x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The Air Bag: Admiration for Alfa Romeo after ride in a Mercedes 170 DS

After driving an old Merc around southern Germany, I discovered a newfound respect for my Alfa Romeo here in Abu Dhabi.

I just returned from a classic car rally in Germany last week, which I'm sure you've read all about in the previous Motoring edition. Great fun, of course, but I arrived in Abu Dhabi to a great surprise.

After about a week-long hiatus, I climbed into my lovable, old 2002 Alfa Romeo Spyder, started up the 2.0L four-cylinder engine, wiped off the layer of dust from the windshield and took off to do some errands. And that's when I first thought that someone had fooled with my car.

But not in a bad way at all. The acceleration seemed much quicker, the steering was sharper and the brakes almost knocked me into the steering wheel at the first intersection.

Had someone given the Alfa a secret performance upgrade while I was away? For some reason, I was driving a much better car than the one I had left behind. What happened?

I soon realised that the answer was nothing at all had happened. While in Germany, I was behind the wheel of a 40hp, 60-year-old Mercedes 170 DS; a wonderful ride, a fantastic glimpse into the past, but a terrible car for someone used to today's standards of driving performance.

Its skinny tyres skidded in slow corners, the acceleration could be measured with a calender and its ancient and tiny drum brakes required both the brawn of a weightlifter and the planning of a military general to make the car stop safely.

While I loved every minute behind its wheel, it was a good barometer to see how far car technology has progressed.

So, while the Alfa hadn't changed at all, subconsciously I felt it was now a supercar; at least for the first few days.

It's funny how your driving style changes with just a little time behind the wheel of a different car; your body and mind seem to adapt automatically.

It's not the first time this has happened, though unfortunately it usually goes the other way.

Now, first of all, don't get me wrong; I love my little car. It's fairly quick and responsive and it's got loads of Italian flair (when it's not covered in sand from being left for five days). And I'll love it even more when I can put the top down in the cooler months.

But how do you think the old Alfa feels like after I step out of a Ferrari or an Audi for a few days and get back into my own car? Mhmmm. Like a shaky little tin can with a buzzy four-cylinder engine, in need of a couple of small repairs and a good clean. At least it feels that way for a little while; then I start to like it again.

So I have a suggestion for all of you out there who are unsatisfied with your current ride but in no position to trade up as of yet; just go and rent a well-used, subcompact hatchback hire car for a week. You'll quickly learn to appreciate your own set of wheels again. And here's another suggestion; if you can't find a car in worse shape than yours, then maybe you really should trade up.