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Mobil 1 Great car great road: Porsche Boxster S

10th Nov 2014 2:00 pm

SPONSORED FEATURE: We pay homage in a Porsche Boxster S to a piece of tarmac that he had unwittingly overlooked in the hunt for a great road.

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This story is a part of the Mobil 1 Great Car Great Road Series
 
Who would have thought that fixing up a great road to drive a great car on would lead me to some unforeseen challenges? Sourcing an English equivalent of the Hindi saying “ghar ki murgi daal barabar” was tougher than I expected. The collective wisdom of the internet was stumped. Then I asked family, friends and colleagues. “Familiarity breeds contempt” comes close, but it doesn’t quite hit the right vein. The Hindi saying implies that people underestimate the value of that which is easily accessible. And that summed up my disposition towards our often-used Lonavla-Ambavane-Nive road perfectly.  
 
Lonavla-Ambavane-Nive road? Well, that’s how little I knew about the 25km stretch of tarmac between Lonavala and Aamby Valley City. It is popularly referred to as the Aamby road, but this two-lane strip of tarmac (shown as Dattawadi road on Google Maps) starts off as Jalvaayu Marg and once past the INS Shivaji turn-off, transforms into the Vaayu Marg for its uphill trek. Then it zigs and zags to the top of the hill and settles down once it has swooped past the Air Force Station. 
 
Wow! That was a lot to not know about a road that most of us at Autocar India know better than our own homes. I have to admit, it just wasn’t on my radar when planning this story. And when it was suggested, the swell of objection was chortled by the bewildering realisation that it is undoubtedly a great road. Corners? It has innumerable, and no two of them are alike. Surface? The tarmac is velvety smooth, mostly, and never unpleasant. Traffic? Light and fast-moving. The landscape is also a great mix of green and brown, soothing and staggering. The peaks of the Sahyadris hurtle skywards, teeming with ambition; shafts of sunlight burst through the rippling canopy of green, deepening the sense of occasion, fallen leaves curl with poetic perfection on the white paint at the road’s edge. And the promise of ending the drive inside the controlled confines of the pleasant Aamby Valley City heightens the appeal of the drive. 
 
 
So the next question was, which car? Pat came the answer, the Porsche Boxster S. We needed a John Travolta, something that could bust a move with vigour and nonchalance, soar gracefully and lace all of it with an unruffled panache. This mid-engined convertible is one of the most finely balanced cars in the world, and in its S guise, the Boxster dangles its best foot forward. The larger 3.4-litre flat-six’s 311bhp also sounds a lot more respectable than the base 2.7L Boxster’s 261bhp. The penalty for the added performance is a meagre 10kg, hardly anything to upset this Porsche’s staggering dynamic ability. The Boxster S was IT. 
 
Roof up, we turned in from the highway onto Lonavala’s chikki shop-lined streets. Although I could hear the traffic through the fabric roof, I was cool and comfy as the Boxster S accommodated potholes and the slow traffic with a well-mannered restraint. Once past Lonavala Lake, the road widened and the traffic thinned. The Porsche started to purr happily, almost as if it knew the promised road was not too far off now. But we still had to be watchful as the road snaked through villages and past the tourist hotspot – Bhushi Dam. Scooters and cars can come zipping out of the many parking lots there, so it’s best to be extra cautious. But as you cross the entrance to INS Shivaji, the road starts to loop upwards and that is the time to finally bring the roof down and treat your senses to a thrilling mix of signals. The steering is weighted to suggest a gravitas without becoming a workout – its tactility is soothingly reassuring. The well-damped throttle pedal suggests serious performance as I push down harder than before. The engine note gets a steely edge as the revs climb and offers plenty more horsepower to play with. 
 
Sure, 311bhp might not sound like much when today’s supercars grab headlines with 900bhp+ figures and sub-3sec 0-100kph times. But on the Aamby Valley road, err, sorry, Lonavla-Ambavane-Nive road, a 0-100 time of 5sec is plenty quick to land yourself in trouble, plenty of it, double quick. Let’s forget about top speed here. No, seriously, a speed of 277kph is for another country and its six-lane de-restricted highways. 
 
For one thing, this stretch is anything but straightforward. It connives and lulls, soothes and tramples. Knowing this road is half the battle won. Nestled low down in the driver’s seat of the Boxster S, I am fairly relaxed about what is to come. However, I am cautious as the low seating position makes the elevation changes seem all the more dramatic and hides the road ahead very often. First-timers need to watch out for a lot more. 
 
 
For instance, peer past the left-hander up ahead, spot the road in the distance going to the right and most people would assume a gentle sweep links the two corners and hence it would be fine to carry more speed. But turn the corner and an off-road adventure awaits. Instead of the gentle sweep to the right, the road tightens to the left, snakes through a set of switchbacks, before uncoiling sharply to the right.
 
But I am seasoned, and the Boxster S is, let’s simply say, born ready for these roads. The Porsche is telepathic, but not vapid. Every kilometre you drive immerses you further in the experience and in the brilliance of the machine. Fingers and eyes slowly comprehend the absence of lag or loss of vitality in the Boxster’s turn-in. It turns in exactly when and with exactly the same urgency that is suggested at the steering wheel. It is a bit surprising at first, but as you get used to the immense reserves of grip and agility, you learn to lead the fine waltz with a light but firm hand. But push too hard and the Boxster tends to push its nose safely into understeer.
 
Keep it clean and the Porsche attacks hairpins with gusto. However, the tall gearing of the quick-acting dual-clutch gearbox can leave you in two minds when picking the right gear. I found it better to run a higher gear, use the leech-like grip of the chassis to carry speed and then use the punchy response power out of the corner. Get it right and on the many fast corners, the Boxster’s tail will step out playfully to reward you, while Porsche Stability Management will keep it safe and clean. 
As we soared through the corners and reeled in the straights, I was lost in the snarl of the engine, the blur of the trees, the Boxster’s unerring dexterity, the lavishness of the cabin and its friendly accessibility. All too soon, I found myself at the gates of Aamby Valley City. Once inside, the Boxster S found a nice spot overlooking the lake to catch its breath. Driving the Lonavla-Ambavane-Nive road in a Boxster S may have been about combining a great car and a great road, but the truth is – it’s simply fantastic.
 
The route
 
Starting from Lonavala, take the right at the small roundabout before the market. Carry on straight past Auxilium High School on your right. Take a left at the junction ahead. From here, follow the main road all the way to Aamby Valley City. The roads are well marked and there are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction. However, be mindful of the traffic as there are shuttle buses running to Aamby Valley in the morning and evening. Also, bear in mind that the route can be cloaked in clouds in the monsoon and fog in the winters. While this makes for a very pretty backdrop, exercise extra caution while driving and park well off the road wherever you stop. 
 
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