The backbone of our country is its highway system. It has not only made our lives easier by connecting cities more quickly but has also made a significant improvement to our country's economy. On our Great Driving Roads series, we’ve previously showcased some of the country’s most beautiful, winding and picturesque roads. Now, we are going to explore all the upcoming highways which are going to make a big difference in the way we travel across India. We begin with a highway that has been all over the news lately, the Samruddhi Mahamarg.
In search of a few great driving roads I’ve driven our long-term Hyundai i20 N Line, Venue N Line and even our ex-long-term i20 diesel all across Maharashtra, but this was going to be a long journey. So that’s exactly why I asked the Ed for our long-term ultra-comfy Hyundai Tucson. The journey would be about 1500km long and I wanted it to be as effortless as possible, considering the super hectic four-day shoot that preceded it.
We began our journey at the Zero Point in Nagpur, because what better place to begin this instalment of the series than the geographical centre of India. Marked out during the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India in 1907, the British used this spot as a central point to measure distances across the country.
India is now second to the United States in terms of the longest road network in the world. It has beaten China to the second spot by adding 1.45 lakh kilometres of roads since 2014. That’s a stunning 59 per cent increase in the last decade, with several additional highways on the way. The biggest new project in Maharashtra is the Samruddhi Mahamarg, officially called the Hindu Hrudaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg.
With a legal speed limit of 120kmph, the 701km long Samruddhi Mahamarg is going to be the fastest expressway of India. When it is eventually completed, it will connect the summer capital of the state, Mumbai to its winter capital and the city of oranges, Nagpur. It will cut the travel time between the two cities by almost half, from 16 hours to nine. The first phase of the Samruddhi Mahamarg, connecting Nagpur to the town of Shirdi in the Ahmednagar district has been in operation since December 2022.
Now increasingly more cars are coming with ADAS and if there’s one feature that’s going to make your life a lot easier on a long highway like the Samruddhi Mahamarg, it is ADAS. The Hyundai Tucson is the first car in its segment to get Level 2 ADAS. Dubbed ‘Hyundai SmartSense’, the system makes use of the cameras mounted around the SUV and radar sensors to detect cars, pedestrians and cyclists on the road. There are a total of 19 ADAS features on the Tucson, but what helped me extensively on the drive was its adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane change assist and the blind spot monitoring system.
Although the Tucson’s adaptive cruise control has the ability to work in stop-start conditions, without needing you to brake or accelerate, this feature is best suited for highway driving. It works flawlessly and makes covering long distances substantially less exhausting.
It ensures you maintain the set speed while accelerating or decelerating with respect to the traffic ahead, on its own. The lane keep assist makes sure that you stay in your lane with minor steering inputs and the lane change assist warns you about incoming traffic with a warning light in the outside rearview mirrors, even while changing lanes. This system doesn’t feel like it’s controlled by a computer. It feels natural. It brakes progressively, accelerates smoothly and that’s really commendable. Hyundai has definitely done a good job in tweaking and tuning this system to suit Indian conditions.
The six-lane Samruddhi Mahamarg is expandable to eight lanes. It is India’s largest Greenfield route alignment project and here are a few more crazy figures associated with it. This Rs 55,335 crore project will have 400 vehicular underpasses, 300 pedestrian underpasses, 65 flyovers and viaducts, 24 interchanges and six tunnels, including the longest one in Maharashtra. Phew. Throughout its entire route, it is going to pass through no less than six wildlife sanctuaries and as a result, it is also going to have nine green bridges and 17 underpasses for wild animal movement.
The term Samruddhi Mahamarg literally translates to ‘Prosperity Corridor’ and it is going to play a big role in improving the country’s economy. In a recent interview, Nitin Gadkari, the Minister of Road Transport and Highways of India mentioned that the toll collection across India has increased from Rs 4,770 crore to Rs 41,342 crore in the last nine years and we expect it to rise up to Rs 1.30 lakh crore in the near future and all the new upcoming highways will contribute more to increase our country’s revenue.
There are over 19 townships planned to be developed along the route of the Samruddhi Mahamarg, which will include skill development centres, state-of-the-art healthcare facilities, educational institutions and even IT parks. Moreover, in order to ensure export-ready and quick logistics infrastructure, there will be truck terminals and integrated cold storage facilities in close proximity to industrial areas and manufacturing zones.
But all this is planned for the future, in its current state the Samruddhi Mahamarg, with little to no amenities, does lack a few things. With zero restaurants and rest areas along the way, this project feels like it is opened to the public a little too soon. The police interceptors and CCTV cameras aren’t fully functional throughout the highway yet and that results in people driving recklessly. Ever since it opened, it has been the scene of numerous incidents due to speeding.
What the Samruddhi Mahamarg does best is entertain you with its gorgeous backdrops. I encountered some drizzle and even a heavy downpour along the way and honestly felt like I was teleported to somewhere in Europe. With green lush fields running on both sides as far as the eyes can see, it is a treat to your eyes. Much needed on what is honestly a pretty boring drive otherwise. The highway itself is as smooth as a concrete road can be, with high set and easily visible warning boards, but with very little traffic it also feels like you’re on your own. That can occasionally feel like an urge to drive faster, but we’re sticking to the limits here, despite the fact that the Tucson has a solid power plant.
Powering the Tucson is a 2-litre turbo-diesel engine that makes 183bhp and 416Nm of torque. And this engine is a gem. It proves why diesels are still very much relevant and why they remain the go-to option for mile-munching on a highway such as this. Because of its good low-end and mid-range torque, this engine provides effortless acceleration while being fuel efficient. The Tucson picks up speed really well. Its gearbox is smooth and fast when you want it to be. I was getting 17kmpl while cruising between 110-120kmph, fully loaded, which is commendable.
Now the Samruddhi Mahamarg doesn’t have any major twisties, but on our way to Nagpur from Indore I encountered some amazing stretches of winding roads. And that’s where the Tucson surprised me. It handles really well. Its HTRAC all-wheel-drive drive system puts down power with no drama at all and makes it feel like a car with a much smaller footprint. At high speeds, it makes it feel surefooted and safe. We’ve driven the Tucson all the way up to Kargil and that’s because it is a very comfortable car to drive or be driven in. It has a light steering wheel and a good ride quality that irons out all the undulations of the road at triple-digit speeds.
To keep you entertained it has a great Bose sound system. It has a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen which is intuitive and very easy to use. It gets cooled and heated front seats that come in very handy in light of our moody Indian weather. It does indeed make for a good road trip machine.
It’s fascinating to hear that our country has overtaken China in terms of road networks considering the fact that it is 2.9 times smaller. All the upcoming highways are the new lifelines finished, it is a proper move and a window into the future of our country’s road network. In terms of driving alone, it is arguably the best highway I’ve driven on in India. We cannot wait to explore these amazing highways on our Great Driving Roads series. Which one should we feature next? We are all ears!