TEST DRIVE: 'Think big' - latest V8 SUVs
Simon Pluckrose puts three of the latest V8 SUV powerhouses through their paces in the UAE...
There is no shortage of SUVs in the UAE and they come in all shapes, sizes and specifications. However, it would take a brave man to argue that the Toyota Land Cruiser is not the king of them all - and I am not a brave man.
There are cars with bigger engines and flashier interiors but what makes the Land Cruiser such a great match for the UAE is the three Rs - it’s rugged, roomy and reliable.
The UAE is a pretty inhospitable place for cars - large amounts of heat and dust. This means vehicles that are at home in the lush, rolling hills of Europe are more likely to struggle with the harsh climate of the Middle East.
Not so the Land Cruiser, which has proved itself time and again over the past six decades in some of the most demanding places on Earth.
Indeed, in launching the 2012 model, Simon Frith, the managing director of UAE distributor Al Futtaim Motors, said: “The Land Cruiser has an enduring relationship with the people of this nation. Emiratis have even given the Land Cruiser pick-up a special name, ‘Abu Shanab’. This clearly demonstrates the intimacy this brand has with the people living in the UAE.”
The car is believed to have picked up the nickname, which means ‘the father of all moustaches’, because the bumper on the 1984 model looked like a moustache.
While the 2012 model may not have any facial hair, it does come with revised styling on the exterior and an improved interior. However, it has lost none of its rugged pedigree with plenty of new handling features as well, such as Turn Assist, which works with the Crawl Control and Multi-terrain Select to give extra stability in tight turns by applying the brake to the inside rear wheel.
The suspension has also been revamped, with a new independent double wishbone design and uprated coil springs to improve handling and durability on and off road.
My test drive was the VXR+ model, with a 4.6l V8 engine. While it comes with a few more bells and whistles than previous Land Cruisers, the interior is functional rather than swish, although a bit of wood trim and leather seats perk things up. But it is spacious, with three tiers of seats and a cavernous boot when the third row is down.
Performance wise, it has the smallest engine of the three test drives, so it was no surprise that it was the least nippy. That said, the Land Cruiser is no lumbering giant, picking up well and cornering with confidence.
In terms of looks, the front bumper is now thicker and the radiator grill rounder, yet it is still quite uniform. This is something I’d love to see Toyota address. They put such effort into making it great on and off road that it would be nice for the looks to get the same attention.
>> Model: VXR+
>> Engine: 4.6l V8
>> Horse power: 304bhp
>> Features: Smart access, remote engine start, parking
sensors and hill-start assist
>> Price: Dhs287,000
Mercedes-Benz has the G-force
If there is one thing Mercedes-Benz is good at, it’s style. This applies across its range, including the mighty GL models. Inside and out, this is a class act.
The 5.5l V8 engine of the GL 500 Grand Edition I borrowed from Gargash Enterprises was the largest in the three test drives, and it showed. On the road, it has serious power under the bonnet - illustrated by a 0-100kph figure of just 6.5 seconds - and it will push you back in your seat if you get too frisky with the accelerator.
Unlike its smaller sibling, the M-Class, the GL cannot boast saloon-like handling. It is big and powerful, with the emphasis on the former. Still, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a car of its size that holds the road any better. Inside there are lots of quality materials and chrome, plus a remarkable array of buttons. The seats are huge and comfortable and there is plenty of room in the back. Oddly the things not up to size are the wing mirrors, which are small and create large blindspots.
>> Model: Grand Edition
>> Engine: 5.5l V8
>> Horse power: 388bhp
>> Price: Dhs319,000
Land Rover in Pursuit of its rivals
Land Rover’s V8 Limited Edition LR4 Pursuit has been created exclusively for the MENA region and is laden with accessories for going off road, including front and rear lamp guards and front protection bar. Other additions include underbody armour, a stainless steel rear bumper treadplate and a rear ladder. The LR4 is a pretty versatile and agile car for its size, although it’s least plush of the three inside, it’s not cheap looking, just uninspiring.
However, Land Rover did not become a household name for its comfort. On the road, the 5.0l V8 engine has plenty of spark. Of course, you’ll never forget you’re in a Land Rover but it is easy to see the attraction the car has, mixing up rugged off-road capability with on-road finess. The LR4 Pursuit also appealed to me in terms of its handsome looks, a term not often associated with cars. Whereas the Land Cruiser and GL 500 may require a rear badge to verify their identity, there is no mistaking this for anything other than a Land Rover.
>> Model: Limited Edition Pursuit
>> Engine: 5.0l V8
>> Horse power: 371bhp
>> Price: Dhs276,000