The weekend’s French connection – The Hindu BusinessLine

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It is that time of the year, and 2020’s horrible track record wasn’t going to stop Hyundai Motor India from conducting its ‘Great India Drive’. The only fallout was the difference in logistics necessitated by the current travel restrictions. The new model that was going to be driven around the country by journalists from multiple publications was the i20.

The GID has been an annual event that has enabled us to get more acquainted with Hyundai’s latest model launch during the year. Of the four new launches that the Korean brand has had during the year, the most significant is the i20.

Will the Hyundai i20 be the bright spot of 2020?

Though there was an official flag-off in Gurugram, the actual drives for this year’s GID are happening across the country in some of the most iconic road routes. To highlight the gradual, yet sustained return to normalcy, and the possibility of capturing the spirit of adventure from road travel, I decided to take the i20 down the famous East Coast Road (ECR) heading south from Chennai to Puducherry and beyond.

Just a couple of days after lockdown was lifted, I took a trip down the initial stretch of road leading up to the ECR and it was nearly desolate. But now, with the Christmas season approaching, the traffic was almost back to normal.

More than the predecessor in more ways than one

The ECR is a key road link between Chennai and Pondicherry, but extends further to Cuddalore, and further links up with other State highways, reaching all the way to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent. ECR’s official name is State Highway 49, and the toll section of the highway is a stretch of about 115 kms between Akkarai just outside Chennai to the outskirts of Puducherry (the ex-French colony’s new name). The ECR skirts the Tamil Nadu coast and winds inland intermittently before running parallel again to the Bay of Bengal. Scenic vistas of backwaters, salt pans and lush green cashew orchards line the entire stretch of the highway.

 

The new i20 I was driving is yet to become a familiar sight on the road. It still draws a lot of stares from onlookers. With its front design bearing such a close resemblance to the Verna, there are a lot of Hyundai family design traits, yet the i20 manages to create a striking new profile. The rear design, with its zigzag LED tubes in the tail-lamps, and the connecting chrome garnish, gives it squat, strong hatchback looks.

Excellent noise isolation

While the design seems more aerodynamic, the interesting titbits are the shape of the door mirrors, and the tiny aero fins in the rear glass garnish mounted past the C-pillar, both of which are meant to help reduce wind noise. The benefits were evident while testing the ECR’s speed limits and when I crossed sections with high crosswinds.

 

In the i20’s cabin, the NVH packaging ensures that the noise isolation is excellent, including traffic noise from outside which can be more audible in sections of the ECR that are still two-lanes only. I’m not one who listens to music often during drives, but the Bose 7-speaker premium audio systems tempts me to try out a few recent Bollywood hits from Spotify. The system also allows multiple-phone Bluetooth connectivity. The cabin also featured sporty black interiors with red accents. My test i20 variant also had the OxyBoost air purifier with its air quality indicator, though the AQI along the ECR wouldn’t have necessitated the heavy use of the purifier.

I was driving the 1-litre Kappa Turbo GDi version of the i20 with its turbocharged, 998cc petrol engine delivering a surprisingly high 120PS of power and 17.5KgM of torque. The engine in my i20 was paired with the popular 7-speed DCT (Hyundai’s dual clutch transmission). Together, they make for an extremely peppy powertrain, capable of powering the new i20 from standstill to 100kmph in 9.9seconds.

On the highway, this powertrain gives the i20 a brisk stride, making it capable of really quick overtakes and bursts of speed that one would not expect from a B+segment hatch. The flip side to this, though, is the fuel efficiency of this powertrain. During my 500-km journey, I managed an average of 10.7kmpl in the city and about 12.9kmpl on the highway.

For a safe road trip

It is clear that tourism has bounced back and most of the attractions along the ECR are already being thronged by visitors from Chennai and Bengaluru. Popular attractions like the rock temples in Mamallapuram, the promenade and Matrimandir at Auroville in Puducherry are particularly popular hangouts and weekends have started witnessing crowded entries at these spots. If you are planning to explore the ECR’s many attractions over a weekend, staying overnight at any of the resorts that dot the coastline side of the highway won’t be a problem. You may want to do some homework in advance before booking the hotel to ensure that all Covid-safety protocols are still being followed. There are many quaint and yet modern resort properties all the way to Cuddalore and beyond. Some of these are more laid back and less frequented so may be worth considering.

 

A trip down ECR is incomplete without a stopover at a French cafe or continental restaurant in Puducherry. The French flavour of the Union Territory can be experienced in the many bakeries, and pizzerias that line the approach to Auroville. Relatively new to the food scene in Puducherry were the vegan restaurants that have sprung up all around the town. The fact that the pandemic is not entirely behind us can still be seen in the relative caution amongst travellers. Some areas in town are still out of bounds for travellers, like the famous promenade in the centre of Puducherry.

In fact, the entire road trip helped highlight the need for a further extension of the precautions that need to be taken to avoid contracting the virus. Avoid physical contact wherever possible.

 

So, for a road trip, that then means getting your car toll-ready with a pre-loaded Fastag. Use a chip-embedded credit card where possible. Now, touch transactions up to ₹5,000 are being allowed. Keep hand sanitisers and alcohol-based wipes handy to clean surfaces that may have been used by others. Maintain social distance and always wear a mask while in public places or when interacting with others outside during a road trip.



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