Northward bound: Hyundai great driving roads
We automotive journalists are a lucky bunch. We get to travel all over the country, drive the latest cars, and usually don’t have to dip into our own pockets to do so. But truth be told, we don’t always get to explore the cities we visit. There’s always a strict schedule to adhere to or a flight to catch, which is why my recent trips left me feeling like I missed out on truly experiencing the cities I had the chance to explore. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I vowed that on my next trip, I would go out and seek an authentic experience of the city I’m in. Now all I had to do was keep my fingers crossed that my next assignment would take me somewhere by the beach.
As luck would have it, my next assignment led me to Uttar Pradesh to explore the three expressways that connect the western and eastern parts of the state. Not my first choice, I must admit. Nevertheless, it would be my first time in the state, and I was going to make the most of it. Luckily, I did have the right tool for the job – the Hyundai Venue N Line. In case you weren’t aware, Hyundai takes the N badge very seriously. Their N division competes in the World Rally Championship (WRC) as well as Touring Car Racing (TCR). The cutting-edge technologies honed in motorsports trickle down to the road cars bearing the N badge. India gets a taste of the performance arm in a bit more subtle, more attainable N Line range of cars. These cars (the Venue N Line and the i20 N Line) are peppered with just the right amount of sportiness to tickle the enthusiast in you, while being a perfect daily driver.
The Venue N Line packs quite a punch with a 1-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that delivers a robust 118bhp of power and 172Nm of torque. The engine is mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission that can be controlled via the steering-mounted paddle shifters, just like in their racing cars. Other mechanical upgrades to the N Line include a stiffer suspension, weightier steering, and disc brakes on the rear axle. This is the sort of car that has the potential to inject a dose of excitement into any drive.
The expressways I was about to traverse were the Yamuna expressway, the Agra-Lucknow expressway and the Purvanchal expressway. These three stretch all the way across the width of Uttar Pradesh and have connected Delhi NCR to Buxar on the UP-Bihar border, effectively bringing Patna, the capital of Bihar within expressway range from the national capital. Imagine crossing all of UP in less than half a day of driving!
I started my journey in Delhi and headed down the Yamuna expressway to Agra. Built in 2012, the Yamuna expressway was a godsend for the region. Prior to its existence, a simple drive from Greater Noida to Agra would take over five hours, but the expressway cut that time down to under two hours. It was one of the pioneering modern expressways in northern India, which not only bolstered tourism in Agra but also spurred numerous industrial and residential projects in the region.
A stone’s throw away from the expressway is the Buddh International Circuit, which was gearing up to host India’s first MotoGP race. Not that they would let me in but I imagine the Venue N Line would be an absolute hoot on track. It has a really playful character, and the engine loves to rev all the way to the redline. When you rev it out, you are rewarded with an amazing soundtrack – the turbo’s whoosh and the twin exhaust’s roar fill the air as the Venue N Line shifts gears and accelerates hard.
Initially, my plan was to spend the night in Agra and proceed to Lucknow the following day. However, the 165-kilometre stretch of the Yamuna expressway flew by in the blink of an eye. The Venue N Line devoured miles effortlessly, and I was feeling just as fresh as I did when I left Delhi. We made the spontaneous decision to push on until Lucknow and reward ourselves with the fabulous food the city is known for. Sure, I would miss out on visiting Agra, but I would get two nights in Lucknow, which turned out to be the right decision for reasons I’ll explain in a bit.
In addition to the expressway, the Venue itself was one of the reasons I was motivated to get to Lucknow. You see, many cars with sporty intentions can get quite tiring on the highway but not the Venue. Sure, the suspension is stiffer but it still retains suppleness over bumps. The damping has been tuned to give it excellent body control without compromising on ride comfort. And while there weren’t any significant curves on the expressway, I did get a sense of the grip it can generate on the on-ramp loops, and boy was I impressed. It feels like a little rally car for the road.
After a quick stop on the outskirts of Agra, I merged onto the Agra-Lucknow expressway. This expressway probably had the biggest role to play in transforming UP’s economy. It seamlessly linked Lucknow, the state capital, with the nation’s capital via a high-speed elevated corridor, transforming Lucknow into one of India’s fastest-growing cities. Recognising its significance, the government ensured its speedy completion and opened it to the public in 2017. The expressway has also dramatically reduced the travel time from Agra to Lucknow from six hours to three and a half hours but more importantly, it has made it a lot safer.
Uttar Pradesh doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to safety but the situation has markedly improved in recent times. Travelling on the old highways a few years ago would have meant praying not to encounter unforeseen troubles after dark. Yet here we were, cruising on the expressway well after sundown without the slightest trepidation. While lighting was sparse on most parts of the expressway, the lanes were meticulously marked, and the Venue’s LED headlights do a fantastic job of lighting the road ahead. Furthermore, the expressway boasted notable police presence, with interceptors stationed at nearly every interchange.
Inside the cabin, I still wasn’t experiencing any fatigue. With climate control set to a comfortable 24 degrees, cruise control locked at 100kmph, and my favourite tunes streaming through the impressive six-speaker audio system, the Venue offered a truly pleasant driving environment. It’s also very easy to find a perfect driving position in the Venue. The leather seats are comfortable and supportive, and the driver’s seat can be adjusted electrically. The N Line gets a unique leather steering wheel that sits perfectly within reach. It’s a great place to munch miles, which was exactly what I needed if I was going to make it to Lucknow in time for dinner.
Most of the expressway is fairly uniform in appearance: six lanes, smooth tarmac, and reflective markers. Yet all of a sudden, the tarmac turned to concrete, and the permanent divider gave way to temporary divider blocks. It took me a few seconds to realise that we were driving on a runway, one of the unique features of the expressway. The idea was to integrate a 3-kilometre airstrip into the expressway to be used in emergency situations or during wartime. In fact, over a dozen Indian Air Force aircraft, including Mirage 2000s and Sukhoi 30s, conducted touch-and-go landing exercises for the opening ceremony of the expressway. A few years later, a Cessna light aircraft put the runway to practical use when it made an emergency landing due to technical difficulties. Thankfully, at the time, the expressway was deserted due to the pandemic.
We had made good time, and Lucknow was now in sight, but we needed to get off the expressway for the final stretch and onto the pothole-ridden internal roads. Driving on these roads, it’s not hard to understand why north India is dominated by SUVs. Thankfully, the Venue fits right in; the ground clearance and the thicker sidewalls on the 16-inch wheels make it much more usable in the real world. After eight hours on the road, we were finally in Lucknow, and I was famished.
Known as the city of Nawabs, Lucknow was established by the Mughal ruler Akbar in the 16th century. Under Mughal rule, the city developed a reputation for regal architecture, literature, and, of course, food. What was once the food of the Nawabs can now be savoured on the streets of old Lucknow. The legendary biryanis, kebabs, and desserts make this an absolute must-visit for a foodie. Our choice for the first dinner was the century-old Tunday Kababi restaurant, nestled in the narrow lanes of the Akbari Gate area, accessible only by foot after parking the Venue. Truth be told, this isn’t the kind of restaurant you would want to go to on a first date, but nevertheless, the food here is to die for.
The following day, we headed on to the newest of our trio of expressways – the Purvanchal expressway. Stretching a substantial 340 kilometres, it ranks as the third-longest expressway in India, extending all the way to Uttar Pradesh’s eastern border. The regions it connects have historically been some of the most economically disadvantaged in the state. The government aspires to replicate for the east what the Yamuna and Agra-Lucknow expressways achieved for the west, stimulating investments and nurturing rapid growth, thereby transforming Uttar Pradesh into an industrial powerhouse within India.
In just a few short years, Uttar Pradesh has managed to build the largest network of expressways in India and is showing no signs of slowing down. Eight more expressways are currently under construction or in advanced stages of development. What’s remarkable is that the region still retains the charm that it has built up over centuries. For our second dinner, we headed to another legendary eatery, but this time in the modern part of Lucknow. The food remained exquisite, but the setting was notably more sophisticated. It epitomised the contrast that characterises Uttar Pradesh: a harmonious co-existence of the old and the new.
By the end of the journey, I had travelled more than two thousand kilometres in the Venue N Line. Its combination of usability and performance proved hard to beat on a road trip, and with every passing mile, I found myself growing more and more impressed. The same sentiment extended to the great state of Uttar Pradesh. It wasn’t my first choice but I’m glad I got to visit this wonderful place and truly experience at least one of its cities. On my next visit, I’m going to explore Agra. I hear there’s a marble building there worth seeing.