x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

My Car: 'Ferrari Baby' draws smiles about town

The Dubai-based office manager Alison Pateman loves driving her sporty Fiat 500c, a "fun little runaround" that always gets noticed.

Alison Pateman has driven a Mercedes SLK and an Audi but she prefers to have a smaller car that she feels is safe and solid. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Alison Pateman has driven a Mercedes SLK and an Audi but she prefers to have a smaller car that she feels is safe and solid. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

With all the big cars enjoying their annual week in the sun courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, there is still room for the little ones, according to Alison Pateman, the proud owner of a brand new Fiat 500c. "It may be small but it's a whole lot of fun," she says.

Although the latest generation of the Italian classic is positively massive in comparison to its predecessor, which dates to 1957 - then it was three metres long and powered by a tiny 479 cc engine - it still counts as one of the smallest European cars on the UAE's roads.

"I got it only about four weeks ago," says Alison, an office manager based in Dubai. "I still haven't yet done a thousand kilometres as I only use it to travel from home in The Springs to work in JLT [Jumeirah Lake Towers] every day and, of course, I like to take it out over the weekend.

"It's obviously small, but even on Dubai's roads, with a massive number of SUVs all around you, I never really feel that it's a little car. Saying that, though, I like how small and compact everything is inside. I really prefer small cars, even though I've had a Mercedes SLK and an Audi convertible before. And now, because I don't have far to drive, I thought it would be nice to have a fun car."

Alison had seen plenty of Fiat 500s during visits to Europe. And as a trained mosaicist, she thought owning one would be good for business if she decided to take her work in that direction. "It is very Italian in shape. We even saw an original Fiat 500 at Certo, the Italian restaurant, where they had one inbetween the tables. I thought I could drive round in it as part of my Italian concept for mosaics."

Her husband, Justin, at first wanted Alison to consider a bigger car for safety reasons. "I was always thinking about the safety aspect of small cars, but the 500 looks very solid and safe," he says.

"We went to the dealership together and she chose a red sports model, but the one she has now had pride of place in the showroom, and it really stood out. Afterwards, she was umm-ing and ah-ing about whether she had picked the one she really wanted, and then, when she made a trip to London, I asked the dealer if I could change our order. They said it was fine, so I went to pick it up and it was a nice surprise for Alison when she returned. It's quite unique because it has a number of extras on it, including very distinctive wheel trim."

Justin occasionally drives the 500 - "It's a girlie car!" laughs Alison when he admits to this - but on the whole he prefers to be the passenger with his wife at the wheel.

"I have a Volkswagen Golf, which we use for the boring things in life, like going shopping or to the garden centre. Mine gets dirty while the Fiat stays immaculately clean."

Anyone who drives this Fiat, though, is destined to receive a great deal of attention from other road users. "People seem fascinated with it, even when I'm queuing in the traffic on my way to work," says Alison. "People point and laugh - I don't know if they think it's funny ha-ha or funny peculiar. I'm just enjoying driving it. It's nice, fun and easy to drive.

"Not long ago, I was going to work with the roof down, as I always do. There was a guy in a big BMW 7 Series behind me. He kept flashing and flashing and he even tried to flag me down. I really didn't want to stop there so I carried on to work - yet he still followed me. When I arrived, he got out, pointed at the Fiat and simply said, 'superb car!' People generally have an opinion about this car, and it always makes them smile.

"I've got the tiptronic box, and also a paddle shift, and it's really nice to drive. It's light, it's nippy and obviously, because it's so new, the more I drive it the better it feels. I usually use it in automatic though. I just think we get a little lazy like that. It's easy to park and to nip around. For anyone who needs a fun little runaround, it's absolutely perfect.

"The seats are comfortable and you can't dispute having a convertible, even though it's not a convertible in the conventional sense. It's more like a having a really big sunroof."

If Alison wasn't nipping along the roads of Dubai in the car she has nicknamed the Ferrari Baby - "Maybe one day it will grow up!" - she would be driving it through the Italian countryside. "It would be a really fun car to bomb along those winding roads," she imagines. "I would have Robbie Williams or Harrison Ford in the passenger's seat and anything from Tom Jones to Catatonia on the stereo. Anything that's fast and fun, just like the car."