Goa. Those who think of it as a mere destination are missing the point completely. And those who go there only for the cheap booze and exotic cuisine should be banned. So here it is, the ultimate definition of Goa – It Is A State Of Mind. Go ahead, Goa Tourism, use the line as long as you give me free access to Tito’s and a crate of Kings every month. For life.
As for me, Goa is all about wanting to go to Goa. Every test car I get, I think of going to Goa and end up commuting to work in it. I think of the night-long drive, beautiful corners on the NH17, steaming tea somewhere in-between, and er… exotic cuisine and the cheap and good stuff at the end of it all. So to cut a long one short, the moment we decided to compare the Volkswagen Passat with the Honda Accord, I knew where we were headed. Diesel versus petrol? Rs 25 lakh versus Rs 20 lakh? Well, do you want us to take you to Goa or not?
Rohin, the Young Turk road-tester, decided that we were not driving down the pothole-ridden (according to him) NH17, however scenic it may be. Instead, we were going to celebrate these fast cars by driving them on the fast road between Mumbai and Kolhapur (the Expressway up to Pune and then a clean four-lane highway) and hitting Goa via Amboli.A decision which I sulked through a McDonald’s dinner. Of course, the McD idea was Rohin’s too, as you can’t argue with a ‘it’s clean and nice, and you don’t have to hunt for dhabas on the way’ statement at the beginning of the journey, right? Okay, I admit, I like my Maharaja Macs too. We were a group of six – three youngsters from BSM, our two-member Open Sky team who claimed they haven’t had a holiday in the last two years and a rather elderly looking character perpetually waiting for an excuse to go to Goa (that would be me, of course). I was reluctant to give away the reins of our long-term Passat as we started off. And Rohin led the way in the Accord. After all, the route selection was his, right?
It is but natural for the Passat to think of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway as its home. Beautifully paved and lined concrete where a three-digit average speed is the norm is what the Volkswagen loves. The unhurried diesel motor thrums along with a subdued drone that says ‘let’s keep doing this for a long time to come’. The headlights pierced the drenched darkness, tunnels tried to swallow the Passat and Linkin Park filled the cabin.‘Enough! Out… the CD goes out!’ Aman woke up and ensured that Divya changed the music. Didn’t make much of a difference to me – Linkin Park on the way to Goa is better than listening to Srini’s Arabic music on the Eyre Highway, Australia, I thought.
Keeping pace with the more powerful Accord was never an issue for the Passat and I didn’t even have to resort to the sport mode in the auto-box to do that. More than the ability of the engine to tick along nicely, I was getting impressed by the Passat’s ride quality. I have driven many a luxury car on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and I can tell you that the Passat is in the same league as some of the more expensive machines. This composure makes the driver and passengers feel secure – as if they are travelling in a rather well-made car, which the Passat undoubtedly is. Half-way through the Expressway, we filled the fuel tanks of these machines – a grand total of roughly Rs 5,000 worth of liquids went in. It was pouring as we exited the fuel station and hit the road. The Passat comes with electronic stability programme along with ABS and electronic brake distribution; handy when you have to stomp on the brake pedal and avoid stationary trucks – a regular feature on our highways.
There were a few winding sections en route – the relatively easy Lonavla and later on the ghat section before Satara – and the power delivery of the 1968cc diesel was put to test here. The four-pot unit makes 140 bhp at around 4000 rpm and 32 kgm of torque between 1750 and 2250 rpm. Since keeping the engine on the boil is not a tough act, the Passat never really felt out of breath. The little bit of hesitation owing to turbo-lag is negated well by the swift-shifting DSG box and you never really miss the power. We never lost the tail lamps of the Accord that was leading the way despite a whopping 33.5 bhp difference in output, which speaks volumes of the driveability of the diesel here.
Yet another problem with modern day travel in modern day cars on modern day roads is that you never really get tired. That also means you don’t really stop unless your bladder demands one or a spectacular view arrests you. Well, I wanted a cup of tea for the sake of getting out and looking at the magnificent cars that we were driving and I got it just before we reached Satara. What is road travel in India without a few stops for chai, right? The Accord suddenly looked more striking than ever in the fading tubelight of the dhaba and the Passat looked more purposeful with rain sludge on its flanks. Our motley group of passengers was starting to comment on the journey. ‘I like the looks of the Accord,’ said Geeta. ‘I like the Passat, it has cleaner lines,’ Divya opined with an underlined reasoning. Slightly burnt tongues soon started wagging about how fast the road was and how soon we were going to reach Goa. Kyle, new to travelling with BSM, lit a cigarette. Me, the recent quitter, envied him silently, but I never wanted the journey to end. Kyle took over the Accord and it was time for me and the Passat to set the pace. Satara first and Kolhapur next were devoured by our mini convoy. And then we turned off towards the geographical direction of Goa from the four-lane highway and on to a slightly broken but traffic-free road. It was as if we were driving into the unknown – suddenly, there were no median markers, there were no medians whatsoever, no fluorescent signboards and only a carpet of moonlight to differentiate forms. And it was getting cooler outside the car than inside. I rolled the window down and soaked in the air that smelt of earth. About three hours of driving and the Amboli hill station separated us from Sawantwadi – a place where Maharashtra ends for travellers and the euphoria begins, as it is the border town. Aman, who was tossing and turning and trying to appreciate the music being played in the car, decided to put in a stint behind the wheel of the Passat as I opted to check the rear seat’s credentials. Before we knew it, we were in an envelope of mist and the pace was reduced to pedestrian. It was Aman’s challenge to see where we were going and it was my turn to get some serious sleep. Someone had to party once we reached Goa, right?
Goa during the rains is meant for bargain hungry domestic tourists or the occasional international tourist who decides to stay a bit longer than intended. Actually no, Goa in the rains belongs to the Goans, who restore their ‘normal’ life as the lean season gives them time to trace their colourful roots back again. And it also belongs to me – I claim fractional ownership of Goa during the rains, since I have done this pilgrimage many times. I know exactly what to do and where in Goa during the rains, and red-flagged beaches are never on the agenda. Instead, the whole plan revolves around restaurants, music, dance, getting soaked in the rain, shopping for local produce and more restaurants. Unless you are in south Goa, which opens up avenues for additional niceties like a temple trail and the mysterious Cabo de Rama fort. We decided to stay in the north and the Accord and the Passat came to a halt at the La Calypso hotel at Baga. The front office manager slashed the prices as if rooms were some sort of perishable commodity and a mere 30 per cent occupancy meant we had the resort, pool and all, almost to ourselves.
Day one in Goa was spent sleeping, getting swimming lessons from Kyle and eating our hearts out. We were early to reach Tito’s, so we ventured out and ate some more and then returned to the dance floor and stayed there till the early hours. We went back to the cars only the next morning – a bright, sun-soaked morning let me add. And for the first time, I was assigned the Accord. It is amazing, I have never driven the new Accord inside Mumbai city – I drove it in Rajasthan for the launch and now I was behind the wheel of one in Goa. For some time I kept wondering whether the cars were wider than normal or the Goan roads were narrower than usual before deciding that it was a combination of the two. The Accord was getting eye-balled more than the VW for some strange reason. A batch of young students, in all probability on a ‘study tour’, stopped in their tracks to take in the Accord. Perhaps it was all the skirting and add-ons that was getting their attention. We drove up to the magnificent lighthouse at Fort Aguada where Aman wanted to do some serious photography. Make sure that you trace the ‘trail’ (by foot, mind you) behind the new lighthouse if you are there – we did, and were rewarded with some stunning views of Goa and its little islands strewn in the Arabian sea.
At wafting speeds on narrow roads, the Accord is in its element. It transforms itself into a very powerful cruiser on four-wheels. It is the ideal car in which to roll the window down, put an arm on the sill and listen to music as moss-covered brick walls blow past you. The 2.4-litre iVTEC engine could very well be the best four-pot petrol anywhere in the world. Such is its refinement, you wonder why BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes of this world are not outsourcing engines from the Japanese car maker. Okay, at least for their low-end models! It was nice to feel the rush of speed as I floored the pedal and summoned batches of those 178 horses. It would leave the Passat and its unsuspecting driver lagging in its petrol-powered wave – rich and frothy indeed. Compared to the Passat, the ride quality on offer from the Accord is more suited to slow speed cruising on not-so-good roads. It soaks in the bumps effortlessly but those who drove it in the ghat sections demanded a slightly stiffer setup. The convoy gathered speed as we got hungry and it must have been a sight to see the twosome slither through a narrow short cut and into Panjim. Our destination? Mum’s Kitchen for the absolutely wonderful Beef de Goa and assorted delicacies. Another photo session near an amazing looking church later, we did what everyone in the right state of mind ought to do in Goa. Danced more, ate aplenty and slept very little. And before we could hit the highway again, we shopped for sausages, exotic liquor and home-made bebinca. The ‘loot’ was stashed away nicely in the cavernous boots of the respective cars – the Accord wins in this department – and the noses of the cars were turned towards Mumbai again.
The Accord was gunning down apexes on the return leg of the journey, especially on the Amboli ghat, as if to prove a point. But the more it tried, the more evident it was that the new Accord, like its predecessor, is more about the engine than the car itself. It handled in a very neutral fashion when speeds were low and then understeered gently when you pushed the revs to the red. But once the cars hit the four lane highway again, the Accord proved why it’s a runaway success in the American and Far Eastern markets. The motor races to its 6500 rpm in every gear to reward a sub-12 second 100 kph. At passing speeds (80-120 kph in 9.1 seconds flat), the performance is even better. Compared to the Passat, the steering is a bit too fluid at Expressway speeds and it can be considered a negative (only if you are comparing it to the Passat, mind you) and there was considerable brake fade during our journey. And yes, despite the overall dimensions being bigger, the Accord does not instil in you the sense of ‘big-car feel’ which the Passat manages effortlessly.
As Mumbai grew bigger on the sign posts and the numbers dwindled down to two digits, the conversation in the cars was about the winner of the shootout. The Honda Accord is excellent value for money here, despite the premium image the Honda badge exudes in India. This car is bigger, more powerful and offers comfortable ride and agreeable handling and is as safe – all for the ‘right’ amount of money. And hence it wins the shootout hands down. But our hearts go out to the Passat. You need to think beyond money to appreciate the Passat. It shows you why European sedans have been, are and will be superior to their Jap counterparts in various departments – starting from its amazing ride. And we are not even talking about the diesel economy here. Needless then to add that it is the Passat’s key that I would be pocketing if I have to do another run to Goa. Soon the trip ended just as I was getting to grips with Linking Punk, Larking Pink or Linkin Park – of course at a McD which was politely ‘recommended’ by Rohin. These youngsters, I tell you!