Honda India’s initiative for journalists, called the Drive to Discover, provides an escape from the mundane. It’s a chance to drive Honda cars on new routes, which often results in exploring the lesser-known parts of the brilliant driving landscape that India has to offer. This year, it also presented a unique opportunity to sample a brand new Honda, one that’s been hotly awaited not just because of Honda’s absence from the segment, but also to serve as a worthy alternative to established models from other brands. It’s the Honda Elevate compact SUV, and joining it on our drive through the North East were the Honda Amaze compact sedan and the tech-loaded Honda City e:HEV.

We begin our journey in Siliguri, West Bengal, which serves as a gateway to the North-East especially if one is headed to Sikkim, our first destination on this driving adventure. Our chosen mode of travel was the new Elevate. The SUV might be new to the market, but it shows Honda’s understanding of the Indian customer. The composure of the SUV is commendable; it comes with a 1.5-litre engine, which can be specced with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-step CVT automatic; however, it was the Elevate’s bold styling which really captured our attention. With the streets of Gangtok decorated for Christmas, the Elevate blended quite well with what appeared to be a scene straight out of a European vista. On that high, we ended day one of our journey, ready for a more extensive drive the following day.

A tour-de-force

Sikkim is heavenly, and the second day of our drive proved just that. We headed out in the brilliant Honda City Hybrid or e:HEV, as Honda likes to call it. The car is a tour-de-force when it comes to hybrid technology, and we thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the car on our way to Nathu La. As the border crossing between India and China, at 14,140 feet above sea level, Nathu La is a very prominent mountain pass, and being there felt a bit surreal, since we had scaled this height in the City without doing any hard work. The views here, as well as the Tsong Mo Lake, are breathtaking and a solid reason to make a trip, especially if testing a range of Hondas is involved.

The Elevate’s composure is commendable and it delivered on its promise of providing superb ride comfort across a variety of terrains

The Elevate’s composure is commendable and it delivered on its promise of providing superb ride comfort across a variety of terrains

The third car — admittedly not as high-tech as the City Hybrid or as new as the Elevate — was the Amaze. Despite its relative age it shone brightly when it came to manoeuvring our way around the streets of Gangtok. It’s the right size for the urban Indian environment, and in the absence of its hatchback counterpart (the much-loved Brio), it is the most affordable Honda on the market right now. The formula is pretty much like the other two Hondas: well-sorted ride and handling, a strong powertrain (a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated petrol), and an optional CVT gearbox. Unlike some of its rivals, the Amaze has done respectably well in crash tests, and on the move, too, it feels stable — for its size. A very competent package, one would say.

A trip to Sikkim is incomplete without live music, and after hours of driving and being amidst arresting scenery (it’s hard work, we know), a local band did their bit in making the second day of this year’s Drive to Discover even more memorable.

If you thought a drive to Nathu La would be the only highlight of this trip, you’d be wrong, because Day 3 was still in store. It gave us the chance to enjoy some uninterrupted time behind the wheel before reaching Pelling. Stood not too far from us was the magnificent Kanchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world, with its snow-capped peak basking in the warm sun.

As we progressed to Yuksom, we switched back to the Elevate, and the SUV continued to deliver on its promise of providing superb ride comfort across a variety of terrains. We made our way to Kalimpong to conclude the day with yet another musical performance, now around a bonfire. Also on the cards was a visit to Darjeeling, and a drive surrounded by tea estates ensued. This included an exclusive tour of a popular tea estate, where we learnt that a large percentage of Darjeeling tea is exported to Japan. Quite fitting that we came here in a Honda, then.

The drive back to Siliguri gave us a chance to reflect on our journey and choose a favourite. The Elevate did everything that it was tasked with, and it impressed us with its versatility. For a new Honda in 2023 (and beyond), it ticks many boxes. The Amaze didn’t let affordability take away its everyday capabilities — it still would be our pick of the lot for driving in and around Gangtok. But on the whole, it’s pretty impossible to not like the Honda City e:HEV more than anything else. It’s one of a kind, takes care of both fuel economy and emissions, and for something that’s loaded to the gills with tech, it doesn’t require a commercial pilot licence to drive around.

If there’s one takeaway from this edition of Drive to Discover, it’s that while we thoroughly enjoyed driving these capable cars, Honda has set the bar very high with this edition. We wonder what will come after this — and we aren’t only talking about the exploratory drives, but the cars that make them possible, too.

© Motoring World