The Air Bag: Twisting, turning fun on Al Ain's Jebel Hafeet
It was, as they say, a hard day at the office. Australian journalist Peter Thoeming was in Al Ain last week to see if Jebel Hafeet's road is all it's cracked up to be, and I volunteered to go and see what he had to say about it. Obviously I was intrigued to find out his verdict (he'll eventually publish a book containing his favourite riding roads) but there was another altogether more pressing issue that needed to be dealt with: just how would my new car respond to a sound thrashing on this world-famous twisting ribbon of perfect black tarmac?
It's been almost three weeks since I picked up my 2.0L Scirocco and, while I've been entertained by its turn of speed and mid-range punch in a straight line, this was a golden opportunity to see how it behaved, foot down and flat out, on some proper corners. Just check out the road for yourself by searching for Jebel Hafeet on Google Images - you'll see what I mean. And it wasn't simply cornering prowess I was interested in exploring, either.
My Scirocco is fitted with a six-speed DSG transmission. This, if you're unfamiliar with such motoring acronyms, is race-bred technology that has made its way into road cars and Volkswagen has been the first group of car companies to make this tech available to the masses. It is a complicated system but basically there are two clutches and no clutch pedal. You can leave it to shift cogs by itself, just like an automatic transmission, but take over proceedings with the paddles mounted behind the chunky steering wheel and the effect is instantaneous.
Having two clutches, the next gear is always at the ready, whether your next move is an up or downshift. DSG stands for Direct Sequential Gearbox and, in theory at least, there should not be any discernible hesitation when changing gear. Which is why it was developed for racing - it means you can get around a track quicker than if you're driving a traditional manual. It also means your hands are on the wheel at all times, which makes for a safer experience. Having driven Jebel Hafeet earlier this summer in a Ferrari 458 Italia, I knew this would be the perfect environment to test it out.
The 458 has possibly the best DSG transmission available on any car in the world right now and anyone who hankers for a manual version must need their head testing. Would my humble VW provide anywhere near the thrill levels of this Italian superstar? There was only one way to find out, so I gunned it through Dubai's morning rush hour for Al Ain.
I'd arranged to meet Peter at the Mercure hotel at the top of the mountain, but he was running a little late, which gave me my chance. Straight up and back down again - twice - was enough to convince me that the Scirocco was a wise choice. It's not as involving as a rear-wheel-drive sports car, of course, but it packs a punch from its turbocharged four-pot engine and there's plenty of grip from the Pirellis. Hitting the many corners at a fair old lick, the sheer speed of changing ratios using the paddles meant I wasn't fumbling for a gear shifter and I could change up or down without lifting off the throttle. It was superbly entertaining.
As the tyres chirruped and squealed, I laughed out loud and remembered that this is the joy of driving. But with so few roads in the UAE capable of providing such thrills, what is the point of owning a performance car here? Even if you only get to do it once, go and experience it for yourself. Only then will you understand.
Published: September 30, 2011 04:00 AM