There’s nothing quite like good ride quality and dynamics when you decide to go touring. We delve over it during our drive to the ASI sites of Ajanta and Ellora
Nothing like a roadtrip to appreciate the dynamics of a car
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN on a bullock cart? Large fixed wooden wheels holding up an open cab, the only form of lateral movement being the arm that joins a hinge that is connected to the bullock. Now imagine the cart hitting a pothole at 100kmph… Of course it won’t but if it did, you’d be flung in the air, the wheel and in all likelihood, the cart itself would break into pieces. That’s what suspensions do – maintain body control over irregularities in the road so that you can drive at higher speeds. We drove the Creta to Aurangabad from Pune, just to appreciate a comfortable ride on a modern suspension, and to visit the wonderful caves of Ajanta and Ellora. Hyundai has launched a CSR campaign in association with the Archaeological Survey of India to save our heritage. What better location to team up with the Hyundai Creta for a roadtrip, than to the ASI sites of Ajanta and Ellora.
Ajanta and Ellora need little introduction for their magnificence, but for the uninitiated, these are rock-cut caves that showcase the most impressive examples of Indian art, created at a time when modern-day technology wasn’t available to achieve such engineering feats. The exquisitely detailed caves carved out in rock, and the paintings done on the inside walls of this UNESCO world heritage site will simply blow your mind. With time and wrath of changing weather, these sites have deteriorated.
Ajanta is 104km from Aurangabad and Ellora is 29km away in the other direction. If you leave early in the morning from Pune, you can make it into Aurangabad town, which is about 240km from Pune, in around four hours. The double lane highway helps you maintain high tripledigit speeds and with the Creta, it is absolutely tireless. The suspension is well tuned for the highway, never giving that soft wallowy feeling you experience in many cars built in India these days. There are two aspects to modern suspensions – springs and dampers, both depending on each other to control a vehicle’s body movement. The Creta gets independent front suspension that employs McPherson struts with coil springs suspending the front wheels. The strut type springs hold the car and compress every time you hit a bump or an undulation, and the dampers then come into play to control the speed the springs free up at. The stiffness of the spring and the compression of the damper can be manipulated to give the vehicle the ride quality you desire. The Creta gets the tune right. It strikes a perfect balance between city suppleness and highway stiffness to give you the best of both worlds. At high speeds, the Creta feels poised.
We take modern suspension for granted just as we do our heritage. Why care about something you haven’t built and know little about right? We don’t realise that the lessons learnt in building these caves have evolved over years to the modern architecture you see today. The dome inside the caves, the skylights that are strategically placed to light up a dark room
THE CRETA’S SUSPENSION STRIKES A PERFECT BALANCE BETWEEN CITY SUPPLENESS AND HIGHWAY STIFFNESS
during the day, the spacing between columns to ensure the roof doesn’t cave in, the size of the steps, the door openings; it all took tremendous studies in the absence of calculators and computers to know how to build them right.
Car suspensions too evolved from the early 1900’s leaf springs. They were cost effective and all you needed to do was add leaves to the suspension to beef it up for heavier vehicles. But leaf springs are like horse rides. They have to be under load to give you an acceptable ride or else the car will gallop over bumps. As speeds increased and road network around the world expanded after world war II, most manufacturers started using independent front suspension with coil springs and dampers. Some continued to use leaf springs for the rear and a few do them even now, but majority of cars come with torsion beams with coil springs for the rear. The Creta uses this independent front, torsion beam rear set up.
While the type of suspension is constant, getting the tuning right takes time and experience. Hyundai were known to offer softly set up cars in the past as they catered to a predominantly city driven market. But with the expanding line-up and focus on driving dynamics in the recent past, cars like the Grand i10, Elite i20 and Xcent started to show a new direction for Hyundai.
Once you cross Aurangabad and take on the single-laned highway to Ajanta, the road surface springs quite a few surprises on you. The Creta’s good ride quality helps you to keep the pace up and there is enough punch in the 1.6-litre diesel engine to not feel strained when you can stretch its legs on a long enough road. A small hill road just as you near Ajanta caves lets you experience the Creta’s body control. It’s an SUV with 190mm of ground clearance so the roll into corners is natural, but there’s good grip in the tyres and never at any point, even when you hustle the Creta through a series of corners, does it feel out of its elements.
Ajanta has a set of 30 rock-hewn caves carved by Buddhists. A horseshoe shaped rock at the edge of a river that now only flows when the monsoons hit the region, seems to have been picked for its proximity to the water body. Summers in this region can get pretty hot but step into the caves and you will notice the drop in temperature. The ventilation inside is also a revelation. It’s fresh and cool in the 40-degree summer heat. Ajanta is also known for its bold paintings of well endowed women, art that is rare to find in modern India. Our heritage shows how expressive our ancestors were and how we’ve suppressed this over the years.
The Ajanta caves were carved out in a compact space but Ellora is far more spread out. Unlike the fully Buddhist influence at Ajanta, Ellora displays three varied styles – Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. The first 12 caves are Buddhist, 13-30 belong to Brahmanism and the final four have been built by Jains. It’s a long walk and many of the caves have been partially ruined with time so the best ones to visit are cave no 5, 10, 15, 16, 21, 29 and 32.
THE VENTILATION INSIDE THESE CAVES IS A REVELATION. IT’S COOL IN THE 40-DEGREE HEAT
We took the Creta for the drive to Ajanta and Ellora and enjoyed its tireless driving manners, but a lot of the SUV DNA the Creta gets is from the Santa Fe. The Santa Fe comes with an AWD application too and all-wheel drive SUVs come with multi-link suspension at the rear, as this set up increases their ability when you drive off the road. The Santa Fe is more road-biased but the benefits of the multi-link rear suspension can be seen on road as well. Each wheel of the Santa Fe is independently suspended, giving it not only better ride but also aiding in cornering.
Multi-link suspension is a modern take on the double wishbone set up. It comes with four or more control arms that increase the complexity of the unit but give it more flexibility to different loads than joined suspensions like torsion beams. Another feature in the Santa Fe that improves driving dynamics is flex steer that offers three steering modes – normal, sport and comfort. Normal gives medium weight to the steering, sport is when it weighs up more for enthusiastic driving, and comfort makes the steering light for driving in thick traffic.
More tech in the Santa Fe that makes it a better driver’s SUV is the Advanced Traction Cornering Control (ATCC) system, which essentially is a torque vectoring system that sends more torque to the wheels that offer the best grip in a corner. It also applies measured braking to the inside rear wheel to tighten the line and prevent the SUV from understeering.
Hyundai’s SUVs have come a long way since the launch of the Terracan and Tucson in the last decade. The improvement in these years is tremendous and the competency of the Creta and the Santa Fe makes us very optimistic about the upcoming new generation Tucson. SUVs are made for the highway, for trips out of town and be it the Creta or the Santa Fe, both are very comfortable companions when you decide to go touring.
At the end of the day the Creta was a fantastic facilitator to get to the caves. These heritage sites have such amazing history to showcase yet get very little attention because unless you step into these caves, you don’t realise the effort gone into making them. From the outside they are meant to be hidden, they are caves after all. But inside, you will be awestruck.
THE CAVES ARE HIGHLY EXPRESSIVE, SO IF YOU HAVE A KEEN EYE, YOU WILL BE AWESTRUCK
Above: The horseshoe shaped rock face in which the 29 caves have been carved out. Right: The Creta’s surefootedness makes it an excellent SUV on highways
Left: All the caves of Ajanta and a majority of Ellora caves show Buddhist influence. Below: Just hammers and chisels built all of this