India's best road?
24th Dec 2012 9:31 pm
The Yamuna Expressway lays claim to being India’s best road. Armed
with the brilliant Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, our team investigates.
The plan is simple. We want to go from India Gate in Delhi to the Taj Mahal in Agra. It may seem like just another tourist trip, but we’re not in it for the sightseeing. We’re here to experience the newly opened Yamuna Expressway that makes up the majority of this route. Our apparatus for this ‘test’ includes a high-performance precision tool from Germany that goes by the name of Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. Rumour has it that it’s the fastest way to drop your kids to school. It has four doors, five seats and, lest I forget, a 457bhp, 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8. Not your average taxi, this.
The photographer Shafiq wants me to meet him at the crack of dawn near India Gate. That works well for me because an early start means I have central Delhi’s finest roads all to myself. Here, long straight follows roundabout, follows long straight, follows roundabout for kilometres on end… just the ideal route for me to acquaint myself with the C63. What sucks me into the experience first is the exhaust note. It goes from a gentle mechanical noise at idle to a deeper burble as I weigh down heavier on the throttle, and builds up to a V8 growl you’d only associate with an American muscle car. It launches me from roundabout to roundabout so fast that I feel the need to recalibrate my sense of distance. Things get crazier still as I turn the ‘lunacy’ dial near the gear lever from Sport to Sport+ and then Manual. Gearshifts via the beautifully crafted paddle shifters take just 100 milliseconds now. First gear. 7100rpm. Clack! Second gear. 7100rpm. Clack! Third gear… But it’s even better on downshifts! I’m sure the blips from the exhaust would have been mistaken for Diwali firecrackers in the distance.
A couple of deliberate wrong turns later (the brilliantly crisp steering makes you do that), I meet Shafiq at our rendezvous point. Pictures taken, we start our journey to Agra. We make our way past the DND flyover soon enough and have a hassle-free run into Greater Noida, where the Yamuna Expressway starts.
First impressions aren’t positive and the entrance to the road looks uninviting. It’s littered with barricades and is almost like a mini-slalom course. On a foggy day, it’ll be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately thereafter, things take a turn for the better, literally! There’s a wide, sweeping parabola that brings us to the main expressway, which is a massive six-laner with a service lane on each side. The sight of an empty stretch like this in India’s most populous state is a bit disconcerting, though it does make the arrow-straight road look like a 165km-long drag strip. But before you plan to break your personal land speed records here, you should know the Yamuna Expressway has a strict 100kph speed limit for cars. That’s 4.5 seconds of fun in the C63! The authorities keep a very close watch with the help of radar and camera surveillance. And in case you’re wondering, I’m not talking from experience here.
With testing the Merc’s limits out of the question, I use Manual mode to make most of the empty road and the small speed band I can operate in. It’s first, second, third, repeat. The explosive acceleration makes me want to do this all the way to Agra, but I can see Shafiq turn progressively redder. I calm down, set the gearbox to Comfort and cruise control to 100kph, that’s 7th gear and 1500rpm on this car. From this point on, it’s only the expansion joints that give me a rude reminder that I’m not in a bog-standard, comfort-oriented C-class. The stiff springs and the wafer-thin 235/40 R18 tyres transmit just about everything from the concrete road to my seat.
Forty kilometres into the expressway, we reach the first toll booth, where the C63 is received with plenty of excitement by the toll operators. Whether it’s because they found someone willing to shell out the hefty Rs 510 for a return trip or it was an effect of the menacing gaze of the C63, I don’t know. I do rev the engine (it’s hard to resist!) in answer to their asking if this was a regular ‘Marsdeez’.
The sound show continues at the rest stop just ahead, where the C63’s full-throated growl draws onlookers by the carload. Sadly, there’s no functional fuel pump on the expressway as yet and the closest pump with 97-octane petrol is all the way back in Delhi. So account for this.
Moving on, we find the traffic thickening but also notice that all users are adhering to traffic rules by the book. It seems the road safety campaign conducted prior to the opening of this road has met with success. But just as we think the road is entirely safe, we see an injured Nilgai by the roadside being attended to by the Expressway authorities. Being an elevated road, the incidence of Nilgais, dogs and the likes running across the road is low, but you should always be extra careful. After the peace and serenity on the expressway, Agra feels like a warzone. There are cyclists, hand carts, rickshaws and tempos headed at us from all directions. I kid you not when I say the C63’s quick steering is the reason why its front right headlight remained intact till the end of the trip. Phew!
That said, there are many who will find this feature-less road a bit dull and boring. We do have a suggestion for this lot. You could book yourself a track session at the Buddh F1 circuit, which happens to be enroute from Agra to Delhi. Now wouldn’t that be a perfect way to end the day?
This story is a part of the Castrol Great Car Great Road series.