HILLS CALL­ING We take the hugely pop­u­lar Toy­ota In­nova Crysta to the hills of Ma­ha­balesh­war

What makes the Toy­ota In­nova Crysta one of the high­est sell­ing MPVs in In­dia? We take it to the moun­tains to find out


THERE’S SOME­THING EX­TREMELY SOOTH­ING about a road­trip. Espe­cially when you hit the road be­fore day­break and your jour­ney is free from ago­nis­ing traf­fic snarls. Be it through seam­less high­ways or enig­matic moun­tain roads, the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing to­wards a des­ti­na­tion, feel­ing ev­ery bit of the car’s be­hav­iour while gaz­ing at pic­turesque land­scapes, is purely mag­i­cal. That’s what keeps us auto jour­nal­ists go­ing. For us, it’s the only form of med­i­ta­tion. When we’re not be­hind the wheel of a car, we’re ei­ther caught up in a state of dis­ar­ray try­ing to meet dead­lines or plan­ning our next jour­ney. But the irony is such that even a fun road­trip in In­dia can be chaotic due to a num­ber of rea­sons. No mat­ter where you’re headed, the essence of the jour­ney is of­ten spoilt by dread­ful roads, unat­tended cattle and high deci­bel honk­ing. If there’s one place where you can hope for true calm­ness and joy while be­ing on the road, is in your car’s cabin. In fact, joy is guar­an­teed if your steed for a road­trip is some­thing like the Toy­ota In­nova Crysta. It has been In­dia’s go-to fam­ily car for al­most 15 years and is one of the best long dis­tance tour­ing cars in our coun­try.

With most parts of the coun­try now en­gulfed in win­ter, it's a bril­liant time for fam­i­lies to take time off their mun­dane sched­ules and head for a short va­ca­tion. We had the Toy­ota In­nova Crysta at our dis­posal for a cou­ple of days, and it was our chance too, to en­joy a re­ju­ve­nat­ing road­trip. Our des­ti­na­tion this time was one of the most fa­mous win­ter re­treats in Ma­ha­rash­tra – the hill town of Ma­ha­balesh­war. It’s nes­tled amidst the densely forested parts of the Western Ghats and is one of the most sought af­ter week­end get­aways in Ma­ha­rash­tra – thanks to the splen­did views it of­fers of ma­jes­tic peaks and mag­nif­i­cent cas­cades, from its nu­mer­ous view­ing points. It’s well­known for its straw­berry farms too. The Ma­ha­balesh­war

Panch­gani belt pro­duces 85 per cent of the coun­try’s straw­ber­ries thanks to the cool cli­mate and red soil of the re­gion – mak­ing it suit­able for grow­ing the fruit.

So, with­out any fur­ther de­lay, we headed to­wards straw­berry-land right be­fore dawn in the In­nova Crysta. We’ve done road trips in the In­nova Crysta in the past and know­ing that it’s a great tour­ing car, we were all look­ing for­ward to this road trip. Its cabin is wel­com­ing and the neatly flow­ing lines sur­round­ing the dash­board along with top notch fit and fin­ish all around, ren­der it an up­mar­ket feel. The qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als is top-notch.

Ma­ha­balesh­war is a short two-hour drive from Pune via the NH48, which is in poor con­di­tion in the aftermath of the in­ces­sant rain­fall dur­ing this year’s mon­soon. But the In­nova Crysta’s tough body on frame con­struc­tion and a sus­pen­sion that’s tuned for com­fort gob­bled up our pot­hole





rid­den roads eas­ily. Its high ground clear­ance pro­tects the un­der­body from any dam­age and a long wheel­base (2750mm) makes it more sta­ble thanks to a larger foot­print on the road. We reached Ma­ha­baleswar in less than two hours, with shut­ter-bug Sachin and film-maker Aditya asleep in the In­nova Crysta’s pre­mium leather seats that pro­vide lounge like com­fort. The am­bi­ent light­ing and the plush cap­tain seats too make the In­nova’s cabin feel like a lux­u­ri­ous lounge.

Be­ing a hill town, there’s only a sin­gle-laned wind­ing road lead­ing to Ma­ha­balesh­war that’s of­ten choked with com­mer­cial traf­fic. You re­ally need to weave through slalom-like con­di­tions to get past. De­spite be­ing over 4.7 me­tres long, the In­nova Crysta felt easy to ma­noeu­vre through crowded streets thanks to its short 5.4-me­tre turn­ing ra­dius, avoid­ing the need for three-point turns. In fact, the short turn­ing ra­dius is al­most com­pa­ra­ble to any reg­u­lar B-seg­ment sedan. I slot­ted the In­nova into a tight park­ing space, out­side the fa­mous Bagicha Cor­ner and be­fore we savoured its famed straw­berry with cream, we headed to a few straw­berry farms nearby to ogle at the first fresh batch of the sea­son be­ing picked.

Ev­ery year, farm­ers start plant­ing the saplings be­tween June to Septem­ber in the nurs­eries and land is pre­pared for har­vest af­ter the mon­soons by fu­mi­ga­tion, cov­er­ing the fields with plas­tic sheets. The straw­berry plants are then grown in rows or ver­ti­cal stacks. Dur­ing the har­vest sea­son, (De­cem­ber-March), the pick­ers store the fruits in boxes

and seg­re­gate them ac­cord­ing to the qual­ity of the fruit. You can try your hand at straw­berry pick­ing, with farm­ers giv­ing you a bit of an ed­u­ca­tion on cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques. It’s a re­fresh­ing ac­tiv­ity and def­i­nitely rec­om­mended for those who savour de­li­cious straw­ber­ries, fresh off the farm.

Af­ter sa­ti­at­ing our hunger with a lus­cious and sump­tu­ous serv­ing of straw­berry with cream at Bagicha Cor­ner we drove the In­nova Crysta to some of the fa­mous view­ing points that this re­gion is widely known for. With this, the In­nova Crysta’s abil­ity to com­mute from point A to B in a has­sle-free man­ner came to the fore. Its 2.8-litre diesel en­gine has proper punch – 172bhp and 360Nm of torque which is enough to hus­tle it ea­gerly, even while car­ry­ing seven to eight adults (and their bag­gage). Mated to a six-speed torque con­verter gear­box, the en­gine de­liv­ers power lin­early and jerk-free gearshits bet­ter the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. We then climbed to Ta­ble Land, a plateau sit­u­ated 4,500 feet above sea level that marks the high­est point in Panch­gani. Its dizzy­ing height of­fers ma­jec­tic views of the hills and val­leys around. There's plenty to do here from horse rid­ing to trekking to ar­cade games and at the end of it all you can crunch in to roasted corn as you en­joy the vis­tas.

But if you want to get away from madding crowds, head to Wil­son’s point. It’s even higher and at over 4,700 feet of­fers mag­i­cal views of the sun­rise and sun­set. The sky burst­ing into a myr­iad colours is a sight to be­hold. Get­ting to these view­ing points can be a tricky af­fair though, as you have to drive past steep gravel and pot­hole rid­den in­clines. How­ever, with solid low and mid-range torque al­ways avail­able on tap, the In­nova Crysta was equipped to get us out of tricky sit­u­a­tions. The hill start as­sist func­tion worked won­ders here, as it holds the brake for a few sec­onds longer af­ter re­leas­ing the brake pedal, avoid­ing back­ward rolling. The top-end vari­ant also gets as many as seven airbags, some­thing that com­pletes the equa­tion for a buyer look­ing for a large, com­fort­able and fea­ture laden fam­ily car.


Our short win­ter re­treat was over at dusk and as I drove the In­nova Crysta back to Pune, I re­alised how per­fect it is for a coun­try like In­dia. We’re a coun­try where our fam­ily’s needs are pri­ori­tised while buy­ing a ve­hi­cle and the In­nova Crysta ful­fils all those needs and still pam­pers you with a host of crea­ture com­forts. That’s pre­cisely why the In­nova has been ubiq­ui­tous around the coun­try. You will spot even the older mod­els fre­quently, hav­ing clocked lakhs of kilo­me­tres, do­ing duty in the harsh­est of ter­rain, in the re­motest re­gions. More­over, the Toy­ota In­nova Crysta’s SUV-like stance gives it great on-road pres­ence and its prac­ti­cal­ity blended with pre­mium fea­tures is sim­ply un­par­al­leled. It caters to the In­dian buyer rather well by of­fer­ing bul­let­proof long-term re­li­a­bil­ity and a high re­sale value. Few cus­tomers have even bought and sold the Toy­ota In­nova Crysta at the same price af­ter five years of own­er­ship! No won­der Toy­ota has sold close to a stag­ger­ing 2.5 lakh units since its launch in In­dia in 2006. ⌧

Above: Pick­ing aphro­disi­acs is fun. Right: The spa­cious mid­dle-row is en­joy­able. Be­low: 17-inch rims on top spec ZX AT trim

Top to bot­tom: It’s a long MPV, yet it han­dles like a car; a straw­berry farm; 6-speed AT with se­quen­tial shift. Fac­ing page: Jaw­drop­ping sight of the Koyna back­wa­ters

Left: Love snacking on the go? No prob­lem. Right: Infotainme­nt sys­tem is in­tu­itive. Fac­ing page, top: In­nova mas­ter­ing the hill-climbs. Fac­ing page, bot­tom: Ir­re­sistible straw­ber­ries

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