Photography: Vaibhav Dhanawade
The monsoons are the best time of the year to head out. Especially if you live in our neck of the woods, surrounding the Sahyadri mountain ranges. Come July and the region turns lush green, as the mountains block rain clouds and make sure the ‘Western Ghats’ get abundant rainfall. It’s hard not to fall in love with the region during the monsoons – verdant green fields and forests, rain-soaked roads and cold winds blowing are the stuff that will provoke you to head out and explore the natural beauty around. This also means weekends are all about hitting the road to enjoy the outdoors – a cup of hot tea, corn on the cob and piping hot fritters by the side of a road snaking through a valley or on top of a mountain is bliss! On the flip side, that also means serpentine queues of cars on the road and lots of people everywhere, should you decide to head out on a weekend.
As a petrolhead and enthusiast, the itch to head out is perennial though. And with such brilliant vistas awaiting, it’s tough to stay indoors, isn’t it? So to avoid the serpentine queues and make the most of my day out, I decided to skip work and head out on a weekday! This time, in the new Hyundai Exter. The Exter is the smallest of SUVs in Hyundai’s line-up – which also includes a long list of successful names like the Venue, Creta, Alcazar and Tucson and not to forget, the Kona and IONIQ 5 as well. Its compact dimensions are what make the Exter such a delight though. It is small enough to help you negotiate through the tightest of bylanes and also through city traffic with utmost ease. But more importantly, the Exter is a proper SUV – one that’s meant to help you enjoy the outdoors and get adventurous.
It looks the part of course, and is well-proportioned too. It also does not skimp on the rugged appeal you’d associate with an SUV and has that tall stance besides boasting a ground clearance of 185mm, which helps it tick the right boxes. The boxy design, H-shaped DRLs and tail lamps, gloss black applique on the C-pillar and in between the tail lamps, all help it look very distinctive and very appealing. Overall, with its height and upright stance the Exter is perfect as an SUV – whether you spend most of your time in the city, or in my case, wish to head out of the concrete jungles to explore the real ones. Given its packaging and what it brings to the table as a compact SUV, it’s also easy to see why the Hyundai Exter has been quick to hit the milestone of 50,000 bookings.
As I headed out of Pune in a south-western direction, my plan was to head towards Kolad, a picturesque village in the Konkan region, also popular for its water and adventure sports activities. The distance of roughly 120km was to take me a little under three hours as indicated by the Exter’s onboard navigation. In fact, as I found out later, the in-built navigation system was a boon as a lot of the areas I was driving through did not have mobile networks and thanks to the Exter, I didn’t get lost or have to ask for directions. Its 1.2-litre petrol engine is a four-cylinder unit that’s so smooth, you simply won’t know whether the engine is running or not at idle! With 83PS and 114Nm going to the front wheels performance sure is brisk, but a bigger highlight is the strong bottom-end grunt that makes the Exter effortless at slow speeds. Of course, the star of the show though is the automated manual transmission equipped with paddle shifters. That’s an industry first, not just a segment first, meaning the Exter is the first car in the country to offer the convenience of paddle shifters with an AMT! And lest I forget, ARAI-certified fuel efficiency is a highly impressive 19.2kmpl for the AMT version and 19.4kmpl for the manual version, adding to the Exter’s credentials.
THE EXTER WAS PROVING THAT YOU REALLY DON’T NEED A LARGE SUV OR ONE WITH A FOUR WHEEL DRIVE SYSTEM TO GO PLACES
Driving up through hills was thus a cinch and the Exter even felt and sounded sporty, proving to be an excellent driver’s car as well, thanks to its engaging feel. The peppy engine coupled with the AMT and compact footprint meant the Exter was quick to accelerate and offer a confident feel, despite the roads being soaking wet. This also meant I was at peace thanks to the SUV’s surefootedness and was thus able to enjoy the vistas along the way. You see, a good car won’t just let you feel safe and comfortable in it, it will also let you stay relaxed, which is one reason why driving is considered a form of therapy by enthusiasts! In addition, the Exter is also high on safety including several segment-first features like six airbags as standard, ESP, VSM, tyre pressure monitoring, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, three-point seatbelts for all occupants and a factory-fitted dashcam with front and rear-facing cameras that are both capable of recording full HD videos!
Then there’s the plush interiors that look like they belong to an SUV from a higher segment. The dashboard design with its appealing-looking textures, the fully-digital instrument cluster and eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, premium seat covers and sunroof all accentuate the Exter’s appeal as a premium SUV. Also, while the overall length is just 3,815mm and width 1,710mm, space management inside is very good, resulting in excellent legroom and kneeroom in the second row and a boot volume of 391 litres. Overall, the Exter thus ticks all the boxes a buyer could imagine, because it is a very unique proposition and also a segment disruptor. What’s more, my day out was also helping me realise that you really don’t need a large SUV or one with a four-wheel drive system to go places.
The Exter is a lot more than just an appealing-looking SUV, as it was able to go off-road and even amble up hills confidently. And the views were breathtaking – deep valleys and tall mountains, with several waterfalls, were all soothing to the senses. I was in fact beginning to realise my day out in the Exter was more about the journey than the destination, given the combination of its likeable manners and the terrain surrounding me, including the country roads, greenery, water flowing through the rivulets and more. I was also feeling closer to nature as the places I was driving through were pristine and untouched, with barely a soul in sight and just a handful of houses in most villages. These aren’t the kind of views one gets to enjoy every day and with the Exter as my companion, it was proving to be a brilliant day out.
As I ascended one of the hills, I found myself driving through some low-lying clouds which added to the soothing feel of being closer to nature. But while I was out and away in a remote area, I also realised that with the Exter, one can enjoy the same feeling irrespective of where you are, as the SUV is equipped with Hyundai’s unique ‘Ambient Sounds of Nature’ that can have a calming effect on your senses even when caught up in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Imagine, having the sound of a waterfall or birds chirping around you in peak-hour traffic!
THE PLACES I WAS DRIVING THROUGH WERE PRISTINE AND UNTOUCHED, WITH BARELY A SOUL IN SIGHT
As I parked the Exter at a vantage point and got out to enjoy the view, I broke into a smile, staring at the lush greenery in the valley that lay ahead of me, feeling relaxed. Also, because my phone had been out of network for a few hours, and for a change, having no mobile network, no notifications or even phone calls was something I was enjoying. I guess, skipping office on the day and driving out in the Exter instead of my everyday routines was a good idea!