The countryside in Karnataka is a mix of green glades, rocky hills, acres of farmland and gleaming criss-crosses of India’s vast road network. And when seen from on top of a hill, like the one I’m parked on right now, it is quite a breathtaking sight. It’s even more of an event, this moment at the summit, owing to the drive that’s led up to it. And that is where the story starts.
The latest-generation Mini Cooper that was recently launched in India is a cracker of a car. Even the diesel version that’s currently on sale here is quite the hot hatch to commandeer. There’s a new three-pot under the hood and this latest-gen car has also grown in terms of dimension. With a 0-100kph time of 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 204kph, it’s a lot of ability packed into the cutesy package that is the new Mini.
So what road would you want to drive this car down, to justify the horses on tap, and to push to the brim the Mini-typical dynamics?
Our search narrowed down to the outskirts of Bengaluru, on Nandi Hills. The location for the famed king of Mysore Tipu Sultan’s summer palace, Nandi Hills is today a popular spot for tourists. The road from Bengaluru to Nandi Hills is a smooth one, and if you time it right, quite free from the traffic. It’s a little over 60km from the main city and you’ll be on NH7 most of the way. But it’s exiting city limits that is the challenge.
The crawling traffic the city is infamous for is in full swing when I pick up the 3-Door Mini from the showroom. Thankfully, in the thick of urban traffic, this nifty little performer is a blessing to drive. The small dimensions make squeezing into gaps easy, and overtaking is equally effortless, with just a prod to the throttle. As happy as I am about the car’s urban capabilities, I can’t wait to get out on the open road. The little bursts of power mid-traffic are a pointer to the kind of pace I can build up.
And build up pace is exactly what I do, as soon as I get on a clear stretch of NH7 past city limits. Gunning the new 1.5-litre illicits a cultured purr from under the hood, surprisingly refined for a three-cylinder diesel engine. The 114bhp may not look too impressive on paper, but it sure leaves an impression when you get behind the wheel. I get off the throttle only when I see the exit for Nandi Hills approaching.
Once off the highway, you drive a little distance to the foot of the hill, where there’s a little settlement. It’s a nice place for a break while we ready ourselves for what lies ahead. And why do we need to prep ourselves? Because some locals we’re chatting with while having a cup of chai volunteer some information about the climb up to Tipu’s palace. It’s 17km to the palace gates and on the way, there are 41 corners. 41! Imagine the possibilities.
Almost as soon as the words “41 corners” is out of our local friend’s mouth, I jump into the driver’s seat. I fire up the Cooper and put the gear selector in Sport or, as Mini likes to call it, ‘go kart’ mode. As slick as the six-speed automatic is, it’s still slightly laggy and when you need to do some edge-of-the-seat driving or take on a corner or series of corners as I’m about to do, it’s best to switch to the aforementioned mode. It sharpens throttle and steering responses, making the Cooper D a precision tool.
While the road up is narrow, it is well-paved and marked. There’s a fair bit of traffic on the weekend, but if it’s a weekday like today, it’s smooth sailing. Still, considering the number of corners on the road, it’s always a good idea to drive with caution. Fortunately, my fellow correspondents take the photography car ahead to allow me a clean run.
And their green signal on the walkie is all I’m waiting for. As soon as I hear ‘go’, I mash my foot down onto the accelerator pedal and the 3-Door leaps off from rest. I’m still getting used to the road and take the first few corners at tame speeds. Once I’m confident, I let the speedo needle climb and climb as I pile on the revs. The Mini blazes past corners, the turn-in is super sharp and the lightning-quick responses to direction changes makes this car so chuckable on the narrowest of roads.
The road winds up the hill, snaking past deep gorges and overlooking lush farmlands stretching for miles. I don’t have much time to take in the scenery, but I do notice the odd monkey leaping from tree to tree on the side of the hill. Fortunately, most of the local fauna is used to the road and hardly ever venture onto it.
But more on the road. While the corners towards the base of the hill are slightly longer and sweeping ones, as we get closer to the top, they start to get tighter and tighter. There’s even a corner or two where I am tempted to attempt a handbrake turn. And then, before I can say ‘go kart’, we’re at the palace gates.
And so, here we are. At the summit of Nandi Hills, gazing down at a picturesque Karnataka countryside. I’ve spent a day behind the wheel having the time of my life. It’s the end to a great love story, with the new Mini finding the perfect match in the Nandi Hills road.
getting from bengaluru to Nandi Hills is fairly straightforward. It’s a 60km journey, with 40km down the smooth, broad stretches of the NH7. Start from the city early so you can beat the traffic. Once past the city limits, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. The NH7 is well-paved and broad, there isn’t much traffic either. Keep your eyes peeled for the exit to Nandi Hills — it’s a small turnoff and the sign on the left of the road can be easily missed. On your way back, don’t be too hasty; there are policemen on the highway with interceptors for speeding vehicles.
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