A glance at South African, Lea-Ann Randall in her Carlos Santana high heels and elegant dress, and you might assume that she'd drive a classic roadster or modern sports convertible - but definitely not her beloved two-ton 2005 pearl white Cadillac Escalade. "It's always been my dream car", she says. "I'd see it on the road and it just looked so smooth and elegant. I always thought that I could never afford it. Then 18 months ago she heard that a friend was selling one. "I couldn't believe it. It was still under warranty with a service agreement in place. That was peace of mind for me. As soon as I saw the features I said 'I want this car'."
Lea-Ann, the business development manager for the Dnata Call Centre, had thought about buying a BMW Z4 until a colleague sent her a photograph of a Land Cruiser sitting on top of a Jaguar convertible after a crash near her home in Al Barsha. That sealed the deal and without hesitation she sold her Volvo S40 and plumped for the Caddy, and she couldn't be happier with her brutish SUV. "In Dubai terms it's old, but it handles like a dream", she adds. "It has a beautiful interior, all very clean and well-maintained."
Even though the Volvo, which she bought when she came to the UAE 10 years ago, offered her safety and good road-holding, Lea-Ann feels far more secure in her Escalade, if only because the SUV garners more respect on the road. She also experienced the other side of the coin when she was driving a small car on Sheikh Zayed Road recently. "I saw a Land Cruiser in the rear-view mirror and thought, 'That's what I must look like coming up behind somebody'. So that's why they move without me flashing."
But Lea-Ann's Caddy ownership hasn't been without its servicing hitches. "The problem is that the dealers are under-resourced so the car always takes a good few days before you get it back. But anyway, GM Arabia are fantastic. They gave me an extended warranty of 20,000km as compensation." Lea-Ann first got under the bonnet as a child back in Durban. "When I was growing up my father only drove Mercedes-Benz. If I said to him 'what's wrong with your car, Dad?' He'd say 'Get under it.' And I'd have to."
This love of cars has also given Lea-Ann a great respect for driving skills. "I've learnt to think for everybody else on the road. You can watch a car in front of you and have an idea what the driver's going to do, even if they don't indicate." This degree of caution she believes was borne out of her first days of living in Sharjah when she first arrived in the UAE. "That teaches you how to drive, believe me. Even now when I go back to Sharjah in the Escalade, I get nervous."
Although Lea-Ann signed up for the EDI Advanced Driving course, she still finds the lure of the open road and the grunt of the Caddy's 380Nm 6.0-litre V8 hard to resist. A bit of a speed freak, Lea-Ann doesn't see why she can't enjoy the adrenaline buzz and still be a 'lady'. "People find it strange: I'm so feminine and girlie," she smiles. "I like nice smelling things, chocolates and flowers, and I love pretty things. But at the other extreme, if someone says to me 'we're going to Umm al Qaiwain to jump out of a plane', I say 'Can I come?'"
She also recently drove the Cadillac CTS: "That goes up to 270kph. I even got a speeding fine, but you can't drive a car like that and not put the pedal to the metal", she says animatedly. But the Escalade isn't perfect. "I don't like using an automatic because I feel like I'm not driving," - even though the auto box has cruise control which Lea-Ann insists is more for avoiding speeding fines than being lazy.
Then there are the squeaking brakes: "You buy an Escalade for the luxury image. Then you pull up at a hotel and everybody thinks 'where's that bus?!'" Not to mention the fuel economy: "This is the only country that I could afford to drive a car like this." So what could possibly replace Lea-Ann's Cadillac? "My next big car will have to be the Hummer H2 SUT", she smiles. "Of course I can't afford it, and I have no idea what I'd put in the back but, then again, if I was buying a car for practicality I wouldn't be driving the Escalade, now would I?"