x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

My Car: No turned-up noses at pea-green Volkswagen Golf

The British radio presenter Zahra Soar learned to drive in the UAE and her green Volkswagen Golf is something of a family heirloom.

When Zahra Soar learnt to drive in the UAE, her instructor was a Nepalese man who gave her tips on trekking. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
When Zahra Soar learnt to drive in the UAE, her instructor was a Nepalese man who gave her tips on trekking. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

Zahra Soar's pea-green Volkswagen Golf wasn't picked from a shiny showroom or sought out via painstaking searching of classified ads for the deal of the century on a secondhand car. Instead, the British radio presenter, who grew up and learnt to drive in the UAE, inherited the car from her mother and her younger sister in turn inherited from her. These days, Soar also drives a yellow Mini Cooper but she is still a part-time driver of the beloved green Golf.

"I don't understand people who keep trading in cars. Where is the love?" she asks.

Her sister is only in Dubai for a few months of the year and Soar says that she still drives the Golf quite often - "usually when the Mini is in the shop" - and that her boyfriend has been known to take the car for "a joyride" when he gets bored of his own SUV.

"My whole family loves bright colours," she says of the eye-catching colour choice. "I definitely prefer the green [to the yellow Mini]. A yellow car can spell out show-off or media idiot. Green is just cool."

In true UAE style, the Golf was for a time decorated with a decal of UAE sheikhs on the rear window.

"I have always loved the artistic detail to decals, particularly ones with deserts, hearts and falcons," says Soar. "One day, a school friend dared me to do it while we were in Satwa and I did. I won an Al Mullah shawarma and long-lasting disapproval from the parents. My sensible sister has since taken it off. To be fair, I did drive with very limited rear visibility for two years."

The Golf also came to the rescue after a family day out went awry.

"While entertaining some visitors, the family 4x4 got stuck in the Hatta mountains," she recalls. "My dad had to come rescue us in the VW Golf. It was a triumph of small car over big car."

Soar has only been in one accident in the Golf, when she rear-ended a truck carrying labourers when she was a new driver.

"While waiting for the police, around 80 men decided it would be appropriate to form a circle around the VW and stare at the silly teenager who had banged into them," she says.

As a long-term UAE resident, Soar passed her driving test in Dubai before new drivers needed to undertake a certain number of lessons, and she remembers her instructor fondly at Karama's Five-Star Driving Institute: "A Nepali instructor, Mr Singh, taught me. He insisted on calling me 'Jahra' and gave me tips about trekking," she laughs. "I remember I passed my test the first time, but every other woman in the car stalled it at least five times."

Soar says she especially enjoys driving "late at night when the roads are quiet and it's just me and the road divider sprinklers" but by day, she prefers to leave the car at home, avoid the rush-hour traffic, and is a proud user of the Dubai Metro.

As the driver of two small cars, Soar gets to take advantage of petrol that is still comparatively cheap in the UAE. She also loves driving in "the winter weather when I can roll down the windows" and in the case of her Mini, "pull down the roof".

Soar is always happy to offer people a lift. "I actually dislike driving alone, so don't mind being the chauffeur and car DJ one bit."

The entire Soar family intend to use the car until it is no longer roadworthy, which even after a crash with a truck, doesn't look like happening any time soon: "The whole family loves that car - we'll have it to the very end."