"Salaam alaikum!" I was more than a little amused when the friendly guy in blue overalls at the Emarat quick-wash bay walked up to my window and said this, smiling. There's nothing new about these guys being friendly or offering you this salutation. But the fact that he was the third person to do that in under two minutes, and that he walked over from the adjacent bay to do it, was unusual. This is a service station which I often take our test cars to, and these include Mercs, Bimmers and even an odd Italian supercar. But never before have I had so many of them coming over to me just to say "hello". The difference this time was that I was behind the wheel of a Nissan Patrol.
This reminded me of what Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn said when he was here a couple of years ago to launch the new-generation Patrol. Answering questions on why the new version is such a marked shift from what the SUV has been all through the years, he said despite its proven off-road track record the previous versions lacked the sophistication and the impressive urban presence of its arch rival, the Toyota Land Cruiser. At 5,140mm long, 1,995mm wide and 1,940mm high together with a 3,075mm wheelbase, the new Patrol clearly has more road presence than most of the vehicles out there. And with all the technologies and amenities from the Infiniti QX56 making their way here, it doesn't lack in that department either. So it was a happy coincidence that when Toyota offered us the 2012 Land Cruiser, we already had the Patrol 60th Diamond edition in our garage. The most obvious thing to do when you have these two legends of off-roading is to take them out for a spot of dune-bashing. But since we had already taken these two into the wilderness many times before, I decided to keep them on the tarmac for the next four days. Moreover, as I realised at the petrol station, in the UAE driving a Patrol or a Land Cruiser is a statement that you can't make with cars that are way more expensive. And a good percentage of these sold here spend their lives only on the road, enjoying the respect they get in the fast lane, at KFC drive-thrus and service stations.
The 2012 Land Cruiser gets a few changes on the exterior, like new bi-xenon headlights, new fog lights, mildly different tail-lamp clusters, etc. But the biggest change is the new 4.6-litre V8 that replaces the old 4.7-litre unit. Coupled with a new six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, it makes 304bhp and 439Nm of torque. Although smooth and powerful enough, it pales in comparison with the Patrol's 400bhp 5.6-litre motor, which feels far more refined, and thanks to 560Nm of torque accelerates with a greater sense of urgency. However, the trade-in for this extra power and smoothness is the fuel consumption. While the Toyota averaged 15.8 litres-per-100km over four days, the Nissan returned an average of 18.2 under similar conditions. Mind you, these are purely on-road figures, and expect these to go up considerably if you're off-roading.
On the road, both of these SUVs offer an extremely comfortable ride, smoothing out any rough patches with great
The Land Cruiser's optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System improves road handling, and the VX-R's big wheels and big rubber provide a compliant ride, and damping is supple without being too floaty. But even here, the Patrol has a slight edge, with its plusher drive and more luxurious seats and interior adding to the experience. Its cabin is quieter too than the Land Cruiser's at high speeds. However, both are lumbering elephants around corners, roundabouts and highway exit loops.
Their two-tonne-plus kerb weight becomes apparent when braking and cornering. Although Nissan claims its Hydraulic Body Motion Control System helps keep the car flatter, body roll is such that you feel you'll turn turtle at every other bend. The steering is also detached, making you feel almost completely isolated from the road. Although light, the Land Cruiser's steering offers a tad more feedback, and it's also not as wallowy as the Patrol.
Both the Land Cruiser and the Patrol have established themselves as two of the world's best off-roaders. But in the UAE, you'd find more of these near school gates and outside coffee joints, and for a good reason. They both offer more space, features and comfort than you'd get in a luxury saloon, and the respect they get you on the road is just amazing. The Land Cruiser with its downsized V8 is a sensible option as a family hauler, but as a sheer statement, it plays second fiddle to the massive Patrol.