To In­finiti and be­yond in heart of Mon­go­lia

The Herald Magazine - - etc DRIVE - TOM WILT­SHIRE

THE recipe for the per­fect Mon­go­lian car is an odd one: take one Toy­ota Prius, used, from Ja­pan. Add tough off-road tyres, jack up the sus­pen­sion with heavy duty springs, and ap­ply opaque win­dow tints. Voila! You blend in with a good 50% of traf­fic.

Out­side of the cap­i­tal city of Ulaan­baatar, how­ever, it’s off-road ve­hi­cles that reign. Only 20% of Mon­go­lia’s 31,000 miles of road are paved, the rest bare dirt tracks trod­den by Toy­ota Land Cruis­ers.

So we don’t feel too out of place when col­lected from the air­port at the small town of Dalan­zadgad in a pair of ab­so­lute mon­sters: In­finiti QX80s.

We’ve come to Mon­go­lia to drive three of the brand’s SUVs to cel­e­brate a dar­ing ex­pe­di­tion con­ducted by Amer­i­can ex­plorer Roy Chap­man An­drews in the early 1920s: the first such trip to use the car.

An­drews’ ex­pe­di­tion breached the Mon­go­lian Gobi on a gru­elling 1000-mile route and would see him dis­cover the first fos­silised di­nosaur eggs at the Flam­ing Cliffs.

The In­finiti SUVs re­placed An­drews’ fleet of Dodge Bros cars in the mod­ern ex­pe­di­tion and, in con­junc­tion with the Ex­plorer’s Club of Hong Kong and the Mon­go­lian In­sti­tute of Pa­le­on­tol­ogy and Ge­ol­ogy, had been find­ing new fos­sil sites us­ing ad­vanced drone map­ping and LiDAR tech­nol­ogy. Se­ri­ously im­pres­sive stuff.

We take the wheel of the QX80 and fall into con­voy be­hind one of the lodge’s own Land Cruis­ers, un­able to shake the sen­sa­tion the dirt roads were a rally spe­cial stage. We man­age through and an hour of sen­si­ble(ish) driv­ing later sees us ar­rive at the Three Camel Lodge. We’re set to stay in tra­di­tion­ally-built Mon­go­lian gers – lay­ered cir­cu­lar tents sim­i­lar to yurts – with all elec­tric­ity pro­vided by so­lar pan­els, and wa­ter re­cy­cled wher­ever pos­si­ble.

Lunched and wa­tered, we slide back into the cars for a drive to our next stop – the Flam­ing Cliffs, the site of some of the most im­por­tant fos­sil dis­cov­er­ies of the 20th cen­tury. The go­ing is more treach­er­ous, with

to no­tice a dif­fer­ence un­less you were told. That’s no bad thing in this case, with the com­pact ma­chine still prov­ing it has a lot to give de­spite the re­cent to­tal re­fresh many ri­vals have gone for. It may not of­fer the most en­gag­ing of driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, but as a daily ma­chine, it’s def­i­nitely one of the best-val­ued pack­ages in its seg­ment.

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