Green Getaway

Modified On Dec 19, 2013 05:36 PM By Kunal Kelkar

The world is moving towards an era of eco-friendliness.  In the city of Mumbai itself, there are signs everywhere saying, “Clean Mumbai, Green Mumbai.” It hits a few where as many don’t bother about it, but it is a very important matter. In a country like India, the statistic reads 15 cars to every 1000 people, showing that there is huge potential for growth in the automobile sector. That may be a great statistic for the economy but environmentally that shows a potential increase in carbon levels in the atmosphere as well as depletion in fossil fuels, making the world a harsher place to live in. Luckily we are still not at that point yet.

As petrol heads or OctaneAddicts, as we call them at CarDekho, we look forward to burning that fuel to experience the thrill and the speed the manufacturers offer with their powerful V8, V10 and V12 engines. When it comes to putting pedal to metal, drifting around corners or pushing the car to it’s limits, fuel is something that is barely thought of, but in today’s day and age where fuel prices are on the hike north, I personally, as an octane addict and an environmentalist do feel a little sunken every time I go to the gas station and watch the cash numbers roll up on the meter. It is the same amount of fuel that goes into my tank, but it seems that every time I leave the pump, my pockets get lighter and lighter.

A solution to this, one may suggest is to go in for an electric car or a hybrid, but those cars are boring and feel like glorified play stations. Cars like Tesla and Fisker are not sold in India, so what can I drive that can still put a smile on my face and at the same time be a civilized cruiser capable of giving me great fuel mileage? “Is there such a car in the Indian market?” I asked myself. Going green to people means making a lot of compromises. And compromising is something that humans do not like to do, especially us Indians.

Pick up the keys, hit the unlock button, open the door, get in the driver’s seat, push the ignition button and turn the car on. The question is, when do you so; does your car return the favour? I heard that last line in a television commercial once and didn’t really understand what it meant until I sat in the BMW 320d Sportline. There was an instant rush as the car started running. With the pistons pumping, spark plugs firing and the valves clicking, as the car warms up, it is pretty obvious that the engine is a diesel. On the inside though, it is a whole different story. The insulation is great and the whole dashboard seemed to wrap around the driver’s seat making it a very driver centric car.

The black leather and black interiors with red trim gave the BMW a very plush feel and the quality of the equipment used was top notch as well. It did feel great to be seated in what BMW used to call, “the ultimate driving machine.” 

Setting the air conditioner to the lowest temperature and shifting the tiptronic gear to the “D” position and I made my way through the city to the expressway connecting Mumbai to Pune. The destination in sight was about 95kms away. A tree house resort called The Machan, which I shall get to in a bit.

 The ride of the 320d in the city limits, going over the potholes and the speed breakers did seem a little stiff and rough but on the smooth road of the expressway, the red BMW seemed to glide without the slightest jitter. 

The 320d EfficientDynamics Sportline comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder diesel engine that in no way, except at start up and idle, feels like a standard diesel car. The refinement is pristine.

Now for those of you who are thoroughly confused as to what I am on about and the connection between being green, a tree house in Lonavala and a BMW let me give you some perspective.

About 18 years ago, a family set out to find the perfect spot for a weekend getaway, close to the city but at the same time so secluded that the feeling of being away from the city was just natural. That family did end up acquiring about 25 acres of land in the heart of the tropical forests of the Western Ghats. Unfortunately as they say, the land was scarred by continuous slash and burns for cultivation and was completely covered in weeds. They took it upon themselves as a mission to restore what man had taken away from nature. After fencing this land and blocking it from further felling and destruction, they started with implementing water harvesting methods and set up a hybrid solar and wind system to provide electricity for their land. Water holes were dug and paths were built around the property for constant patrolling.

As the forest started healing itself, the family decided that this location would be a great place for their weekend/holiday home. The man of the house designed a bamboo machan, similar to the one Jim Corbett used for hunting and scouting and then they finally got it constructed on the property. Up in the canopy of a fig tree the machan stood, overlooking the rolling hills of the ghats. 

Over the years the location became more of a permanent home of the family and they decided to build more of a permanent structure up in the trees. Hence was born what is now called the “Hertiage Machan.” A three level construction about 40 feet in the air, supported on four pillars and a tree growing right through the centre, the heritage machan is a magnanimous structure, uniquely engineered to give the best views of the valley, at the same time the very luxury of a home. 

In 2009, the family opened up its pristine views of the valley to the world, and “The Machan” became a unique resort for those wanting to be one with nature without any compromises.

This is exactly where the 320d EfficientDynamics comes into the picture. If I told you about three to four years ago, that you could buy a BMW 3-series that could do 0-100km/h in less than nine seconds and still get approximately 20km/l while emitting less than 120g/km of carbon dioxide, you would probably commission me straight to crazyville.

Yet I am here, doing a story with the BMW 320d EfficeintDynamics. It does it all and is a step above. The beauty of this car is that it lets you go green WITHOUT any compromises, just like The Machan.

Let’s get back to the trip. The BMW has five driving modes that specify the transmission control and the power delivery. The modes being, “Comfort,” which is the default mode, every time the car is turned on the system reverts the settings to Comfort mode. Hit the control arrow up and the 320 takes an aggressive stance in “Sport” mode, hit it again and the revs go higher, there is an immediate down shift in gear and off goes the ESP, unleashing all it’s rage in “Sport+” mode. Instead of hitting the control button up from the Comfort setting, tapping it down puts the car in what BMW calls “ECO” mode, allowing for optimum shifts ands better mileage. Tap the control once again and now the car becomes a mileage machine. “ECO PRO” mode delivers perfect shifts and uses engine breaking and coasting to charge the car battery. The Start/Stop mode also becomes active, turning the engine off every time the car comes to a halt and turning it back on when the foot is taken off the break. 

I drove the 320D in ECO PRO mode most of the journey as I wanted to see how green the car really was. On the way up the ghats, towards Lonavala, the BMW gave me an amazing mileage of 18km/l and by the time I reached the road toward Aamby valley I was getting about 17.7km/l. At this point I decided to put the car in “Sport” mode to enjoy the bends and the great road that lay ahead of me.

The stability and handling of this car was phenomenal and made for a very fun filled trip up the hill. The shifts were spot on and the steering was extremely responsive. As I made my way up the road, I came up on a fork at which point I had to take a left, following the signposts for a place called the Hilton Shillim. 

At about 900m from the fork, the road narrows and on the left, two big-whitewashed boulders guard the dirt trail to a gate. We drove down. The gates were shut. My colleague stayed with the car as I went in search for someone to open it. Unfortunately there was no cellular service either hence making a call was impossible. After the short trek down to the reception I was greeted by the welcoming smile and a firm handshake of the owner/manager of the Machan.

We got the car down the artificially created cement path and parked it by the Reception, a wooden structure, open all around with a few couches and lounge chairs, over-looking a small pond. The ambience was serene! The soundtrack playing in the background, the wind blowing through the trees, water running and the birds chirping, all together created a never-ending track that was being played on Nature’s best speakers. The BMW sound system didn’t stand a chance.

After a quick tour of the property we were escorted to a specially built structure called the Canopy Machan. Supported centrally and then suspended about 45feet above the ground, the Canopy Machan is by far one of the best hotel rooms I have experienced till date. A mixture of metal, wood and glass, this structure is about 800sq.ft and extremely luxurious. It is like having your own house up in the trees.

 I like to call myself an established photographer but trust me when I say that even the photographs do no justice to the serenity and awe-filled luxury provided by this place. Remember that feeling I described earlier in the article, that rush I got once I hit the ignition of the 320d, well step into the attached balcony and that feeling was immediate goose bumps! Valley views all round. The Machan is located in the ever green belt of the Western Ghats, so what had to dry up and turn yellow had already done so, leaving the landscape a patchwork of blue, yellow and green. 

Being close to nature in the mind of anyone, usually refers to camping in the woods, a tent, sitting by the bonfire wrapped up in a blanket protecting oneself from the cold breeze eating some sandwiches or something that is pre-cooked. All this relates to compromise. Compromising one’s lifestyle to be one with nature. At the Machan, it is none of that. The experience here is unique and exquisite, one of a kind. The luxury of a five-star room, room service, yet at the same time breath-taking views wherever you move your neck.

Lunch for us was served like it is for everyone else, on a picnic table in the woods under the shade of the trees. Home cooked food with a wide variety of dishes. Every meal is like that, and the staff is extremely helpful and ever smiling. The best aspect of the food in at this location is that it is cooked by directing the sun’s rays with the help of a parabolic cooker on to the vessel used for cooking. Even the food here is cooked by sunlight.

After a chat with the owner we found out that the property is completely off the Maharashtra state grid. The property produces so much electricity via solar and wind that they, without any charge, supply the extra electricity to the neighboring village school and a few homes. I was taken aback. It kept coming back to me, no compromise. They wanted to be free from the state for electricity and water, hence they put in the effort and without any compromises set up a system that keeps them and the neighboring village sustained throughout the year, without any problems. The Machan is self-sufficient.

The property has the main Heritage Machan, three Canopy Machans and 3 Forest Machans (mainly for honeymooners equipped with lavish outdoor showers and two person tubs) and all this along with the kitchen, workers quarters, reception etc is being powered by nature. The wind had the windmill spinning all night and through out the next day. Now both my colleague and I are pretty out-doorsy guys. Both of us have had our fair share of camping and exploring in the woods but here amidst the forest, in a pseudo-tented structure, suspended in the air looking over the valley with uncountable stars at night was an experience second to none.

After a long night of shooting, the next day was our last day at this awesome property. The morning was blissful. As the sun illumined the valley and the distant hills I decided to take the BMW for a drive along the road up towards Aamby Valley. Since it was early I put the car in “Sport+” mode and had a chance to open up the taps and really feel the power of the two-litre engine. The 320d did not disappoint at all and in no way did it feel like a diesel unless I was at a low rpm. Each corner was enjoyable and was taken with ease. Keep the revs up to eliminate turbo lag and neither the car nor I was stressing getting into a bend at relatively faster speeds. On the straights the downshifts were instant and the power delivery was phenomenal. The car felt like a composed attack dog relaxing in the yard but delivering on command. Once done with the drive up, I switched the car back to “ECO PRO” and enjoyed the easy drive back.

An elaborate lunch with the owner and it was time to head back for Mumbai. As much as I didn’t want to leave the blissful serenity of the Machan, I was looking forward to driving the BMW back. 

Some reluctant goodbye’s later we made our way back to the expressway. Back in “ECO PRO” mode and maintaining a constant speed of 75km/h, to my amazement the mileage shown as we got off the expressway was 35.8km/l. Now that is an astonishing number. I did not expect a luxury car to deliver such a great figure even though I was taking my time and easing the car through the ghats and doing my best never to cross 80km/h, pushing it to give me the best numbers possible. The eight-speed transmission on the 320d is a piece of engineering that really defines “EfficientDynamics.” The gearbox is very smart keeping the optimum rpm to maintain constant speed. The ride down was much more enjoyable than the ride up. As I reached home the mileage gauge was showing 19.9km/l.

That evening as I lay in bed, thinking of how I wanted to be back in the comfortable bed of the Machan, the music I was listening to transitioned to a song that I had really enjoyed listening to in the car and my thoughts went back to the BMW. The 320d performed exceptionally well on the way up. I had more than enough comfort than required and my fuel gauge had barely fallen bellow the “full” mark. By the time I reached Mumbai on the way back, my fuel was litreally 4 points less on the fuel gauge, still right by the “Full” mark. Meaning to say that I could easily go the whole week driving around in the city without having to tank up and still probably achieving a fuel mileage of about 18km/l and emitting about 110g/km of carbon dioxide. That’s what I call going Green in Luxury. Now I can see as to why BMW changed their slogan to “Joy is BMW.”  

Getting back to my question of, “is there a car that can put a smile on my face as well as be an eco-friendly cruiser?” well I think I have found my answer. Just as the Machan, with all its five star amenities, is still as close to Nature as camping in the woods without any compromises, the BMW 320d EfficentDynamics is what I would say is the answer to the octane addict yet eco-nerd’s dilemma of sacrificing automobile fun to go green. If you haven’t experienced either the BMW 320d or The Machan, do make it a point to do so as soon as possible. Both are perspective-altering experiences in their own way. Together the experience is surreal. As a automobile enthusiast yet a nature lover the BMW 320d EfficientDynamics did let me enjoy the thrill of the drive without having the guilt of burning up a tank of gas for a short weekend vacation.

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