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A test drive around Paris? Mais non!

Paris is not the ideal city for a test drive.

Ahhh, Paris: the City of Light, the City of Love. It's the beautiful place where lovers walk hand in hand down the street amid the scooters and dog droppings; the place where people plan their entire day around decadent meals and cigarettes; the place where the locals laugh at you when you stumble over your rudimentary French. (I know this because it happened to me. Twice. In two days.)

But perhaps it's not the best place to do a test drive of a car. This should have been apparent to me as I was offered the chance, but I was blinded by the fact it would be in a low, sleek and exotic Lotus Evora. An opportunity to drive something from the tiny English car maker is rare indeed, even for the editor of this august Motoring section; how could I pass it up? Leaving the hotel doors to view the three Evoras lined up for the ride, I noticed that it might not be so easy to, shall I say, stretch the car's legs. The streets were lined with cars, bumper to bumper, moving at a slower pace than the pedestrians on the pavements. Ah, but it's still a chance to drive an exotic sports car.

And that's when I found out that it wasn't a "test drive", but a "test ride" - we would be ensconsced in the passenger seat while someone else took the reins. Hmmm. OK, I'll still take it - with the motor show taking up the next day, there wasn't much time for sightseeing. Luckily, my chauffeur for the expected half hour was Andreas Maennir, Lotus's PR manager for Europe. An amiable and talkative fellow, Andreas took us out onto the road and into traffic.

"I'm very lucky, because not only do I get to drive this, but I get one as a company car," he said in that Germanic dry yet friendly way. Nice gig, I thought. As we crept through the French capital, I admired the leather and detailing in the sports car's cabin. Unfortunately, because the photographer, Alistair, was in the torturedly tiny back seat, I found my own seat forced forward, shrinking the footwell space. I took solace in thinking how Alistair might feel; I hoped he wasn't claustrophobic.

Onward up the Champs-Elysées, ever so slowly, and the Arc de Triomphe came into view. By this time, I had noticed that we had not got the sporty Evora past second gear, and I was getting more acquainted with the car's braking than its sporty handling, with tiny microcars and scooters irreverently zooming to and fro in front of us. But everything up to that point was a piece of cake; entering Place Charles de Gaulle, the roundabout on which the Arc is situated, Alistair, a resident of Paris, gave Andreas some startling advice - drivers entering the roundabout had the right of way, not the other way around.

The circle was mass chaos. Heavy braking, then hard on the throttle; more chaotic then the worst traffic of Beirut, Cairo or even India. There were no lanes, but there were manners: if there was a spot, you went. If someone cuts in front, you stopped. "This is madness," added Andreas, without a hint of anger but dripping with exasperation. "This would not be so in Germany." But Alistair brought up a comforting point: "In Paris, there is little road rage. Drivers seem to accept people cutting in front of them; even acknowledging a good move."

Twice around the Arc was enough; we had more time in our slot but there was no point in this traffic, so we headed back to the hotel. And after shaking hands with Andreas and squeezing out of the front, I realised that the short drive illuminated less of the English car's manners and more of those of the French.

Published: October 9, 2010 04:00 AM


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