Honda Drive to Discover 11: exploring Karnataka and the western coast
Of course I had to say yes, when the Ed offered me a chance to go on Honda's eleventh Drive to Discover, to go and explore south-western India, because ever since I set foot into the world of motoring journalism this was the only territory which I hadn't traversed. For the uninitiated, Honda's Drive to Discover is an event that is curated to allow journalists from all over India to test the range of Honda cars, on amazing roads over a few days. This year, it was a 700km road trip spread across three days, from Bengaluru to Kochi via Madikeri and the beautiful town of Sulthan Bathery.
We started in Bengaluru with a quick brief about the day’s plan, grabbed the keys of the Honda City automatic, and set off. Day one was going to be a near 300 kilometer drive to Madikeri, mostly on straightforward highways and this is where the Honda City came into its own, pampering us with its excellent ride and handling. Its 1.5-litre nat-asp engine has a good amount of mid range, and that's exactly what you need for quick overtakes on the highway. The smoothness of its CVT is unparalleled and this combo will also return over 18kmpl! The City is by no means a sports car, but much to my surprise when you drive it enthusiastically, it delivers. Honda knows a thing or two about making cars that handle better and the City isn't an exception. It has a brilliant chassis that doesn't feel too soft in the corners and steering that's responsive yet light.
Post lunch, I tossed the keys to a colleague and made myself comfortable in the back seat of the City. Now, as much as I like driving, it's the backseat of this car where you'd really want to be. Just a few minutes in and I understood why the City, ever since its inception, has been a huge success for the Japanese giant in India. What the fuss is all about. It ticks all the right boxes to be excellent for everyday shenanigans. There's a good amount of legroom and headroom even for the taller folks and you come out fresh every time, even after hours of spending time here. Day two, and it was time to switch cars. Now I found myself behind the wheel of the Amaze diesel CVT. Heading down the hills lined with coffee estates, we were treated to some spectacular views in the morning light. And as soon as we touched the highway, the Amaze did what it does best, offering a smooth ride with a punchy 1.5-litre diesel unit roaring under its hood. This is a smaller car than the City and that makes it better dynamically, as we found out on the epic B-roads of Madikeri's hills. Giving us company on this leg was an assortment of road surfaces — perfect stretches, ghats and rough patches, but the Amaze soldiered through it all, without breaking a sweat. After a 190 kilometre run, we arrived at our destination for the night, Sulthan Bathery, just in time for lunch. We gorged on some epic Mangalorean seafood and then made our way to the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary. Honda had planned a Safari for us to go and meet the wild kind, and we were super lucky to witness a few animals. Located around 16 km away from Sulthan Bathery, the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary is a rainforest which connects Nagarhole and Bandipur parks in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This sanctuary is an abode of rich flora and fauna. It is considered to be the second largest wildlife sanctuary in Kerala and bio-geographically one of the richest tracts of peninsular India. The most eye-catching thing to spot here are the red branched Eucalyptus trees, which look like they belong in the Amazonian rainforests.
The town of Sulthan Bathery is a gem that's waiting to be discovered, it has green lush paddy fields, some of the best roads I've driven on and very hospitable inhabitants who treat you like royalty! I know where I'm going for vacation next summer. At the crack of dawn on day three, I was handed the keys to the City e:HEV. It was going to be the longest day on this drive, with 9 hours on the road, but this was the day I was looking forward to, most. We would climb the hills around the Karnataka-Kerala border and then descend down to the coastal route for our final destination — Kochi. Right off the blocks, I got an idea of how peaceful this leg of the drive was going to be, because of the City e:HEV. It starts in EV mode and putters around slow traffic with no noise at all. It's only when you cross 50kmph, is when the engine kicks to life and starts charging the battery. The City e:HEV also feels quicker off the line because of the readily available instant torque and it's genuinely fun to hustle around. We encountered some heavy traffic while descending down the hills, just before Thamaraserry and on the whole 15km downhill stretch, not once did the City e:HEV start its engine. It was constantly charging its batteries with energy recuperation from the braking and out there it felt surreal because of the silence, bringing us closer to mother nature. It returned us a fuel efficiency of 20kmpl throughout the drive and that is highly commendable.
We made our way to the scenic coastal route and chanced upon something straight out of the movies, with the Arabian sea running on our right. I had to come to a halt. The sunset, the waves, the beaches, all of it came together to make for a beautiful sight. With the sun having dipped over the horizon, we drove into the city of Kochi. Before handing over the car keys with a heavy heart and catching our flights back home. Drive to Discover had taken me away from the city, thrust me behind the wheels of some lovely Honda cars and got me to explore some of the beautiful roads and destinations our country has to offer. It isn’t a drive I am going to forget any time soon.