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Datsun Redi-Go: Into the Clouds
A tiny hatch goes on a monumental journey to the easternmost corner of the country in the peak of monsoon. Treacherous mountain roads and raging rivers are the first of many challenges it has to face...
The final frontier, they call it. The land of the unexplored and the unknown, they say. The land that first sees the rays of the sun in the country. A place so neatly tucked into the mountainside that every road you take is a winding one. A state so isolated that our friendly neighbours imagined no one would notice if they kept marking parts of it as their own. These are things that describe Arunachal Pradesh at the best of times. Think driving to the easternmost reaches of the state, in the middle of one of the heaviest monsoons they have seen, in a car that can possibly fit into your cupboard, and you’d probably think it’s a bit insane.
But that’s just as audacious a move as Datsun has made with its latest car – the redi-GO. It is hoping for a proper David and Goliath match and has made it amply clear which Goliath it has set its sights on – the Maruti Alto. We, of course, had to come up with a fitting challenge for it. A three-and-half-thousand-kilometre road trip in a car that is not even three-and-half metres long sounded just about right. After all, Datsun has chosen the grittiest end of the market to try and make a name for itself after the frankly feeble response its earlier cars received.
Words: Debabrata Sarkar | Photographs: Himanshu Pandya
Even before Himanshu and I presented ourselves at the check post, with our Inner Line Permits (you need one to enter Arunachal, unless you are from Arunachal) and the redi-GO’s registration papers in hand, we’d driven 1,500km over two-and-a-half days through all of North Bengal and the width of Assam before arriving at the Dirak border in Arunachal Pradesh.
In case you’re waiting to hear about how broken we were or how the car struggled, you can give up on holding your breath. The truth is, the redi-GO proved to be surprisingly comfortable and caught us by a bit of a surprise. The space and general airiness of the cabin made sure we were never really cramped despite having our camera bags and laptops lying around, even with three on board at times. The 799cc, three-cylinder motor turned smoother as we piled on the kilometres and although we never had any illusions about it being quick, it seemed quite happy to hold triple-digit speeds as we cruised through the great big plains with flooded paddy fields on either side of the road. But most notable was the way the suspension performed, ironing out smaller blemishes and taking on bigger potholes without hesitation. However, when we did hit a particularly deep crater hard, the struts ran out of travel quickly and resulted in a loud thud, which was unnerving.
Back in the car with registration formalities complete, it was time for the toughest bit of the trip, driving as far east as possible inside the borders of India, to the tiny outpost of Kibithu some 300 kilometres away. How hard could it possibly be?
In hindsight, that wasn’t a thought we should’ve entertained, because we didn’t have to wait long to find out how hard it would be. After roughly 30km down the road, just when we started wondering what the fuss was all about, the perfectly paved surface disappeared and massive craters took its place. It seemed like they just got bored of making a racetrack and decided the moon’s surface was better to drive on. If that wasn’t enough, the road narrowed, too, enough to make sure the redi-GO, by virtue of being the smallest car around, had to regularly drive onto the shoulder to allow traffic from the opposite direction to pass.
By the time we digested these startling occurrences, the foliage closed in on us, with trees that would make Godzilla look small. In fact, the redi-GO, which is all of 3,429mm in length and 1,560mm in width, could be parked lengthwise twice over and just about cover the width of these massive tree trunks that rose like towers next to the road (and I’m using the term road very loosely here). Even the little tea gardens we spotted through the gaps between the trees seemed to have large leaves, which looked more like paan and less like tea. Welcome, then, to the land where nature stands supersized.
My vision was slowly adjusting to the supersized-ness, where the treetops could seemingly take cover in the clouds, as we pottered along what was supposedly National Highway 52. It was a struggle to average 20 kilometres an hour as the 13-inch rims on the redi-GO were regularly swallowed by potholes, and all of the 185mm of ground clearance was called upon to keep the car from scraping its underside. The suspension managed to limit the discomfort, although the few I managed to miss were beyond its abilities. We barely ever managed to get out of second gear and there was absolutely no indication of the surface improving any time soon. However, the landscape opened up as the trees gave way to lush fields of flora, all thriving in the rain. This gap also meant that we got our first view of the exceptionally green Eastern Himalayas, with clouds wafting along their ridges under a very grey sky.
It was time to tackle the twisties and uphill climbs and we were eager to know how the redi-GO would get along. But, before that, we came across one of the many rain-fed streams that eventually drain into the Lohit river, which, in turn, adds volume to the mighty Brahmaputra. We’d been told about little rafts that took people and cars across the river, but in this kind of weather, we weren’t really looking forward to finding out how they’d do in a raging river. We took a few minutes to grasp the mayhem that lay before us, that we could only hear thus far, to see the mist that formed along the river thanks to it crashing hard against the boulders that were strewn on its bed. To put it in simple English, there was no way in hell that a raft could survive that. Thankfully for us, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) had constructed bridges over these swollen streams and the redi-GO could now simply drive across. Oh, the gratitude we felt at that moment.
Through the drive, however, we realised that apart from the trucks and buses, every car that we had come across was a hatchback, that too the budget kind. And as we started navigating the hills, it was easy to see why. The short wheelbase and compact dimensions make entry-level hatchbacks superbly easy to drive through confined spaces, the kind you come across in the mountains, especially when there are heavy vehicles coming the other way. And in the middle of the wet season, there are stones and bits of trees to drive around, too, courtesy of all the rain pelting down on the mountainside. The plucky little motor took on hairpin bends through the uphill climb, and the narrow, broken tarmac with aplomb. Yes, the body rolls a fair bit through the odd fast corner and to make sure you have enough power, you need to keep downshifting to keep the engine revving at just under 3,000rpm, but apart from that, there’s little to complain about. In fact, it seemed to do quite well in the company of the Nanos, Altos and Eons, which were clearly the most popular cars in the region.
After the little collection of shops in Wakro, it was a while before we came across any sort of civilisation as we continued in our easterly direction. Puri and aloo bhaji had been our constant companions on the drive – all day, every day – and nothing had changed in Arunachal either. Our dreams of eating steamed momos were quickly disappearing and all we had to console ourselves with was the magnificent view of the Lohit’s flood plains to look out upon, something that kept getting better with every bend we rounded to get a little bit higher on the mountain.
It was some time later that we pulled up at a junction with a strangely crowded parking lot with trucks and Sumos around. The idea was to take a break for a cup of tea and give the redi-GO a breather before we attacked the final bit of our journey towards Kibithu, but clearly something wasn’t quite right.
It turned out to be a bit of a dampener, that cup of tea, not because we didn’t like it, but because of the conversation that flowed over it. The news wasn’t good at all: locals narrated stories about trekking across a landslide to get to the Sumos that were ferrying people on the other side of the village. As we sat around sipping tea, another resident from a village closer to Kibithu walked in and ordered for a whisky, seemingly to warm himself, and started chatting with us. Unfortunately, the chat ended with knowledge of yet another landslide just short of Walong, our intended halt for the night. With rain clouds gathering overhead and the pitter-patter of raindrops steadily increasing, it didn’t look like the road would be cleared anytime soon. It was a hard reality to face, especially after giving it a shot and discovering a third slide that had just occurred a short distance down the road. We’d attempted what had sounded like an impossible road trip, just as the redi-GO has decided to lace up its boots for a mother of a fight. Hopefully, though, it will have better luck than we managed after roughing it out for the distance.
Price: Rs 2.49-3.49 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
Engine: 3 cyl, 799cc
Power: 53bhp Torque: 72Nm
0-100kph: 15.9s (claimed)
Top Speed: 140kph (claimed)
Pros: Leg space, exterior styling, ride quality, efficient air-con
Cons: Noisy engine, barebones interior, high boot-lip
Verdict: Datsun is sure going to ruffle a few feathers with the redi-GO as it comfortably undercuts everything out there, including the Kwid. The pricing is low enough to even give the Nano a run for its money.