Obviously, as an owner of two Toyotas - one Fortuner and one MR2 - I'm biased. But there’s something very appealing about the Toyota brand.
It’s something to do with getting the basics right first, then worrying about being premium later. You get the impression that any luxuries attached to a Toyota car are solidly backed by a foundation of superb engineering and quite incredible reliability.
In this region: from Dubai to Sydney and pretty much everywhere in between: the Toyota brand is, in a strange way, more desirable than any German marque. I’m not going to try to explain it; I think it’s beyond me. Perhaps it’s about not trying too hard; perhaps it’s a focus on what matters; perhaps it’s the fact that the brand has grown organically out of the sheer quality of the automobiles, rather than any particular marketing programme; perhaps it’s the fact that wherever you go, from Africa to Arabia to Asia to South America, it’s always the Toyotas that are relied upon to do the work; perhaps it’s the fact that you get the feeling that ridiculous words like ‘upmarket’ and ‘exclusive’ are not bandied around the Toyota boardrooms, and that they aim to make quality cars available to as many people as possible.
Or perhaps it’s simply the fact that when you get behind the wheel of a Toyota, you’re not trying to make any kind of statement about yourself, your exquisite taste, your distinguished habits, or your income levels; you’re just driving somewhere.
I recently read an article about a French entrepreneur who has transformed a sleepy ski resort into France’s most glamorous destination. This is a man who practically owns an entire town – which is handy, because he needs somewhere to park his private helicopter. Yet he was pictured sitting on the bonnet of his 1960s Toyota Landcruiser. It was the coolest thing in the world. All essential, no frills; nothing that shouldn’t be there and everything that should.
Things are different now, of course, and my Toyota Fortuner is arguably more luxurious (in more of an 'essential luxury' way) than the BMWs several of my close friends drive. But you still get the feeling that it is a direct descendant of the 1960s Landcruiser, built along the same principles, with the company still running on the same philosophy. Everything works how it’s supposed to: the air conditioning is cold, and doesn’t struggle against Asian heat like European cars can. The engine feels as if it’s cruising, and doesn’t labour in traffic like European cars often do. The car feels light, not heavy and sluggish on takeoff; the interior is functional, with a complete absence of faux walnut; and the temperature gauge stays comfortably in the ‘cool’ end of the spectrum, certainly unlike many European cars.
Again, I can’t explain it. But all I really know is that between the BMWs and my Toyota, I know which I’d rather be driving in the UAE desert, Isaan plains, Cambodian jungle roads, or Bangkok traffic. Or, for that matter, French ski resorts.