Four men. The Indian Car of the Year. A road trip to the Auto Expo
It was my first long drive in a car and the Ed was entrusting his long-term-test Hyundai Verna to me. It is a car that has racked up rave reviews from the petrolheads here at evo India and kudos to Hyundai for making it a more engaging car; an evo kinda car! No wonder it was our Premium Sedan at the 10th Times Auto Awards and also the reigning ICOTY. In our first reports we reckoned it had the kahunas as well as the bells and whistles to appease both the driving enthusiast and his family. An ideal car then to undertake the 1600-kilometre journey from our HQ in Pune, to bring you the latest from the 2018 Auto Expo.
“Hammy thought it was ‘Hammer Time’ and whipped up all 126 horses into a frenzy”
Well, it was simple. Start early from Pune, swallow up the expressway to Mumbai before dawn and beat the traffic that volcanoes around Mumbai. Quick sprint then to Ahmedabad to pick up photographer Rohit and videographer Alameen who were getting done with another of their shoots, stopover in Udaipur for the night and then a pretty straightforward drive onwards to the capital. And keeping with one of my New Year’s resolutions I surprised my colleague Abhishek, my driving partner on the drive, by arriving at his doorstep ten minutes early. The only instructions I’d given my colleagues was to pack light, you don’t want the suspension to worry more about handling weight than handling a few corners, but Abhi being the fitness freak (read junkie) that he is, cannot survive without his supplements, protein powders, health shakes and what nots. Not exactly the light packing that I’d recommended.
I love pre-dawn rides and drives and took the wheel for the first part of the journey. Having done enough and more trips to my hometown in Gujarat, I was familiar with the route and more so the food stops on the way. Considering that we had to be in Ahmedabad by 3pm, we knew that stops would have to be limited to a bare minimum and we filled up on an early breakfast just prior to the second toll on the Pune-Mumbai expressway. While Abhishek was torn between what would be the most nutritious item on the McDonalds breakfast menu (scrambled eggs and a cappucino), I stuck to my Parsi roots and packed up a couple of pora-paos (omelette wrapped in buns) and bun maska.
Chillin’ like a villain
We made good time on the expressway, allowing the Hyundai Verna’s 1.6-litre turbo-diesel motor to stretch its legs. I wasn’t on the ragged edge of insanity but not tootling around either and to my surprise the on-board computer relayed back a fuel efficiency figure in excess of 18kmpl. That was an incredible number considering we had dialled down the cabin temperature to 20-deg Celsius, were keeping our butts cool with the seat coolers and using all the points to charge our various devices.
We were blessed to have made little of the Mumbai traffic and in no time were clear of Ghodbunder. I have wasted many hours on numerous occasions trying to cross this section and fortunately we did not have to endure such treachery – leaving early is such a life saver. With buttery smooth roads on the horizon from here onwards, I was pretty confident that we would arrive early but what I did not anticipate was the truck traffic as well as the sheer stupidity of our Indian drivers who ended up slowing us down. Here’s where the Verna loved dancing around these obstacles with the mid-range surge helping us getting around these mobile chicanes.
“Handling is not just for the twisties, it makes highway driving so much safer”
As we reached the outskirts of Surat, it was time for a much-needed switcheroo as Abhishek ‘LH44’ Wairagade was bored out of his mind. Hammy thought it was ‘Hammer Time’ and whipped up all 126 horses into a frenzy and when I woke up two hours later (the cooled seats are such a boon in our Indian conditions!) we were just fifty kilometres short of Ahmedabad with our in-house Hamilton doing a bit of ‘lift and coast’ to get us to a half decent gas station with restroom facilities. This dash also meant that now we were almost 45 minutes early to pick up Rohit and Alameen, cue some more face stuffing.
With the boot packed to the brim with all their photo and video equipment, we left the hustle and bustle of Ahmedabad but ten minutes later Rohit wanted ice-cream. Another halt! Uggh, I wanted to get to Udaipur as soon as possible, not wanting to do highway running in the dark. Also, it may just have been me but ever since we crossed the Rajasthan state border, I was getting the wafting scent of Lal Maas. (It was just you! – Alameen, Abhishek, Rohit). Luckily, we arrived in the suburban area of Udaipur just as the sun was setting. The big ball of fire was descending steadily behind the local hillocks and we just had to take a moment or two to soak in the sights. Much to my dismay, there was no mutton at our hotel that night which meant no Lal Maas.
We had conquered a major chunk of our journey on the first day and decided to reward ourselves by having a proper breakfast, setting off at 10am. This was bound to cause a problem but that’s for later. We were enjoying the open highway with old school rock tunes blasting through the system. The Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity worked seamlessly throughout the journey. Yes, we tried both the car connectivity services and I pronounce Google’s to be better, since I use a ’droid. Abhi might disagree. What we did agree on though was the effortlessness with which the Verna was just gobbling away the miles. I just loved the fact that the six-speed gearbox made the most out of the 260Nm of torque making high speed cruising so easy – and efficient.
At the quaint little town called Nathdwara, an hour’s drive from Udaipur, we stumbled upon a gigantic statue of Lord Shiva being constructed in the distance. We had to see for ourselves just how tall this statue was and we were staggered by the work in progress. When completed, the statue will be 251 feet, making it the tallest one of its kind in the country. Our shutterbugs finally woke up and did some work and to our surprise we saw some more new Vernas in the neighbourhood – just goes to show how popular Hyundai and the Verna in particular, have become. By noon we were in Jaipur and finally we got some Lal Maas into our bellies. Yes, I have mentioned Lal Maas a number of times already and if you do find me mentioning Lal Maas again in this article, I apologise.
I had heard about the dreadful truck traffic that plagues the highway between Jaipur and Delhi in the evenings. Never experienced it though. Till now (insert facepalm emoji here). The late start to the day was not the right move. Those 200 clicks were a nightmare, dodging lorries and truckies who gave not a damn to regulations and safety or anything, driving on the opposite side frequently and with impunity. Here’s where my skills over years of playing the Gameboy came in handy. The Verna’s nimbleness as well as the new found surefootedness made it easy to flit between the multi-axles. And here’s where I come to another conclusion. Handling is not just for the twisties, it makes highway driving so much safer allowing quick direction changes and obstacle avoidance manoeuvres without losing composure.
“We stumbled upon a gigantic statue of Lord Shiva being constructed. We had to see for ourselves just how tall it was”
By the time we made it to the NCR, the moon was already up. We had to traverse the length of the capital to make it to our hotel on the other side, in Noida. Another arduous and testing journey. Driving in Delhi is a feat in itself. You have to remain vigilant, quick, slow and calm. You never know who you may end up offending here and you definitely do not want to rub somebody the wrong way here, literally and figuratively. And so, after a solid helping of galouti kebab and chicken tikkas at the Moti Mahal in Noida, our drive ended on a sumptuous note. We were ready and prepped for the Auto Expo 2018 and hope you liked our coverage of Asia’s largest auto show across our digital and social platforms, not to mention the March issue of this magazine.
Not that the Hyundai Verna went to sleep. It ferried the entire team back and forth to the show grounds in Greater Noida. It made trips to the printers who did the official SIAM Show Daily. At the end of the day everybody fought over its keys, an escape from the hustle and bustle of the show as well as the NCR. Through it all, the Hyundai Verna remained unfazed and did everything we asked of it. We drove the wheels off it, cruised along and trundled gingerly in traffic. It aced every task. She was surefooted and didn’t give us an ounce of trouble. Despite the boot loaded to the max, she did not float or bottom out, a major bugbear of the past. Most of all, I didn’t get any butterflies in my stomach the night before I was to drive back to Pune after the Expo, the Hyundai Verna gives you that confidence to tackle road trips and every surprise our Indian highways enjoy throwing at you, without skipping a heartbeat.