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Mon 11 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Desert cruising

CEO Middle East takes the remodelled old favourite, the Toyota Land Cruiser, for a spin around town to see how it shapes up against the competition.

CEO Middle East takes the remodelled old favourite, the Toyota Land Cruiser, for a spin around town to see how it shapes up against the competition.

I confess to never having driven anything near as big as the Toyota Land Cruiser.

At nearly 5m long and 2m wide, the vehicle has a significant presence on the road which caused some trepidation when picking it up.

It need not have - the car is gentle even with novices.

The Land Cruiser has a reputation for being an exceptional off-road vehicle and the modifications (including multi-terrain ABS and a crawl system that controls both pedals on rocky terrain, allowing the driver to concentrate on the path ahead) to the new model have sought to reinforce that reputation.

Though in capable hands it could undoubtedly rip up the dunes in the style that it was truly designed for, it lends itself just as well to the city driving that I essentially exposed it to.

The smooth transmission of the 6-speed automatic transmission gearbox and almost inaudible engine belies the size and power of the car, lulling the driver into a rightful sense of security.

Strong suspension and newly reinforced bodywork (the torsional rigidity is 1.4 times stronger than before), designed principally for improved off-road performance, make the Land Cruiser a leading contender for safety-conscious families in the Gulf.

This reinforced body has also increased the towing capacity to 8,500 pounds, a great asset for active groups who enjoy the lure of the ocean as much as that of the mountains.

Growing swiftly more comfortable behind the wheel, I tested the acceleration which was admirably adept.

Though clearly not designed for road-racing, the engine has adequate power reserves for city overtaking requirements.

The one hour drive

First impression: The bodywork is curvier than previous models but it is well designed and has a comfortable interior.

The ‘no-key' start is possibly a bit gimmicky for my liking.

Driving experience: Impressive suspension in the Land Cruiser gives the driver and passengers a very smooth and comfortable ride over rough or smooth ground.

The engine is powerful enough to be competent over any terrain so it negotiated the off-road dunes with minimum effort.

It could be argued that the car is slightly sluggish as lower speeds but this is perhaps to be expected with a 5.7l 4x4.

The steering is very responsive considering the sheer size of the vehicle.

Conclusion and score: 7 - Performance-wise, it is on a par with its competitors in the class but it is somewhat let down by its predictable looks.
Though not the cheapest 4x4, it certainly provides value for money through its enviable performance.

This power translates perfectly to a desert setting for offroading in comfort.

A powerful engine and tougher frame allow the vehicle to tackle the dunes with easy and efficiency.

It is surprisingly nimble too, with a curb to curb turning circle of 11.79m, and the now almost standard distance sensors help even the most hapless driver to manoeuvre the giant into a parking space.

Buyers can opt to add the voice activated DVD navigation system which includes a back-up camera for extra peace of mind when.

From the rear, it is not the most aesthetic of 4x4 designs and the attempt to emulate higher-priced styling on the interior can come across as a little plasticky.

Nonetheless, the wood-effect trims and sleek dashboard combined with large over-cushioned seats create a chic and comfortable space for driver and passengers alike.

Even if the car is filled to its 8-person capacity, there is adequate leg room, though the seats in the boot are best suited for children.

The interior is well-equipped, if not brimming with accessories.

The potent sound-system has 14 speakers placed throughout the vehicle meaning that passengers in any seat can enjoy the soundtrack to the journey.

A cute optional extra is a set of wireless headphones to enhance the musical experience for the rear-seat passengers (or save parents from suffering their children's selection).

A cool box has been integrated in the space between the two front seats - surely a popular accessory for those planning a desert drive.

The four independently-managed climate control zones are a standard feature that few Middle Eastern customers would want to be without these days.

Toyota Land Cruiser

Engine: 4.01 v8

0-100 kph: na

Top speed: 190 kph

BHP: 240hp @ 5,400 rpm

ME price form: US$ 45,000

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