Great road in the ac­ces­si­ble north­ern back­yard in an un­der­rated en­thu­si­ast’s car


We go chas­ing the sun to Na­han in a Verna

I WAS TALK­ING TO A FRIEND RE­CENTLY ABOUT the most in­ter­est­ing topic for petrol­heads – favourite cars. We spoke about Ger­man cars, Amer­i­can cars, Ja­panese and Korean, even In­dian cars. Cars that are glob­ally ac­cepted as the best cars of the year were a part of the dis­cus­sion, but the ones that topped my list as they did on the lists of the friends who take their cars very se­ri­ously, aren’t the best cars in the world. In our rather hum­ble mo­tor­ing hack lives, where we are for­tu­nate to drive close to a hun­dred cars over a year (some times even more), the best cars in the world are the ones that leave you with the mem­ory of a drive. It may roll like a Sumo wrestler in a kick box­ing ring or take 20 sec­onds to hit the 100kmph mark, but if you’ve driven on a good road and seen a new place that’s worth click­ing a pic­ture at, the chances are, you will re­mem­ber and like the car more. That’s the hard truth. The best car in the world for you is the one that’s liked and you will only like a car you’ve driven if you’ve driven it well. If you only drive a Fer­rari to the gro­cery store ev­ery day of your life, what’s the point in that, right?


So any­way, that long philo­soph­i­cal rant comes to this. It’s Fe­bru­ary 2018 and when I think of the cars I’ve driven over the past year and the last­ing mem­o­ries I’ve had with many of them, the Verna to Na­han drive brings a smile to my face. Most cars these days aren’t bad. Cus­tomer clin­ics and sci­en­tif­i­cally de­rived out­puts have made the good but risky passion-de­pen­dent style of car mak­ing a thing of the past. You rarely find ma­jor hits or hi­lar­i­ous misses these days. In that, car mak­ers are try­ing to balance out ev­ery as­pect of a car’s char­ac­ter to find the right mix. Most new cars as a re­sult do things well but don’t put a smile to your face. Hyundai on the other hand has been stung by crit­i­cism of poor han­dling cars in the past but ex­celled at sev­eral other as­pects – en­gine, gear­box, com­fort, fea­tures and price. This next gen­er­a­tion Verna like the re­cent launches by Hyundai, ticks that vi­tal dy­nam­ics box.

It’s the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion of im­proved driv­ing dy­nam­ics for a car in their fleet and I for one am glad to ex­pe­ri­ence that. En­gi­neers have en­sured that it drives well around cor­ners, the steer­ing weighs up well, the sus­pen­sion isn’t sloppy and the chas­sis feels nice and rigid when the forces aim to twist. The road up from Na­han is a se­ries of medi­um­fast smooth cor­ners where you can get into a nice flow as you pile on the speed. The stretch is full of switch­backs where you turn in and out in one fluid motion and here, a car that’s got good me­chan­i­cal grip will make you enjoy the drive a lot more. It’s less tir­ing too as you aren’t fight­ing mass for speed. The rear sus­pen­sion is stiff enough to give you con­fi­dence in cor­ners but not hor­ridly so for the rear pas­sen­gers. The front end likes to turn in, the steer­ing isn’t vague and the 1.6-petrol’s power­band is wide enough to hold a gear through a long curve. The en­gine revs to about 6500rpm and 121 horse­power is more than enough to make an over­tak­ing move or light work of a hill climb.

There’s an­other rea­son we went to Na­han though. You’ve prob­a­bly not heard of it be­cause there’s noth­ing much to do there. The small town is in the foothills of the Hi­malayas, less than two hours away from Chandi­garh and pretty much on no driv­ing map to get to a more prom­i­nent city in Hi­machal. Not many tourists come to town and there isn’t much thor­ough­fare, which leaves the well paved twisties near this town a peach of a stretch to drive on.

The road you need to be on is the Ku­marhatti-Sara­hanNa­han road driv­ing to­wards Kasauli. The 92km stretch has light traf­fic be­cause Kasauli is so well con­nected with Chandi­garh that this route is barely used. And be­cause you’d drive on this road specif­i­cally to get to Na­han only, the roads take lesser beat­ing, there’s even slighter dust on the trees lin­ing the roads I sup­pose, but that might just be me look­ing at the pos­i­tives of this place, be­cause when the set­ting sun be­gins to glow on this beau­ti­fully ser­pen­tine stretch of tar­mac, it looks like a golden rib­bon tied around the moun­tain. The roads are wide enough and the tar­mac isn’t cov­ered in the shadow of trees till the even­ing yolk dips into the pan be­hind the next moun­tain.

Those fast fleet­ing mo­ments as they of­ten are when you try to chase the sun in the moun­tains are mo­ments of mo­tor­ing nir­vana. With the revs of the Verna high enough to make ev­ery bit of that last light worth their time, we drive to nowhere. Turn in and turn out as the seat cool­ers warm our bums and the last rays of the sun warm our tyres. On that stretch, I was lov­ing the way the Verna han­dled, how it sur­prised us with its new­found fi­nesse and how a good day of mo­tor­ing with a car that aimed to please its driver, helped it­self into the list of the most me­morable drives.

It’s a fam­ily sedan for cry­ing out loud. It has been a while since we saw a car in this seg­ment take to cor­ners like that, and back then, all things con­sid­ered in the In­dian con­text, it was my car of the year. That it hap­pened to win the ICOTY 2018 was just about right. Well de­served, and might I add, this Verna is go­ing to give a lot of peo­ple a lot of happy mem­o­ries. Chas­ing sun­sets in a car that drives well is so re­ward­ing. Life is all about catch­ing sun­rises and sun­sets, the more of them you see, the bet­ter your life is. ⌧

Top: The road snaking along a trib­u­tary close to Na­han. Above: The Verna's tail lights look mag­nif­i­cent. Left: Dry riverbeds are ex­cel­lent photo lo­ca­tions

Right top to bot­tom: The tacho of a petrol car gives great joy when you drive with a heavy foot; new set of head­lights are strong and light up the road ahead; new Verna cor­ners many times bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sor

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