x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

My Car: Bess and her gentle giant Nissan Xterra

A rugged Nissan Xterra is the perfect all-rounder, capable of hauling everything this Dubai shoe fanatic sets her sights on.

Bess Manalo loves her Xterra for its power and its ability to carry around a large amount of gear. Pawan Singh / The National
Bess Manalo loves her Xterra for its power and its ability to carry around a large amount of gear. Pawan Singh / The National

Dubai-based Filipina Bess Manalo does not conform to stereotypes. The feisty property agent and freelance photographer, who has lived in the UAE for 23 years, mixes her busy work and social life with some serious off-road driving.

And her V6-powered 2010 Nissan Xterra, which she bought new from the Nissan showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road, gives this petite lady driver a high driving position but, most importantly, enough space to double as a mobile wardrobe.

"I always have around 12 pairs of high-heel shoes in the car," she confesses. "You see, I drive in my flip-flops and love to go out socialising in the evenings, so I need a large selection of shoes to complement whatever clothes I'm wearing.

"I'll usually head out for Tuesday and Thursday ladies nights, and am also out a few more nights a week. I work Saturdays, too, so I nearly always head straight to a venue from work, but I'm a single lady and need to get out and about," she says.

Tee-total Bess usually finds herself as designated driver, "I can enjoy myself without having a drink and have lived here most of my life, so I've lots of friends - who like to be chauffeured between venues," she says.

"But I don't mind, as they're helping me find the perfect man, which hasn't been going so well - he's doing a very good job of hiding," laughs Bess.

The Xterra is known for its impressive off-road performance at low-end power without compromising too much in terms of ride quality in daily driving, and Bess enjoys taking the powerful V6 through its paces, dune-bashing in the desert.

"I love nothing more than heading into the desert in convoy and doing some serious off-roading in our 4x4s," she says. "We just head up the Hatta or Al Ain road or around Oman and turn off into the desert if we see somewhere the landscape looks fun."

Bess learnt to desert drive three years ago thanks to an Emirati friend, who taught her the basics and supervised her as she gained more experience and confidence driving off-road. "I love the feeling when I let the air out of my tyres and am really confident now because I was taught properly.

"The main things to remember are, don't sink and don't flip over. If you're not sure if you can do a dune, then don't. But once you know the basics you really need to teach the rest yourself," she says.

Bess bought the Xterra less than a year ago and has already put more than 20,000 kilometres on the clock. "When I had a look around for the perfect dual-purpose 4x4, I saw this black beast and thought - this is it!" smiles Bess.

"I love it, just the way it drives both on and off-road, and still feel the same as when I first set eyes on it. Since I've been living in Dubai most of my life, the 4x4 is the way to go for me - I like to feel tall on the roads and drive like I own the place," jokes Bess.

Having lived so long in the UAE, Bess feels the aggressive driving culture has rubbed off on her. She explains: "The UAE's now my home country and I've never driven elsewhere, so I've adopted the local driving habits and passion for power. My car handles like a dream, but the only problem with it is I can't drift as much as I'd like and it can't keep up with the speed I sometimes want.

"Maybe I need two cars, and the other would be a Porsche GT3, but then I'm also a professional photographer, so need space to keep all my gear, my bike, and, of course, storage for all my shoes. Yes, my black beast is perfect for me," she says.

If you see Bess driving around in her black Xterra, give her a wave, and if you're lucky she'll stop and show you her latest shoe collection.

For more from UAE drivers who love their cars and why, check out My Car. Want to be featured? Send an e-mail to motoring@thenational.ae.