Reading a definitely inaccurate tourist map for my sister-in-law in Palma the other week (you know the type, they give them to you at the airport and they pinpoint things like dolphin displays but not helpful things like “actual road names”), I did begin to wonder if I’d ever have the confidence to drive abroad myself.
It’s silly really because I genuinely love driving, yet I’ve always assumed that a left hand drive car on the “wrong” side of the road would be a step too far for me. Maybe it’s because I enjoy driving so much that I didn’t want to put myself into a position where I might hate it. Or maybe I’m just a massive baby. Either way, I had come to the conclusion that I’d probably never drive abroad.
That was until last Wednesday, when I was given a map and the keys to a Ford Fiesta EcoBoost and told to find my way to a restaurant in the Dutch countryside.
I don’t know why this driving challenge had come as such a shock to me, I was on a press trip with Ford and I knew that I’d be getting behind the wheel at some point, but obviously I’d just foolishly assumed all the driving would take place at Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium. Test tracks are safe, after all. Test tracks don’t have traffic!
Yet there I suddenly was in the driver’s seat, acutely aware of the size of the lorries dashing past (are lorries bigger in the Netherlands? I swear they are bigger) and a dawning realisation that maybe I didn’t know how to drive at all and the last 13 years of my car-owning life had been a lie.
Motorways aren’t very forgiving for daydreamers though, so I just had to get on with it.
A credit no doubt to the Fiesta which was extremely easy to drive, but it all clicked into place for me very quickly. The navigation side of things wasn’t quite so simple (I am now fully versed in all the roads in/out of Eindhoven airport despite having never flown there) but once I was on the rural roads it was genuinely very enjoyable. The fact that every other farm seemed to have Shetland ponies grazing by the roadside certainly helped.
The point of this driving challenge was to demonstrate the improvements in engine technology and fuel economy since the original Ford Fiesta was launched forty years ago in 1976, but my main takeaway as you can probably imagine was just an immense sense of “OMG I DID IT” overseas driving pride. I liked the car very much, but I liked the confidence it had given me even more.
The next day, it was time to head to Lommel for the real adventurous stuff. I knew we were going to get to take the ST200 for a spin and experience a proper hot lap with a professional driver, but I was equally excited about the parking and braking challenges that awaited us.
As the whole point of the trip was to celebrate the Fiesta’s 40th birthday, we weren’t just going to be using the brand new models – oh no! We arrived to a whole fleet of Fiestas from the 70s, 80s and 90s – including the exact model (even the exact colour) that my best friend’s mum had when we were kids. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to do a “waltzer” challenge in the car that used to pick me up from netball.
It was a ridiculously fun day, especially as I’ve never driven older cars before. If you’ve always had ABS and power steering, it’s a real eye opener to drive without them. I’ll admit that I loved the sofa-like qualities of the 1976 Fiesta’s slouchy seats, but my shoulders certainly knew about the steering the next day!
It’s very easy to say that cars have come on in the past forty years, what surprised me more was just how advanced the 2016 Fiestas seemed in comparison to my own car at home. I drive a 2001 Mercedes SLK day-to-day and I’ve never really considered it to be particularly “old”. Yes, my sat nav is mounted onto the window rather than built into the dash and no, it didn’t come with an iPhone charger but when it comes to the actual driving, I never thought it was THAT dated.
Fifteen years is a long time in car terms though (and yes, I did only just realise that 2001 was 15 years ago and now I feel VERY VERY OLD) and these new engines seemed almost silent compared to what I was used to. Heck, cars have changed so much that I didn’t even know how to start the engine.
The brakes and handling felt a world apart too, it actually took me quite a while to get used to how little I had to do compared to how I would usually drive at home. The new models seemed much more sensitive but at the same time very forgiving – it felt near enough impossible to stall despite the fact I gave it a pretty good go during one of the challenges.
Of course it was the hot lap in the ST200 which was the real highlight of the day. There are few things as fun as flying around a test track with someone who truly knows what they’re doing.
One thing’s for sure, vlogging at 180kmh is not easy…
I’m so grateful to Ford for inviting me on this press trip. It was SO much fun and I met some great people, but more importantly for me I now have the confidence to drive abroad and I know this will open up so many options when it comes to holidays.
I’m determined to see more of Europe by car now…I may need to do it in a very specific model of Fiesta, but I know I can do it.
Vroom vroom indeed.