To Infiniti and beyond in heart of Mongolia
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.