Take a walk along a row of parked cars pretty much anywhere in the UAE and you'll probably have to peek through 100 windows before you'll find a car with a manual transmission. But Catherine Langley, a Dubai-based magazine journalist from the UK, has always bucked the country's automatic transmission trend, and her latest car, a 2009 Ford Fiesta, is no exception.
"I've always driven a manual and I'm not too keen on automatics because I think they turn people into lazy drivers," says Langley. "I was lucky that the showroom I went to had a batch of manual cars that, strangely enough, they couldn't get rid of, so I snapped one up straight away.
"The gentleman who sold it to me was actually a manual driver himself. We had a bit of a laugh about how we're in the minority here," Langley says. The purchase of the new Fiesta ended Langley's run of driving less than reliable cars and, so far, she is delighted with her purchase and it suits her sensible style of driving. "It's not exactly a Lamborghini when your foot hits the floor, but then I pootle along like an old lady anyway, so what need would I have for a speed machine?" she asks with a laugh.
"I've never owned a brand new car in my life and I decided that before I hit 30 - I'm 29 - I wanted to drive out of a car showroom, sniffing that new car smell," she says. "I know it sounds cheesy, but it was kind of a rite of passage - plus I'd absolutely had it up to the eyeballs with my friends mocking me for driving a rust bucket." Before the Fiesta, Langley says she was "a bit of a banger magnet".
"My first car was a clapped-out Rover Metro that my big brother gave to me after he rescued it from a scrap yard," she recalls. "The banger trend followed when I moved to Dubai six years ago - I was the classic victim of the highly skilled second-hand car salesman in Al Awir." The smooth-talking salesman convinced Langley that a bright red Suzuki Jimny would be a good buy. She says it ran well for "about a nanosecond" before she spent "the next half decade carting it in for repairs.
"I still feel a lot of affection for that old banger, but I wasn't sad to see it go," says Langley, adding that it experienced constant breakdowns and had no a/c for three summers. Langley says the biggest humiliation in the Jimny was breaking down on the Garhoud Bridge, with the embarrassment of causing a long tailback compounded by an errant ex-boyfriend. "A guy I'd been dating happened to drive past at the exact moment I was desperately trying to revive my vehicle - it was so embarrassing, and the worst part was, the guy didn't even stop to help!"
Another breakdown, signified by "the familiar smell of burning oil" en route to Abu Dhabi caused her to miss the opportunity to be at an exclusive invitation-only lunch with the 1980s pop star Lionel Richie as the guest of honour. But with the Jimny now in the possession of a desert adventure company that uses it as a runaround vehicle for the staff, Langley is looking forward to many happy miles ahead in a reliable, air-conditioned car. So far there have been no Jimny-style misadventures in the Fiesta apart from getting lost.
"I have no sense of direction so I'm always getting lost - I recently ended up in Sharjah when I was on my way to Abu Dhabi but the great thing about the Fiesta is that it has a great a/c so now it doesn't matter if I've overshot by 50km - a regular occurrence by the way - because at least I can keep cool." The best part of owning the Fiesta for Langley is her nightly drive home from her office in Garhoud to her home in the heart of Dubai.
"I really like my drive home in the evening - down Sheikh Zayed Road towards the Burj Khalifa. There's nothing like that skyline as the sun sets behind that tower. It's breathtaking."