Royal flush: Celebrating one year of the Renault Kiger in India
It seems like there's no dearth of a taste for royalty, or optimism, for inhabitants of hill stations around India. Look up some of the famous ones, erstwhile colonial summer retreats especially, and you'll quickly find they all proudly proclaim to be the queen of the hills. In North India alone, you'll find two famous examples (Mussoorie and Darjeeling, if you're interested), while in the south, that distinction is taken by Ooty, now a thriving town (verging on city, really) nestled in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. To avoid the clash between those northern towns we mentioned, the other famous hill getaway here - Kodaikanal - has been christened the Princess of Hills. And it's only fitting that the car (and its achievements) we're celebrating on this journey is worthy of being the king of the segment - the Renault Kiger.
Legend has it that its name was derived from kaiser (or emperor), so the analogy fits well enough. In the year that it's been on sale, the Kiger has only gone from strength to strength, being one of Renault India's top volume drivers, with its most recent accomplishment coming in the form of it crossing the magic one lakh sales milestone, and cementing its popularity with Indian car buyers. Not to mention the other accolades that have poured in, being one of five cars all over the world shortlisted for the prestigious World Car Awards this year. For the Kiger, a made-in-India, for India and the world, that's high praise. Of course, the fact that it's also been awarded a praiseworthy adult occupant protection 4-star rating by the Global NCAP is further validation that there's more than meets the eye with the Kiger.
We can attest, in our own humble way. From the first time that we got behind the wheel of the Kiger a year back, to driving it through the Nilgiris to Kodaikanal, it remains as impressive as ever for more reasons than one. First, in just how much larger than life it appears. It may be a sub-4 metre SUV, on the specifically-engineered CMF-A+ platform, but it may as well be from a segment above. It packs in more than enough space for your entire family, two-legged or four, as the case may be. The large glasshouse isn't just great for letting you better appreciate the absolutely stunning views in the Nilgiris; as it turns out, the windows are also situated at a great height for your furry friends to satiate their curiosity. Which means they're also ideally placed for your children to take in the scenery from the safety and comfort of their seats.
That's a good thing, given how scarce we find words to be when it comes to describing the beauty of these hills, and the sights of the national parks, eucalyptus forests and tea plantations along the way. It seems you can barely go wrong when it comes to picking accommodation either, with great views either way, though we did get very lucky with stonewall heritage rooms placed right in the middle of tea plantations at Atwood, Coonoor. Note, the Nilgiris offers up choice. Want more excitement and touristy spots? Ooty is your best bet. Want serenity and more of a small town feel? Coonoor's the choice for you.
In case you were wondering, the Nilgiris, or neelam-giri (blue-hills), get their name from seemingly being perpetually enveloped in a blue haze that refracts sunlight in ways that take your breath away. Especially at each of the 36 serpentine hairpins as you climb, or descend. The best part is there's no one route to get from the Nilgiris down to the plains, and then climb back across the Palani hills to Kodaikanal.
No less than two routes are served up, each with their own appeal and vistas to appreciate. Personally, the route via Kothagiri-Mettupalyam to Coimbatore wins, especially when travelling downhill. It's the perfect chance to put the Kiger's 1.0-litre turbocharged engine to the test, paired as it is with the smoothest, most intuitive CVT in the segment. It's for occasions such as this that the L mode on the gearbox comes in handy, holding revs and upping engine braking on the way down, whilst keeping you in the meat of the powerband for overtakes. And given how well controlled the body movements on the Kiger are, your passengers won't have reason to fault you slipping the car into the sportiest of its drive modes (another segment-first, mind you) and feeding your enthusiasm.
That powerful engine also makes short work of the drive through the plains, and the climb up to Kodaikanal, which immediately makes the plains worth it. As you climb, and if you time it right, you'll catch the sun setting over the magnificent Palar dam. Driving into Kodaikanal, which differs slightly from Ooty/Coonoor in being "discovered" by American Christian missionaries and not the British, you'll immediately notice that as commercial as it has become, the fact that it's centred around a 60-acre manmade lake makes it appear almost otherworldly. If it weren't for civilisation a short way away, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was straight out of a fairy tale. The city itself sits on a plateau of the Upper Palani hills of the Western Ghats, which means any direction you drive out to has you tackling more hills. In fact, Kodai offers up brilliant views of the city from barely a few minutes away from the city centre. If you know where to look, that is. Hint: your best view of the city is at a place that's named exactly that - City View.
Loaded up with artisanal chocolates, and more cheese than we knew what to do with, we're also glad the Kiger has an equally larger than life-sized cooled glovebox to keep the little edible mementos of the trip fresh for the drive onwards. That, and the wireless smartphone integration for navigation and music, are just some of the many touches that make the Kiger such a great family SUV. It's also worth remembering, cars from many segments up still don't offer quite the same breadth of features. From the Queen of hills, to the Princess of hills, and dare we say, the king of compact SUVs, it's been a trip worth remembering.
Photography by Sumit Gaikwad
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