In the latest James Bond movie, which passes for the National soul – though I think Roald Dahl was closer to nailing it – a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado wins a fight with a Land Rover Defender in Norway. Or rather two Land Rover Defenders. Out they bounce from forest to stream and back to forest. Kiss-kiss, bang-bang, snort, rattle. I long to know what conversations marketing executives have with the Bond franchise. Do you pay to have your car win a fight with a commercial rival? And, if your car doesn’t win, can at least it be beaten by a minimum of two cars, and one of them not a Kia? And, do they get it in writing?
At the end of the car fight, the minor villain ends up crushed by his own Land Rover Defender. From COP with love, you might say. Bond may be on his way to not hating women – may be on his way to actually being a woman – but he still loves petrol. Petrol is a drug. That is obvious. We have yet to see Bond skulking by the Tesla super chargers near Exeter. He was supposed to drive an electric Aston Martin Rapide E in No Time to Die, but he threw it over for a mere glance at the Valhalla. But it will happen. It must.
In the meantime, he has the Toyota Land Cruiser Invincible: top of the range (£57,680), with seven seats and five doors, one of which is a tailgate, so you can load a fridge or a small horse. The Land Cruiser is one of the original SUVs, seventy years old this year – only two years older than the first Land Rover Defender – and capable of driving half a million miles. For this reason, it is very popular in Australia. It is also popular in Africa, with aid agencies and armies, and also with mercenaries, who find they can mount weapons on the back if they move the small horse to the front seat.
These cars are unimaginably tough under the trinkets that now gild them. They were designed as vehicles of war. The Mercedes G-Wagon was made for the Shah of Iran, for all the good it did him. Now, for most, they are vehicles of pleasure, which is decadent and insane. Civilians wanted them from the beginning for their off-road possibilities. I don’t know why so many don’t leave tarmac. (My excuse is insurance, and squeamishness. On the only press trip in which I have gone off road, a fellow journalist ran over a cat on a mountain, and in perfect driving conditions.)
The Invincible can tow three tonnes, stand on a mountain without being winched there, and plausibly ford a river: it is the best off-road vehicle to be found. What Car magazine held a competition in a quarry, and the Land Cruiser won, as in No Time to Die. Hence the love for it in Australia.
I do not ford a river, or climb a mountain, or load a horse into the Toyota Invincible. I fail most cars. I could only bring myself to do 98mph in the Bentley GT at Goodwood before indicating into the pit lane, and that was with a racing driver beside me, assuring me there was no incoming traffic. And I fail this one. I drive my husband’s aunt from Swindon to west Cornwall with a load of plum jam that does not weigh three tonnes. Even so, I have long believed that you do not drive a car these days; the market, with its profusion, insists that you wear it. And the Invincible is armour; armour that I do not need, but armour still. I thought of Ellen Ripley in Aliens, beating an alien while dressed as a car. I do not have the alien. But I have the armour.
We process on the M4 as, with shark and mackerel, smaller cars get out of my way. What choice do they have? The Invincible is immensely high, and solid, and unpretentious, and easy to drive. If you believe that cars have personalities – or at least can be projected onto, indeed invite it – I find it comforting, like a weapon.
Other SUVs are more beautiful, and stylish; more plush and silent. But none have quite the possibilities of the Invincible, even if I do not use them.