which can be extended to six years/500,000km at extra cost.
From a personal viewpoint, I believe that Torsus has created a superb looking vehicle. It is the sort of Tonka Toy for big boys that I would covet gleefully and I have never been a fan of off-roaders of any type. However, the Praetorian is a vehicle with a purpose that could be on a mission almost anywhere. I can perceive its tremendous appeal to the monied world-trekker; the sort of person seeking adventures in some of the world’s most inhospitable and often inaccessible locations. Yet, it is clearly a practical service vehicle in the deepest of quarries, open-cast mines, or major building sites, capable of transporting people, or goods, to where they are needed.
Conclusion: Built-for-purpose 4x4s have valuable roles to fulfil and the Torsus Praetorian fills a largely uncontested gap in the off-road sector. Yet, with ease, it can be repurposed for leisure, services, or military purposes, among an immense array of potential applications.