Hyundai i20 to Lavasa: Great Driving Roads | Part 2
In the second part of the Great Driving Roads, we took the Hyundai i20 to Lavasa, which is our go-to testing, a beautiful stretch of tarmac that snakes up one of the many hills around of HQ in Pune, and spits you out at the hill town of Lavasa. The Hyundai i20 was awarded the 2021 ICOTY (Indian Car of the Year) and this drive confirmed yet again that how worthy the Hyundai i20 is for this title. Here is the full story, as it appeared in the April issue of the magazine!
"My place at 5:30AM,” says shutterbug Rohit as we’re planning the following day’s shoot. I notice how he’s been wanting to head out unusually early these days. To reach his place at 5:30am, I have to wake up an hour earlier at 4:30am, get ready, glance through my script for the video shoot (Alameen demands one-take PTCs) and then leave home. But I understand Rohit’s love for early mornings. Mid-March marks the turn of spring, and the sun begins to peek through the horizon almost an hour earlier. When we reach our shoot location in time, our snapper erupts with energy and enthusiasm, his brain lights up with fireworks and a whole bunch of ideas for that day’s hero shot. That’s when most of our glorious pictures are captured, many variations of which you will see as you flip through the pages of this magazine. However, things didn’t quite go as planned that day. I ran 15 minutes late and we were probably going to miss the magical golden light Rohit wanted. Thankfully, I had our long term Hyundai i20 diesel at my disposal, and its sprightly performance could help make up for the lost time.
Unlike Mumbai where streets start buzzing with activity by as early as 5am, Pune doesn’t come to life until a good two hours later. Unlike the city that never sleeps, this is a city that definitely sleeps, and loves sleeping well into the morning. And for me that means empty roads and some spirited driving behind the wheel of the recent ICOTY winner. It’s still dark though, and the blue ambient lighting in the cabin was soothing, calming us down from the tearing hurry we were in. The i20 dashes around town, its compact footprint allowing it to snake through narrow lanes, and its light steering effortlessly getting us out of the urban sprawl. The road that leads up to Lavasa has been hardwired into my brain and unlike most other destinations, I don’t need to waste time setting up Google Maps to ensure that we were pointed in the correct direction.
What’s so special about this road though? While the road leading up from Lonavala to Aamby Valley is where we shoot most of our picturesque feature stories, the road to Lavasa is the one we use for our road tests and reviews. We head here multiple times every month and I know the place like the back of my hand. There are multiple access routes to Lavasa, but the quickest and the best road is the one through the town of Pirangut. After crossing Chandni Chowk (yes, Pune has one too!), continue straight on Mulshi road till the Pirangut town, from where a hard left takes you to Lavasa. But here’s a secret — if you’re in an SUV, you can take the shortcut that allows you bypass Pirangut and spits you out right at the base of the hill climb. And you need the SUV, because the road isn’t great and the potholes are nasty. The Hyundai i20, it is low-slung and I wasn’t confident if it could make it to the other end without scraping its belly. But we were already late, and a cranky Rohit insisted on taking this short-cut. I hung a left, and was pleasantly surprised at the i20’s appetite for nasty roads. Its 170mm ground clearance was sufficient to get us past the crater-sized potholes, and the absorbent ride quality meant we weren’t bouncing off our seats. An open meadow on the right was where Rohit and Alameen shot the sunrise (Yes, we made it on time) and finally we breathed a sigh of relief.
We were finally moving towards the Lavasa road to indulge in the Thrill of Driving. There are two separate hill climbs before descending into Lavasa city — first is the climb towards the Temghar Dam followed by a more dramatic climb, replete with tight hairpins that takes you to the hilltop.
Having frequented this road with so many vehicles over the years, every corner, every hairpin, every bump and pothole and every landmark has been ingrained in our brains. This road also allows us to level the playing field -- giving each car and bike the same parameters to deal with when it comes to road conditions, allowing us to distinguish the finer nuances between them. And this i20 feels rather special.
Among premium hatchbacks, this 1.5-litre diesel engine provides the creamiest power delivery, building speeds in an effortless progression. Moreover, Hyundai has achieved big performance gains with larger displacement while the weight loss regime has resulted in the i20 being 100 kilos lighter. This has a direct impact on performance and the i20 pulls with verve, rewarding you with a shove-in-the-back acceleration everytime the turbo spools up. As I point towards the exit of the first corner after the ‘short-cut’ and gradually apply throttle, a healthy dose of torque sling-shots the car to the next corner. “It’s a properly warm hatch, dude”, says filmmaker Alameen. I nod in agreement. Within a couple of kilometres into the mountains, the i20 has switched characters, transitioning from a comforting city car, to now an enthusiastic puppy craving some playground action.
After relishing the mandatory misal pav at Amrale Misal, seven corners into the climb up Mutha ghat, I begin to exploit the limits of this chassis. This is first of the two hillclimbs, one that sets the tone for the more dramatic one that lies ahead — there’s a fair bit of ascent and the winding nature of this road, patches of flawless tarmac tempt you to give it the beans. But one has to be weary of the unexpected undulations on the road surface that are likely to take you by surprise. In addition to that, there’s no dearth of mindless motorists zig-zagging down the road while the view points on the way are often crowded by Gen Z tik-tokers. So, it’s best to tread with caution, drive at speeds that give you ample time to react to any potential hazards, and let the rhythm of these corners set the tone for the more exciting hillclimb that lays ahead. The i20 remains totally unfazed through this section, the engine is settled into low rpms in the fourth gear, and I can feel the chassis’ hunger to relish some real challenges, some truly exciting corners. A flat section of road with rural settlements on either side unites these two hillclimbs and as I approach the second one, excitement builds.
The fat walls of the Temghar dam are now on my right as I cross a bridge, and this marks the start of the second climb. Seven beautiful hairpins and 26 sweeping corners lay ahead of me. 26. Spine-tingling. Corners. All with steep elevations, rear wheel of the i20 is lifting, bro!” I found out later from the photo and video team that the inside rear wheel was apparently airborne on every hairpin, the i20 then was practically a threewheeler around these tight bends. I wasn’t surprised, just like all modern Hyundais, the i20 had displayed taut body control and it’s rigid underpinnings make it a hoot around the twisties.
The Hyundai i20 continued to plaster smiles on our faces until we reached the flat top where the deserted entry check post to Lavasa is situated. While the locals stared at the i20’s sharp and striking design, we eyed the quaint valley and enjoyed the rustling of leaves as the strong breeze swept through the hilltop. We had returned to this very hilltop for the millionth time, and it truly felt like home, away from home.
Yes, the morning was unusually early, but with a drive like this, it was wonderfully rewarding and worth the effort. The new i20 has turned out to be one of the nicest cars we’ve driven on this road and I now understand why it was awarded with the prestigious ICOTY title. It’s sheer breadth of abilities has stretched the boundaries of the premium hatchback segment, a segment that the i20 is responsible for creating. It’s ability to switch moods between a comforting city drive and a morning blast around the twisties. It’s ability to ride and handle like a sophisticated European car. It’s ability to keep its passengers entertained with the sheer amount of equipment on offer. The i20 has mastered its own game.
Now, it’s time to unwind and take it easy. With the 7-speaker Bose audio reverberating my favourite tunes, I get indulged into the music and head back to base.