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The Hyundai Elite i20 is the undisputed leader of the premium hatchback segment. But the car is so much more than that, as we find out over a long road trip to a scenic town nestled in a Himalayan valley.
For those who enjoy travelling and driving, it’s quite natural to plan weekend getaways and long drives. And when such a person goes out to buy a car, it becomes quite important for him or her to prioritize driving pleasure, performance, and the driving dynamics of a car.
However, most driver- oriented cars fall short in other areas, such as ride comfort, in-cabin space, and equipment levels. And here is where Hyundai’s Elite i20 fits in. While the car looks contemporary, with its European styling cues, and definitely stands out as the most upmarket hatchback in town, it is quite the driver’s car too.
The rally counterpart of the i20 was tested and developed at the brand’s Nurburgring test facility, and surely some part of that development must have trickled down to the production car – as the Elite i20 handles very well indeed, and maintains good composure at high speeds. Surely, then, here is a car that not only looks the part but also appeals to those who want a car that they can enjoy from behind the wheel as well. And what better way to enjoy a driver’s car than to go for a nice long road trip, which is exactly what we did.
Of course, a good road trip calls for a variation of roads. Long straight expressways that allow you to exploit a car’s performance, while some twisty bends on a nice mountain road that allow you to enjoy the dynamic traits of the car and explore the limits of its suspension.
Luckily, that’s just what you can enjoy if you chart out the correct route out of Delhi. And to make things even better, we left Delhi at midnight. This means that all of the traffic for the night had already left the city, and there were absolutely no bottlenecks – allowing us to open up the Elite i20’s four cylinder, 1.2-litre petrol engine, featuring a Variable Timing Valve Train (VTVT). This gives the engine a very linear response right from low down in the rev range.
Once out on the long straights of NH-1, you can really stretch the legs of the Elite i20. Between gear changes, as the rev counter needle crosses the 3,000rpm mark the engine really comes alive with a nice throaty sound – which only gets better as you head for 6,000rpm to exploit all of its 82bhp. As you’re cruising along at the prescribed speed limit of 100km/h, it becomes evident that the Elite i20 is really confident at triple digit speeds, while the suspension easily soaks up all the undulations – leaving the car absolutely planted.
For company, we had the brilliant sound system with its touchscreen interface to shuffle through music easily and pick the perfect song for the moment. The drive was turning out to be an enjoyable one, with little or no traffic. And things got only better as the i20 headed onto the well-paved Himalayan Expressway just as the sun rose over the horizon – making for a really pretty drive.
But continuing on NH-22, once past the Himalayan Expressway, isn’t the best idea as traffic becomes dense on the way to Shimla – not to mention the road works on this route, which create plenty of bottlenecks. The better option is to turn right at Kumarhatti and get onto State Highway 2 to Nahan, as this makes for a far more enjoyable drive.
Himachal’s SH-2 is nothing short of a sensational stretch of road, with sparse traffic and scenic roads that wind around the hills draped in green with a hint of orange – which makes for a truly beautiful experience. Honestly, it was a difficult choice whether to listen to music with the windows rolled down or turn off the stereo altogether to enjoy the peace and calm of the serene surroundings.
But the Elite i20 was turning out to be such a joy to drive that we decided to once again indulge in the pleasures of driving around these beautiful mountain roads. The steering responds well to direction changes, and the suspension ensures that the car remains stable even around sharp corners – making for a very rewarding experience for the driver.
As we passed the little town of Nahan, and joined NH-72, the road became rather ‘normal’ – so we stopped for lunch. In this part of the state, you get traditional North Indian cuisine everywhere. Having driven all night long we were quite hungry by now, and so we gorged on a sumptuous meal of naan and pepper chicken in one of the many Punjabi joints strewn beside the highway.
Stomachs full, we headed to the nearby Kalesar National Park to get away from the busy highway. To be honest, it was a little disappointing not to spot any animals even though we drove deep inside the unguarded wildlife area. But, then again, with the mercury soaring in the afternoon it would be unfair to expect wildlife to be found just wandering about. So, the wild bores, sambhars and porcupines remained hidden deep inside the jungle.
It was now getting late, and we needed to get to our final destination for the day – the lake town of Renuka Ji. It’s an hour-and-a-half from the sanctuary, and once again we needed to head uphill. This road was much smaller, and with little traffic it felt like we were in yet another wildlife sanctuary. An hour later, we crossed a dam and the tarmac came to an end leaving us on a dirt track. But thanks to the i20’s generous 170mm of ground clearance this was no problem at all.
After a while, we saw the town in the distance – and the sight was simply mesmerizing, with the setting sun in the background while the river formed a lake in the foreground. But, since it was dark by the time we reached our Himachal Tourism hotel, also called Renuka Ji, we decided to call it an early night after what had been an epic drive over varied terrain. And thanks to the impressive Elite i20 it had been a very comfortable and enjoyable drive throughout.
The next morning, we were up before sunrise and the view from the hotel overlooking the lake was a fantastic one. Eager for more, we headed out in the wee hours down to the river – which was barely a ten-minute drive.
Settled deep inside a valley, this is the best spot around the town. Away from civilization, and all the chaos that it brings, as we sat lazily alongside this tributary of the Yamuna it was quite a liberating experience with dust-free air blowing against our faces. As we watched the sun rise over the mountains, bringing in yet another day with endless possibilities, we were thankful for our ever-expanding road network and machines like the Elite i20 that allow us to literally go anywhere!
Also read: Driving a Hyundai Creta from Delhi to Bhutan