And speaking of new, there isn’t a lot of it in our SUV of the year. And that’s ammo in a few judges’ arguments — “They changed the lights and the transmission,” moans Fadi, “Is that seriously enough to qualify?” He has a point — you’ve read the wheels CotY criteria hopefully and therefore you know by now that one of the basic requirements for eligibility is a significant update of the vehicle within the past year. But then again, considering that the venerable Rando Kuruza is something of a Japanese 911 in terms of rate of evolution, a new eight-speed transmission, a renewed suspension, a new radiator grille and some swanky headlights is a massive step forward. And the changes do make a noticeable difference in the way it drives.
With a plush cabin, every imaginable comfort and safety technology, the all-new Toyota Land Cruiser is as at home in the urban jungle as it is taking on the wilderness. It’s undoubtedly one of the best off-road utility vehicles in the world. The Cruiser has it all. Tim’s even commandeered the front cooler box for his cucumber sandwiches. The only thing missing, GCC-spec-wise, is an optional shisha in the back. And then of course we can nitpick. Imran is backing this thing out of wheels HQ at the break of dawn — our eyes have just attuned to the darkness when Shaikh Zayed Road’s skyscrapers begin letting some sunlight squeeze through in between, but it’s not enough for the Cruiser’s myriad cameras.
“The rear-view is rubbish,” complains Imran… “Useless!” he keeps repeating while trying to negotiate a dinosaur through a crowd of million-dirham supercars.
We load the Cruiser to the brim with photography equipment for the day and then it’s on to our first stop at an Emarat on the edge of New Dubai, because of course everyone broke rule five — eat breakfast before we set off. Feet up, karak down, cruise control on in the Cruiser and all you have for company is the familiar overspeeding bong at 120kph. It just feels like home.
A side note if we may, before we continue to Sieh Shuaib just past the Abu Dhabi/Dubai border: the previous night I caught a ride in one of those Lexus cabs and got to chatting with the driver — his ES 350 is up for sale because it’s completed its five-year tour of duty and by law they are not allowed to serve longer than that. With 600,000km on the odo the car drove and felt brand new, from the passenger seat at least. The driver, however, used to work for a desert-safari company before this gig, and a Cruiser was his office — their turnaround is quicker than that, but still, 200,000 off-roading kilometres, with more often than not five passengers and luggage on board, is a torture test unlike any. SUV of the year, decade, century? You won’t get much dispute from us.