It all began after I watched the 2005 movie about Burt Munro's inspirational life — "The World's Fastest Indian". So, what's the connection between the World's Fastest Indian and God's Own Country, Kerala? Beaches!
Burt Munro rose to the top of the New Zealand motorcycling scene by racing on the beautiful beaches of his homeland and later went on to set the land speed record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967.
His favourite beach was Oreti, a 26 kilometre stretch of smooth silky sand located in Southland, New Zealand. This gorgeous beach would soon become Munro's testing and racing site.
Today, the Southland Motorcycle Club along with the Munro family organise the Burt Munro Challenge Rally to honour Burt's legacy. As an ode to Burt, one of the stages in the rally is on the Oreti Beach.
Burt Munro's love for racing on these very beaches had me wonder what the best drive-in beaches in India were (if any?).
To my surprise, Kerala is home to the longest drive-in beach at 5.5km in length, which is also the only drive-in beach in Asia.
Located between Kannur and Thalassery, the Muzhappilangad drive-in beach was even featured in a BBC article as one of the top 6 best beach drives in the world.
Intrigued by this new discovery, we set our sights on driving along the shore of India's longest drive-in beach.
Taking a page out of Munro's book, I was inspired. I'm not a racer, and will most definitely not create any racing records. However, here's my story of driving the Toyota Etios Cross* in god's own country.
The stage was set. The winding smooth tarmac amidst the green ghats enroute to Wayanad, was quite a sight.
Curiously, the Etios Cross, a mix of hatchback practicality and trendy SUV style feels at home, and offers decent traction out of the bends with a taut body roll. Low speed maneuverability and turning radius is good too, enabling easy handling through traffic and parking.
The 1.5-litre, 89bhp petrol engine offers good city drivability with smooth power delivery rather than an 'in your face' power delivery. The Etios Cross is also offered in a 1.2-litre, 79bhp petrol, and a 1.4-litre, 67bhp diesel engine.
If you intend to do a bit of off-roading, the Etios Cross has to be handled with care; back off while tackling real off-road terrains. It is advisable to opt for a 4x4 if you intend to do proper off-roading.
After 400kms and a mileage of 10kpl with the air conditioning running throughout, we reached Muzhappilangad beach. The soothing Malabar breeze and picturesque sea view was enough to tempt and have us attempt a crossover manoeuvre.
At 175mm, the decent ground clearance of the Etios Cross and the firm beach sand aided in smooth driving.
With the sun setting over the horizon, we quickly made our way through Kannavam forest to St. Cornelius Church in Kolayad, Kannur district.
Perhaps, it was the majestic Latin-Catholic Church backdrop that made me feel this, but it was only here that I noticed the Etios Cross' bold front grille, exuding a rugged appeal.
When viewed from the side, the distinctive matte black side claddings and alloy wheels are worth a mention.
The interiors are well-kitted out and spacious. The quality is decent and the height-adjustable driver's seat as well as adjustable front and rear headrests make long drives comfortable.
The boot too packs more than what you might expect. At 251-litres, the boot space has enough room for your duffel bag, travel laptop case, and camera gear.
The Etios Cross manages to tick most boxes for us on this drive. With the vehicle now safely parked in, I decided to explore a bit of Kerala on foot. Travel brings out the best in people, I once heard someone say.
I turn into a storyteller, I've been told. Here is my story in a thousand words...
Jobo Kuruvilla Thinks!
For years now, Toyota has held a steady record for its reliability. With the Etios Cross, they've even managed to earn a pretty decent crossover badge. Well done, Toyota.
However, there is one tiny nit to pick. Is the Etios Cross a hatchback that's trying too hard to battle for a slice of the pie in the burgeoning crossover market? Time, as always, is an accurate telling tale.
Toyota Etios Variant Reviewed: Petrol, V variant
+ Decent petrol engine
+ Top-notch air conditioning
+ Comfortable and supportive seats
+ Cabin Space (good shoulder and legroom)
+ Storage spaces (seven 1-litre bottle holders)
- Off-road toughness
- No electrically adjustable ORVMs
- No speed sensing auto door locks
- No touchscreen infotainment system
* The Toyota Etios Cross shares the same platform and mechanicals of the Etios Liva hatchback.