Sure, 4am wake-up calls are no fun. But when you have a quartet such as this lying in wait, well, then the incentives are pretty good – wouldn’t you say?
The plan is to head for the hills. A 600-kilometre round-trip. One day! Just like that.
Well, for the sheer thrill of the journey if you must know. The question is, can we really do it in exotic machines such as these. Are they merely garage queens, or can they really get out there and get their hands (or tyres) dirty?
Well, there was only one way to find out…
There’s a 70-kilometre stretch of mountain road in Himachal that’s one of our absolute favourites. It goes from Kumarhatti to Nahan, and it offers some of the best switchbacks in the world – and with stunning views to boot! Normally, we would take the Himalayan Expressway into the foothills and then turn off towards Kumarhatti – no problem. But the trouble was that large stretches of the Himalayan Expressway are being expanded. So, for the moment at least, it’s no place for a supercar.
So, the only way for us to get there would be through the depths of Haryana. Well, even better I suppose if we really want to test these machines. Fortunately, before we got to the country roads through the mustard fields of North India we got to stretch the legs of the GT-R on the highway…
Now, just to give you a sense of the kind of machine we’re dealing with – its 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged engine pumps out a liberal 562bhp and 637Nm of torque. Nissan claims a 0-to-100 time of 2.7 seconds. Pair this with a slick-shifting six-speed dual-clutch gearbox and a rather trick all-wheel drive system and the GT-R’s performance, no matter the conditions, is pretty much unbeatable.
And this came in handy on the highway. You see, this is a machine for the Playstation generation – so it’s instantly recognisable. Of course, with its vents, wings, and overall stance – not to mention colour – it certainly draws a fair bit of attention on the road. It’s quite useful, then, to be able to drop a gear and disappear off into the distance when someone gets too close to you on the road – which, on NH1 at least, happened more often than we would have liked. Fortunately, the escaping act is swift to say the least in this car. Another factor that keeps you awake on the highway is the fact that the super-sticky rubber on this car – with its massive tread blocks for dry traction – ensures that the GT-R follows every single rut in the road like it’s a mouse being led by the Pied Piper.
And given the hefty mass of the GT-R – it weighs almost 1,800kgs – it drinks like an Irishman on St. Paddy’s Day. And that’s certainly a limitation if you want to take a road trip in the GT-R. If driven enthusiastically (how else do you drive a car like this?), the effective range of the car is around the 400km mark. Of course, you cover those 400-clicks very rapidly indeed. The seat, meanwhile, is surprisingly comfortable. And even more surprising was the fact that the ride was actually not bad at all – even on the broken country roads of rural Haryana. What’s disappointing is the quality of the cabin, especially considering the fact that this machine will run you over Rs.2 crores.
But all is forgotten, and forgiven, once you cross Nahan and get to those switchbacks. Boy, was I happy to be in the GT-R and not in any of the others. Not that there’s a slouch in this bunch, but here in the mountains there’s nothing that can quite keep up with the GT-R. Even at part throttle it shoots forward at light speed. But, at the same time, it’s linear and controlled. You can tell that the driving dynamics have been honed to absolute perfection. And the steering – my god the steering! – it feels as though the tyres are transmitting the texture of the road back to you in pure, unadulterated analogue detail. That’s the beauty of a traditional hydraulic steering rack I suppose. It’s such a shame that electric steering doesn’t even come close. This kind of steering adds a purity to the driving experience that makes the entire journey worthwhile.
So, can you do a road trip in this car? Yes, you absolutely can. Just make sure you’re 100% alert behind the wheel at all times. After all, a 2.7 second dash to 100km/h is sufficient to keep you awake – isn’t it?
Mercedes-AMG SLC 43
The Open Top
Let’s just cut straight to the chase – the SLC 43 AMG is not the best driver’s car here. Based on what I’ve learnt, having spent 600 kilometres behind the wheel over 16 hours, I can tell you this with full conviction. You see, the Nissan GT-R showed it a clean pair of heels around the twisty stuff. And since the SLC 43 is not a full-blooded AMG, the Audi RS7 Performance was leaving it for absolute dead on the straight stretches. What happens when the going gets tough though? Well, that’s exactly when you notice the slower & heavier Porsche Macan fly-by your side, and there’s not much you can do about that either. However, none of that actually matters. As far as I’m concerned, the Merc was the best car for the job on that particular day. Why? Because it’s a freakin’ convertible. End of story!
Now the cynics among us will point out that the SLC 43 AMG is not the most sophisticated performance drop-top on the market. And that might be true. But then I could argue that none of its competitor looks quite as radical. In fact, I would stick my neck out and say that it’s the coolest car of this quartet here. Don’t believe me? Just try driving one with the top down on a sunny day. Whether you’re blessed with the sharpest facial features or not, it makes no difference – people admire you regardless, for you’re a cool guy with good taste and style in their eyes. And that’s the beauty of this car – it’s an instant ticket to stardom. I mean, wherever we stopped during the entire trip, people would inadvertently swarm around the SLC of all the cars. If we were to settle this debate by the popular vote, the SLC 43 AMG would have taken a landslide victory.
Even as a driving machine, it’s not underwhelming. Sure, it’s not powered by a full-blown V8 motor like the SLK 55 AMG, but its 362bhp/520Nm producing 3.0-litre bi-turbo V6 has enough oomph. The drive goes to rear wheels via a new 9-speed automatic gearbox. So long as you don’t ask it to downshift quickly in manual mode, it does its job well. The steering is direct – if not a bit heavy and numb – while its short wheelbase means that you can point-and-shoot it comfortably on mountain roads. As for the noise from the sports exhaust, it crackles and produces raspy notes – albeit a bit artificially. The ride is firm, of course, but surprisingly it’s got good ground clearance. I don’t remember scraping the underbelly even once – and considering the fact that we drove on some really bad patches, it was remarkable really.
Put simply, road-tripping in a car is not always about stitching corners on nicely laid mountain roads or going pedal-to-metal on the highways. You’ve got to hold your horses at some point and take in the surroundings. And while it’s great to show your loved ones the beautiful landscapes through the vast expanse of an SUV, sometimes you’ve got to be a little selfish and schedule some me-time. And that’s what I did with SLC 43 AMG during this trip – had fun, felt free and fulfilled my soul. That’s precisely what road trips are all about – aren’t they?
Audi RS7 Performance
I will admit that the GT-R Ishan was driving is an engineering marvel, while Shivank’s SLC looks gorgeous and makes you feel like a celebrity with all the attention it attracts with the top down. And if you’re taking your chiropractor along, the GT-R is perfect! And if you don’t mind all the attention you get when your comb-over flaps about in the wind, the SLC will do just fine. But both those cars are hopelessly impractical.
So, on a road trip like this, I would rather have the company of my friends – who would undoubtedly carry more than a single pair of underpants. Which is why I brought the Audi RS7 with me – a four-door super saloon and a ‘practical’ performance car.
Meanwhile, I can take three of my friends, throw all of our luggage in the large boot, and still have the same amount of thrill as the other two. This is because the RS7 is no slouch. Under the bonnet lies a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, which in standard form produces 552bhp and 700Nm of torque. But just so I didn’t get left behind in the GT-R’s dust, I brought along the ‘Performance’ version instead. For the practical megalomaniac Audi has tuned the engine to deliver 596bhp, and when you put your foot down all the way to the floor, the turbos go into overboost and send 750Nm of torque to all four wheels through the 8-speed automatic gearbox.
The way this RS7 launches off the line is probably the closest thing to being shot out of a cannon. When you use the launch control, the whole car squats down to the ground – sort of as a prelude to the terror that lies ahead – and then when you release the brake pedal, nothing prepares you for the sheer velocity. Then, while your insides are still screaming, the car changes up to second gear and the terror continues.
On our fearless journey, we would encounter long stretches of well-paved national highways to reach this beautiful ribbon of tarmac in Himachal. But the two-lane State Highway that served as our highway to heaven was anything but. It had weathered terribly, and no more than 200 metres on the road was properly paved. Predicting that we would encounter just such a situation, I knew the Audi would be the perfect car for the job.
On the national highway, the RS7 just devoured the distance – burped in the face of the others, and simply took off. And when we reached this broken stretch of state highway, I simply set the car into ‘Comfort.’ Since it comes standard with air suspension, I just raised the ride height and was on my way. No matter how far the road condition deteriorated, the Audi just carried on. I only had to be careful of the massive wheels and rubber-band like tyres.
When we finally reached the mountains, I set the car into ‘Dynamic’ mode with a simple turn of a knob. This lowered the ride height, firmed up the suspension, quickened the steering, transmission and throttle response. The grip from the tyres was aided by the four-wheel drive system. And to eliminate any understeer in the corners, the RS7 also comes with torque vectoring – which helps propel you through the corners. The only trouble was the steering, which felt positively wooden – especially in front of the GT-R.
That apart, if you want a real driver’s car – and one that is simply blindingly fast – in which to carry your luggage and scare your friends, this is the one for you. After all, life is all about frightening your loved ones – isn’t it?
Porsche Macan R4
Dear readers, now you understand what I have to put up with – a bunch of thick-headed colleagues who think you can take supercars on a road trip in India! Sure this is New Delhi and it’s easy to hit an expressway on any side of the city to head out for a nice long road trip. But not everyone lives in Delhi. I, for one, live in Gurgaon and could not take NH9 to bypass Rohtak and get to Panipat in order to avoid the traffic – as it has some of the highest speed breakers known to man.
So, in order to show my performance car addicted workmates how to do this properly, I selected the latest Porsche to grace our shores – the Macan R4. Now, the Porsche Macan has been criticised in India for being too expensive. But this new entry-level R4 model makes a strong case for itself by being considerably more affordable than the Cayenne. Apart from that, however, there is nothing entry-level about this R4 Macan. It comes loaded with all sorts of equipment and toys, such as adjustable suspension, a huge dual-panel sunroof, a fully leather clad cabin, various driving modes, a slick shifting seven-speed PDK automatic gearbox, and more.
But it was now time to address the elephant in the room, or the lack of one in this case. You see, this bargain basement Porsche has to make do with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine developing 248bhp. And while it isn’t slow by any accounts, when you have to compete with a bunch of sleek performance cars you do tend to get left behind. That is, till they hit the 100 km/h speed limit. So I’m not missing out as such. And when you do need to pick up pace, the Porsche’s engine lets out a racy soundtrack that makes you feel as though you’re in one of Zuffenhausen’s finest sports cars.
More advantages? Our highways are not the smoothest, so when my colleagues had to hit the brakes and brace for impact I could merely cruise by. In fact, for the most part I felt like I was travelling in a huge leather sofa. The seats are large, supportive and comfortable. Combine that with a compliant suspension, and what you’re left with is a very comfortable car for a road trip.
Just before the hills, we came across a section of patchy tarmac. But, in the Porsche, this was no problem at all. The suspension is absolutely quiet, and I didn’t stress the slightest about picking any underbody damage.
And since this is an SUV, it had the most usable boot here. And therein lies one of the most important reasons that I chose the Porsche – for no one likes to go on a road trip alone. And, in this, you and your friends can travel in style and comfort.
In fact, I was 100% sure that this was the best car here for a road trip. Right until we went into attack mode on the empty twisty roads past Nahan that is. Being an SUV, the Porsche has much more body roll than any other car here, and although you can work the direct steering and responsive gearbox via the aluminium paddles, it’s not quite a sports car after all. Pretty close mind you! And, all things considered, the Porsche is still the car that I would choose for a road trip in India.
But the point is that if you’ve got cars such as these in your garage, don’t be afraid to use them. They’re built to be driven, so do just that – drive them! Cross country at that.
- Nissan GT-R
- Mercedes-AMG SLC 43
- Audi RS7 Performance
- Porsche Macan R4
Transmission: 6-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 562bhp @ 6,800rpm
Torque: 637Nm @ 3,600-5,800rpm
Price: Rs.1.99 crores (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: With its vast performance, the GT-R actually has tremendous grand touring potential. Now, if only we had the roads to exploit its potential…
Transmission: 9-Speed Automatic / Rear-Wheel Drive
Power: 362bhp @ 5,500-6,000rpm
Torque: 520Nm @ 2,000-4,200rpm
Price: Rs.77.50 lakhs (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: Stunning looks, adequate performance and unlimited headroom. One of the coolest cars to go road tripping in – yes, even in India!
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 596bhp @ 6,100–6,800rpm
Torque: 750Nm @ 2500–5500rpm
Price: Rs.1.59 crores (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: More powerful, more practical, and MORE terrifying!
Transmission: 7-Speed Automatic / Four Wheel Drive
Power: 248bhp @ 5,000–6,800rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 1,600-4,500rpm
Price: Rs.76.84 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: Sounds like a sports car – and damn nearly drives like one. And, by far, the most comfortable and practical of this bunch.