Since March I was at home like the rest of the nation, but with a difference. The wife hails from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and had gone there in March, but the lockdown meant she was unable to come back nearly three months later. So what should have been a great time for me to bond with family (given my incessant travel), wasn’t happening. I had always wished to drive to Gwalior, about 1,100km from Pune and the lockdown presented the opportunity. My long term test car, the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz was pressed into service after being stationary for over two months. I drove down in the last week of May, once restrictions were being eased off.
My parents were sceptical since I would be driving alone and Google Maps showed a driving time of 20 hours! I was confident given the years of experience of long drives (and rides!). 800-900km days including 10-12 hours on the road have never been a problem but over 1,100km and 20 hours of driving meant I needed to push myself. I applied for emergency travel passes online to ensure I had the requisite paperwork, as Maharashtra has been the worst hit by the pandemic. I got the Ciaz washed, replaced engine oil and checked coolant levels beforehand. Nonstop driving in May – across Madhya Pradesh which gets very hot – was going to be taxing on the car so I had to be sure.
Mom ensured I had ample supplies – water, food, glucose powder, a couple of Red Bulls and even tea in a hot flask! I hit the road at 4:45am and the lockdown meant there was no traffic so I was making time quickly, only taking breaks every 2-3 hours to stretch myself and let the car cool down. It was working well and since I had everything needed including a portable air compressor, the risk of interacting with others was minimal. Except fuel stations and toll booths – lack of a Fastag meant I had to pay cash and using a sanitiser was the only solution. Having researched about road conditions previously and having mapped timelines virtually helped, though I dropped my pace after 10am to ensure the high road temperature did not take a toll on the tyres.
Around 2pm I was crossing Indore meaning I was running as per the planned schedule. The Ciaz was running flawlessly and returned just over 18kmpl at the first refill, impressive for a 1.5-litre petrol engine. The Smart Hybrid system was helping matters too. I wish it had a six-speed gearbox though – the sixth cog would have boosted efficiency and made the drive smoother. Overall seat comfort and cushioning was excellent. I took a quick nap inside the car after about 12 hours and then upped the pace to make some time. The headlights helped in boosting confidence in the dark as the spread and throw from the LED projector beams is really good. The roads didn’t offer a chance to complain and the suspension was soaking undulations well, while also keeping the car planted. What’s more, having Apple CarPlay in the Ciaz meant navigation was displayed on the touchscreen directly, I could access the phone’s functions without having to hold it and a separate phone mount wasn’t required.
Finally at 11:30 pm, nearly 19 hours later, I reached my in-law’s place. The longing to see my little one and the adrenaline rush of the long drive had helped, though of course, the Ciaz made light of the near 1,200km and I wasn’t dead tired at the end of it. There wasn’t any noticeable drop in engine performance or refinement either. I took a two-day break in Gwalior as the journey back was going to be similar. I knew the wife finds the rear bench in the Ciaz comfortable, but spending a full day there was a challenge. But the Ciaz passed that test with flying colours too, offering good comfort. And about 2,300km later, the mission had been accomplished. We were home safe and sound and the Ciaz had done its job well.
Engine: 1,462cc, inline four-cylinder petrol, Smart Hybrid
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Fuel tank capacity: 43 litres
Kerb weight: 1,055kg
Price: ₹10.08 lakh ex-showroom, Mumbai
Good stuff – Overall comfort on long drives, headlights
Bad stuff – Needs a sixth cog for the highway