Taking the Hyundai i20 N Line to Ratnagiri
In India we’re always complaining that our road infrastructure isn’t great. And while that holds true for the most part, if you look hard enough, you’ll find an odd stretch of brilliant tarmac here and there. But we know that some of you are stuck in the hubbub of your office cubicles, hustling and bustling in the concrete jungle everyday, and don’t have the time to go road hunting. Fret not, for the Great Driving Roads series is back. We’re going to take you for drives on some of the most beautiful roads around our country.
On the first iteration of this new series, we thought of visiting an old gem. The road that was once treasured, for it took all the beach bums and party people to Goa via the coast before the Golden Quadrilateral sanitised things. We’ve driven down to Ratnagiri to welcome and sample the king of fruits that is the Alphonso mango and to get there, we’ve taken State Highways 97 and 4. Not only are these single carriageways scintillating to all of the senses, but they also comprise some epic stretches. Twisties and straights that are flanked by the ocean on one side and the majestic Western ghats on the other.
Great roads call for a great car and that is exactly why we chose the Hyundai i20 N Line. The sportier variant of Hyundai’s best-selling premium hatch in the country. A car that has set the ball rolling for Hyundai’s go-faster ‘N’ brand in India. The i20 N Line isn’t just a sticker job. There are plenty of changes under its skin that make it a much better car to drive in comparison to a standard i20. And boy what a wonderful companion it proved to be on this trip as you shall find out.
Let me take you through the route first. We’re starting off from our home base in Pune and heading to Ratnagiri, via Dapoli and Ganpatipule. And if you’re from around Pune, that means heading via the Tamhini ghat. Famous for its winding roads, Tamhini is one of the foremost weekend getaway destinations for Puneris.
And what a great way to begin. A bunch of curves that we’re very familiar with let us put the i20 through its paces. The i20 was a great handler to begin with but the N Line takes that one step further with a stiffened suspension and a weightier steering. That burbly exhaust note adding to the charm! These changes are evident from the moment you set off. The stiffened suspension means better handling and that was evident from the first corner we chucked the i20 N Line into. There’s far less in the way of body roll and you can now hoon around with a lot more confidence. The tweaked steering means there’s a better feel of the front, which is always reassuring when you go around corners enthusiastically. Now you might think the stiffer setup might take a toll on the ride quality and yes it does feel stiff, but the i20 hasn’t lost any of its ride comfort. The roads of Tamhini are well paved and looked after, especially when the rainy season arrives. But there are still some patches which are the opposite of smooth and we’re happy to report that the i20 N Line tackles these without a hassle and it continues to be just as comfortable as the standard i20.
Another addition to the i20 N Line that made driving in Tamhini a lot of fun were its rear disc brakes. Having a disc setup all around means you have much better bite when you initially get on the pedal and obviously the stopping power is much better. Hatchbacks in general feel very good to drive around Tamhini and the i20 N Line is one of the best cars we’ve piloted around here.
To get to Dapoli, you keep going onward from Tamhini ghat and continue on State Highway 97 for around 188km. We took the longer route though, which meant going via Diveagar and that was done to ensure that we stayed on the coastal route until Ratnagiri. Also called the Konkan coast, it doesn’t get much better than this. You get to drive for kilometres on end along the coastline with the brilliant landscape of the sea on one side and land on the other. Just roll down your windows and breathe in the scent of the ocean.
We made a quick pit stop at Diveagar to top up on some fluids to beat the heat. Here you are also allowed to drive on the beach, as long as you are responsible about it. Not something we would recommend for too long considering the salt is not particularly great for all the metal in our beloved cars. But we just couldn’t miss the opportunity and you shouldn’t either. Just make sure you wash your car, especially the underside thoroughly after all the fun on the beach.
After that brief encounter with the ocean, we continued our journey to Dapoli, a 90-odd-km stint. Now, the i20 N Line is packed to the brim with creature comforts. On the stretches of the highway where you just want to sit back and soak in the view, all you have to do is engage cruise control, open the sunroof and enjoy the view. The Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped infotainment system, which can play your favourite music through the excellent Bose sound system is at your service and just like that, the Thrill of Driving suddenly becomes the thrill of chilling.
On this route, there are a total of three ferry crossings until Ratnagiri and that is always fun. If you don’t halt too much, you should reach Dapoli in time for lunch. After a lip-smacking meal of some fresh pomfret and surmai thalis, we set off for the beautiful beaches of Ganpatipule, which is around 120km away via State Highway 96. Now this stretch of the trip was going to be fairly mundane, for it would take us through some narrow and some not-so-good ghat roads. We crossed a lot of tiny villages, which are the heart of this region and discovered that these places are so quaint and idyllic to drive through.
There’s a reason why people come to unwind in this region, for the place has a very soothing vibe. Friendly locals, great food and views for days. It is one of the most beautiful parts of our country and it’s also full of heritage. After lunch, we decided to take a short detour from our route and head 30km west of Dapoli to see the Suvarnadurg fort. One of the crown jewels of the Maratha empire, it was built by Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1660 and is situated on an island just off the coast of Dapoli. It used to be one of the major naval fortresses, safeguarding the Konkan belt of the Maratha empire. You realise what a rich history our country has when you visit places like this. The locals offer chartered boats to go to the island, so do visit the fort if you’re ever in this area.
Google Maps showed three routes to get to Ganpatipule, but we chose the one along State Highway 4 which skirts the coastline almost the entire way. This road is pretty narrow and sprinkled with a bunch of twisties. Again, perfect for a small car such as the i20 N Line. Its DCT responds quickly when you’re in the mood to gun it, but it calms down when you simply put it in drive and lets you take in all the epic scenery that this part of the world has on offer.
We passed by Ganpatipule which is also famous for its white sand and cleanest beaches in this belt. The statue of Lord Ganesha in the temple where people come to worship here is called the ‘Western Sentinel God of India’. It is situated right on the beach, overlooking the Arabian sea and it’s the perfect vantage point to catch a scenic sunset. We would’ve loved to end our trip here, but waiting for us were some delicious, fresh and juicy mangoes, plucked right off the trees!
The last leg of our journey took us to Ratnagiri via the Arrey Warrey road. A 30km-odd drive that has you looking over the gleaming waters of the Arabian sea from a height. You can see the infinite horizon sparkling with its silver lining and this view, especially while the sun sets, is a sight to behold.
The Alphonso mango is among our country’s most loved fruits. It is exported the world over and is easily available in any general fruit store near you. But eating it in the place where it is grown after a soothing drive, felt surreal. The entire team just couldn’t stop themselves and dug into a crate full of freshly plucked Alphonsos or haapus as they are known in Marathi at the Bhat Mango Farm. A perfect end to a lovely drive. The i20 N Line proved to be the ideal companion and even after the trip, made the rest of team evo India happy, for it transported more than 25 dozen mangoes back to Pune!
Our country’s coastal highways are a gem and we urge you to take the road less travelled on your next drive. From now on, one thing is certain. This is going to be the only way I head to Goa!