The last 180km have been laced with a pleasingly decadent lethargy. Contrary to its loud golden hue and its sporty coupé profile, the M4 has been quietly and comfortably cruising down the highway. The adjustable suspension is cushy and the cabin is quiet. The M4’s 425bhp drivetrain is sleep-walking this bit with the gearbox in seventh gear, the engine hovering under 2000rpm and the speedo needle well within the sensible range. But soon, we will step off the highway. Then, once we have sauntered past a couple of villages, it will be time for the straight-six engine ensconced in the steel-aluminium-carbonfibre creation and its gleeful driver to be on full alert for the road to Yelagiri.
Heaven and Hell
The additional perk of holidaying at a hill station is the drive up. In a good car, the festivities can begin even before you get to the top. But, if the road is good enough, then the drive up can be reason enough for a holiday, and this promises to be the case in this pairing for Great Car Great Road. Although after just a few minutes in BMW’s M4 driving up the Yelagiri hill, a question arises — do you like a spot of adrenaline in your me-time? In XL-size doses, maybe? If yes, then driving to Yelagiri in the M4 is a fantastic idea. If not, the lip smacking flavour that the bends, crests and hairpins dish out will never be realised fully.
The M4 and I are ready to taste what Yelagiri has to offer and sweep past the boom that marks the start of the climb. We are taking some time to get a feel for the new surroundings. It is a good thing too because as it turns out, the road is a nail-biting cross between Pikes Peak (because of the rapid change in elevation) and Isle of Man (because of the unforgiving nature of it). Taut hairpins, slithering straights and a rock wall that lines it all, got all our attention.
Once acclimatised, I toggle the switches to prepare the M4. Engine setting goes from Efficient to Sport+, full power is good. Suspension moves from Comfort to Sport. No, Sport+ would be too stiff for this road. Steering stays in Comfort, as the other modes only add weight. ESP stays on. And, we are ready. Go!
Have Hill, Will Climb
At the wheel, I’m in a daze. Things are happening fast, frantically so. Where are you going? Eyes peeled, I ask the road as it disappears quickly past a left turn ahead. As the view opens up, my hands tug at the steering wheel to quickly sweep back right. The right foot taps and prods the pedals with just a hint of adventure to power ahead quickly. As it is, the M4 is quick enough to dry a throat and stifle a chuckle when prodded with disdain. The narrowness of the road is exaggerating the sense of speed and sharpening the thrill of driving to a very fine point.
Yes, the road is intimidating because of its lack of width as it squirrels along the hillside. Every now and then, it goes from being narrow to impossibly narrow, without any warning. And, straight-ish sections are strewn with crests, almost as though to make sure the driver stays alert. This makes working the steering just a bit more strenuous and a whole lot more fun than on any smooth road. It’s like living your dream of roaring up Goodwood. We are now truly experiencing the spirit of a hill climb but the thought that any stupid mistakes might be devilishly difficult to undo, keeps the mood firmly in check.
Honestly, being sensible is tougher than you might imagine because the engine, despite the steep inclines and the on-off throttle inputs, is completely irrepressible. The twin-turbo engine feels anything but turbocharged. Drivability is exceptional. Even as I roll off the gas, wait for the road ahead to open up, then stab the accelerator again, there is always boost on offer. Power? It feels crushingly strong as you thunder past 7000rpm. Think tidal wave. Even then, the M4 is feeling surprisingly at home here, which it rightfully shouldn’t when you consider that it straddles lanes at most times and can’t use most of its gearbox ratios. Getting out of third and into fourth is an occasion for a high-five and demands the last fraction of attentiveness. And I am far from having to deal with an angry M4.
However, as you drive it in earnest, you find that the M4 moves with a splendid lightness in the way it sweeps from corner to corner or in the way it skims over bumps. This is backed up witha reassuring solidity. Like a dog on a scent, the M4 follows on even as the road twitches this way and that. The front axle offers so much confidence that it lulls you into carrying more speed than you would have imagined. As I sail over a crest a bit faster than I should have, the M4 hops over smartly, and continues on track without any hesitation. Phew! And, every now and then, when you want to shed speed quickly, the M4 handles that calmly as well. Traffic is light, but every once in a while, you do need to slow down and make way for any heavy vehicles that might be hurtling down.
Above and Beyond
The M4 wriggles its tail around hairpins, shouts to the eucalyptus forest above, purrs past the few bikes and buses that approach as it climbs higher and higher up. The road flows more smoothly now, the forest rises around us and before we know it, we are at the top, in Yelagiri. It doesn’t take too long to realise that this hill station hasn’t hit the limelight yet. Small, sleepy and quiet. Perfect. Because, you know, when things seem all too calm, there’s always the Great Car and Great Road combo to get pumped up on.
Yelagiri is a small hill station that lies around 200km from Chennai on NH46 in the direction of Bengaluru. Just out of Sriperumbudur, the four-lane highway is patchy in terms of quality. But it soon transforms into a superb six-lane highway on which covering distances becomes a breeze. Our main focus for this drive though is the last 15km as you turn off the highway and start climbing to Yelagiri.
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