Leg 3 end and Leg 4 start
After the serene scenic mountainous terrain in Himachal Pradesh the Fiesta Classics on the Ford Cross Country Drive were in for a very contrasting experience, continuing on the third leg of the drive.
Post a night’s halt at Haldwani, the two Fiesta Classics drove to Meerut via Bareily. The roads out of Haldwani were not the best thus far but we were soon on smooth and wide highways that allowed the cars the produce good fuel economy figures. The next day on our journey from Meerut to Agra via Noida we drove on some really fine tarmac. Temperatures as well as perspiration levels soared high on this stretch of the drive. The break day allowed the team to rejuvenate with a casual visit the majestic Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Next up, on our mileage drive map was Lucknow. The roads leading to the historic city were largely good but narrow at places. On the highways in Uttar Pradesh, what made obtaining good fuel economy frustratingly hard was the sea of cyclists, hawkers and pedestrians who seemed to have been vaccinated from all forms of logical road sense.
After an early start out of Lucknow, we moved towards Kanpur some 80km away. Having experienced Kanpur’s erratic traffic first-hand in the past, we were more than happy to bypass the busy industrial town. But our joy was short-lived. Our route to Satna in Madhya Pradesh included NH86 which is a National Highway only in name. More like the lunar surface, this highway really pushed the limits of the Fiesta’s suspension. Speeds dropped to single digits at many places. Shaken but not stirred our drivers were in for some respite as the fantastic twisty roads through the Panna Tiger sanctuary just before Satna allowed good use of the Fiesta’s communicative steering.
A day later, the Fiestas drove to Allahabad and then took NH2 to the holy city of Varanasi. It was to be a pretty uneventful day at the wheel. Or so we thought. The action started on entering the holy city. With traffic coming at us from all directions, it was quite a feat reaching our hotel without any nasty dinks or scratches. Varanasi to Patna was a relatively problem-free affair.
Patna to Siliguri proved to be a tough drive. The roads were good but a wrong turn had us enter the town of Bihar Sharif. This place was Varanasi taken up a couple of unwanted notches. The roads were narrower and now we had to contend with rather aggressive cycle-rickshaws. We eventually reached Siliguri past midnight.
The drive to Guwahati, which would mark the first foray into the North East, was a highly anticipated drive for many of us. NH31 out of Siliguri was lovely. Smoothly paved with tea estates on either side, we wished we could drive there for some more time. Trouble resurfaced on entering Assam. Halting at police checkposts every couple of kilometers (mostly manned by frightfully corrupt and unhelpful policemen), meant that the cars covered a shameful 70km in close to four hours. We were eventually forced to abandon our plans for Guwahati and checked in at Bongaigaon town (en route to Guwahati) instead.
From Bongaigaon we went back to Siliguri. The next day we moved towards Bhagalpur in Bihar. We took NH80 out of Bhagalpur with our next halt at Kolkata. The highway is in shambles and is best avoided. Speeds dipped and it was also impossible to keep economy-busting gear changes to a minimum. We cheered on getting on to the superb NH2 at Bardhman to finally reach Kolkata at 3:45 am.
Over the past couple of days we have driven over billiards table-smooth roads as well as some roads that would seem apt to host a WRC stage. But what’s remarkable is our Fiesta’s continue to perform just as they did nearly one and a half months back since rolling out of Ford plant in Chennai. On the fuel economy front, the Fiesta’s haven’t fallen short of being brilliance, with the diesel Fiesta Classic averaging a superb 32.8kpl while the petrol Classic has done good with 21.7kpl. Stay tuned for our next update.
Leg 3 (April 3 - April 22)
After a day’s halt at Jodhpur, the Fiestas were back to business. The route towards Jaipur via Ajmer was largely on smooth highways. Reaching Delhi brought up the 10,000km mark on our journey, indicating time for a visit to the service station. A quick check by the friendly service staff at Harpreet Ford unearthed nothing out of the ordinary. A simple oil filter change and new engine oil later, the Fiestas were good to go.
Exiting the megapolis, we were back in Haryana, headed towards Hissar, Karnal and our halt for the night at Yamunanagar. Large sections of the roads on this route were in a state of disrepair, leaving the Fiestas bottled up behind slower tempos and trucks for much of the day. The drive into Punjab the next day had us go through Ambala, Chandigarh and Mohali. Superb as the highway into Chandigarh was, our team refrained from putting pedal to the metal, which anyway is a luxury we cannot afford to undulge in on a fuel-sipping drive.
Pathankot to Lakhanpur was far from fun with pothole-laden roads giving us a jarring ride for miles on end. The roads to Jammu did improve but thereafter the climb towards Srinagar on NH-1A put both man and machine to the test. Narrow, winding roads with huge bumps meant the cars had to be nursed over rutted roads with regularity. Heavy truck traffic and light showers didn’t make matters any better and we reached Srinagar well past midnight.
Driving down from a frigid Srinagar (temperature was the lowest – 10.5deg C) to Jammu in daylight, was an inviting experience as we really took in the sights Kashmir is renowned for. Moving ahead, the roads to Mandi in Himachal Pradesh were just about average with some sections of the national highway narrower than your average supermodel’s waist. The drive to Dehradun via Shimla was a mix of good and bad stretches. Shimla to Kalka in the plains was a cinch thanks to the well-paved roads and disciplined traffic.
Dehradun to the holy city of Haridwar was on decent single carriageways. But we were greeted into Uttar Pradesh by pathetic roads and unruly traffic that included everything from pedestrians and bulllock carts to jugaads and dangerously overloaded trucks. We heaved a sigh of relief on re-entering Uttarakhand for our night halt at Haldwani.
The Fiestas are well over the halfway mark on the mammoth 21,000km drive, having covered 13,000km so far. Except for a puncture on the petrol Fiesta, the cars have performed flawlessly. Mileage has, in general, exceeded our best expectations. And despite the battering on damaged roads, they have emerged unscathed. Stay tuned for more details.
Leg 2 (March 20 - April 2)
The second leg kickstarted from Mumbai and covered major cities in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. While driving in Maharashtra, the Fiestas performed well even in the extremely hot conditions and returned overall fuel efficiency figures of 34kpl for the diesel and 22.5kpl for the petrol. However, due to peak-hour traffic in Nagpur, it was the first instance when the diesel figure dropped to 30kpl while the petrol stood at 17.2kpl in the second leg.
Heading towards Madhya Pradesh, the convoy drove through cities like Seoni, Bhopal, Dewas, Sehore, Indore, Dhule and Songad. Although road and traffic conditions were not the best, both the Fiestas covered were clocking kilometres without any hiccups apart from a puncture on the petrol Fiesta.
Moving towards Gujarat, the convoy drove through Vapi, Surat, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Morbi, Gandhidham, Radhanpur and Mehsana. Road conditions were impressive as most of our driving was on the four-lane NH-8. Except at Rajkot and Gandhidham, the Fiestas had performed extremely well without any problems and continued to return efficiency figures in the range of 35-42kpl for the diesel and 18-25kpl for the petrol.
From Mehsana, the drive continued towards Rajasthan and covered cities like Udaipur, Kota, Bhilwara and Jodhpur. The national and State highways were pretty empty in this stretch. Concluding the second leg at Jodhpur, the Fiestas were ready to continue their endurance run through the third leg.
Leg 1 (March 8 - March 19)
The second all-India Autocar-Ford Cross Country Drive 2011 is well underway. Two Fiestas – a 1.4-litre diesel and a 1.6-litre petrol – have been tasked with squeezing out the most kilometres possible from every litre of fuel.
The first leg drive through the States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra had proved a trouble-free affair for the two Fiesta Classics. Driving mainly on State and national highways meant that the Fords had mostly stayed shy of the populated cities which would have drastically affected the efficiency figures. But in some cities like Trissur and Hospet, there was little choice but to tread through bustling city streets to reach the hotel for the night halt or to visit the Ford dealership the following morning.
On the traffic-riddled Southern leg, the condition of the roads in Tamil Nadu and Kerala were favourable for the two Fiestas to maintain the desired speeds and proved little cause for concern in terms of vehicle care. Most of the hindrances on the drive were on-road traffic, bad stretches of highway and the occasional queue-up at railway crossings. The climate throughout the first leg was humid with temperatures in the range of 40-45deg C. However, Ooty offered some relief with 17.3deg C.
Driving at an average speed of 39.11km over the course of the first 12-day leg, the cars had registered over 4,650km on their odometers with the diesel and petrol Fiestas churning out an overall average of 30.82kpl and 19.97kpl in economy figures respectively.