Actually, the guy who picked me up from the service station scared me. He was built like a bull and kicked my 205/70 R15 Bridgestone Duelers as if they were footballs. Once settled behind my four-spoke wheel, he started searching for my hand brake lever. After some searching he discovered the lever, which is cleverly disguised to look like a grab handle. He was certainly not happy to see my automatic gear lever (column mounted, you see) though. He fiddled with the tiny auto-box selector and chose D for drive. I could hear him swearing at those who invented automatic transmission as we pulled out. On the open road he began to enjoy what my i-VTEC engine had to offer. I amused him by cruising at 100 kph, with the tacho needle hovering around 2200 rpm and I could see his teeth every time the needle arced between 4000 and 6000 rpm. He soon realised that all my power rested in that meaty band and then there was no stopping him. Needless to say, we reached his home quickly. Later in the night he took me out again, but with his wife for company – you won’t believe how civilised he was this time out; I never exceeded 120 kph. I cruised happily and I could see the faces lit up from the dashboard instrumentation and could tell that they were enjoying every minute of it too.
These journos seem to have some fun, because the next day another big guy was busy kicking my tyres. I had seen him at the press launch at Delhi and he seemed to be quite familiar with my controls. He was in ‘get-home’ mode that day but I heard him talking over the phone about some tests the next day. Oh, not again! The next day started with the big journo, another one wearing red shoes and a photographer driving me into the peripheries of a national reserve forest – the road was terrible but I didn’t let the guys know it, thanks to my hardworking struts up front and wishbones behind. Then the trio took a particular liking to a corner – a dirt road that suddenly decided to turn right – and you won’t believe it, the big guy drove me around it for a minimum of fifteen times. To begin with, he was slow and I went around without much trouble, but as the speeds reached 80-100 kph, things did start to go wrong. You see, I come endowed with a all-wheel drive system that sends torque to the wheels that require most. While it all works in rain, mild-snow and little bit of slush, this system is not really meant to challenge Audi Quattros and my WRC friends from Mitsubishi. The problem was the big guy was pushing me around that corner, gravel flying and all. Once, the rear left Bridgestone gave way after coming through the corner and the big guy corrected by opposite lock, bringing me back to line. The next time, he carried some 90 kph into that corner and bingo, I managed a full 180-degree before our man could react. He seemed to be happy that he had made me do that shameful dance. And I really prayed for some tarmac to show my real strengths.
And tarmac it was next! The smooth bit of four-lane road was brilliant and I started off by impressing the big guy and red shoes with a 60 kph run in 5.4 seconds flat. My automatic ratios are suited for spirited acceleration since I can stretch the first gear all the way to 70 kph. But the next run was not that good. Even with the big guy pinning the accelerator down, I took all of 12.1 seconds to touch 100 kph, no thanks to my i-VTEC motor which has a tendency to drop revs between shifts – not good when it is mated to an automatic transmission, you see. My genuine prowess came in the passing speeds tests – just 8.8 seconds for an 80-120 kph run and only 13.2 seconds between 100 and 140 kph. That is where i-VTEC optimises revs for some creamy delivery of useable horsepower – good enough to pass slow-moving traffic. I don’t know how fast these guys must be flogging ‘proper’ cars around test tracks but they had the guts to take me, an SUV, around a fast sweeper at 140 kph. Enough to get red shoes talking about almost ‘nil’ body roll. Despite ABS assistance, I faltered a bit in the 0-100-0 test as there was mild lockup and my rear set of wheels moved out of line ever so slightly – but I could see that the big guy was not very happy at the outset. ‘Modern cars are not supposed to do that,’ he said and demanded an entry in the log book. Big deal.