Images: Hanoz Patel
Sure it does sound unfair. 333 bhp Vs 40 bhp, four wheels Vs two, naturally aspirated vs Supercharged engine, and as if all of that wasn’t unfair enough, we have an AWD system against a lonely little powered wheel. So what exactly were we smoking when we conceived this comparo? Well, to be honest it was us ‘getting’ smoked under a blistering Pune sun during the fag end of April when we took the two machines out – definitely not a good time to shoot in the afternoons. It was probably the heat that got us!
It went like this. After having picked the Ninja 300 from the Probiking showroom in Pune, we headed towards Pune’s very own proving grounds – the blissful twisties of Lavasa. Throughout our journey to the foothills, I nurtured a desire to catch Hanoz from behind the steering wheel of the S4. Problem was, he had long disappeared. With abundant traffic even at 12’O clock in the afternoon and the usual trepidations of public roads peppered all through the way, with all our sensibilities in place, there was no way I could have matched the smaller, nimbler and fly-like Ninja 300, which was more adept at handling the abundant speed breakers too.
‘I would have smoked it on a racetrack’, I thought to myself. ‘But with all that power at hand and safety of four wheels around, what sort of a feat would that be? This very place is where the poor little Ninja has the teeniest of its fighting chances.’ And that’s where the seeds of this contest were sown.
For the uninitiated, the road leading up to Lavasa has scant traffic, offering the Ninja a way to block the more powerful S4. There are a few clear straights too, offering the S4 its own set of benefits. Also, with adrenaline heavy petrol heads frequenting the road, concerned villagers have dotted a good part the road all the way to the Lavasa reservoir with speed breakers. This gives the Ninja another advantage with its ability to clear those obstructions at a much higher speed. The S4 is a low car, and you really have to be careful over the humps, or you’ll hear a scraping noise which wouldn’t really please your ears too much.
Finally, the Ninja has a 0-100 timing of 6.5 seconds or thereabouts. The S4 does the trick in 5.7. But here’s the thing – the S4 is recommended to run on 95 Octane fuel. I am sure we were running on 89. Moreover, that sprint time is applicable with only the driver on, and there were three of us larger than average adults in the cabin, doing our bit to bring its performance down. Moreover, you’d be lucky to find straights more than 100 meter long on the way to Lavasa, so top speed didn’t matter. With the aforementioned factors in the Ninja 300’s favor, it stood a not-so-unfair, if not a fair chance.
The rules of the game were made clear before we started. This was not a race with any academic consequences; this was more of an experience. We were doing it for the joy of motoring, and not to prove a point. At the end of the day, we wanted to discuss the experience, and the not the result.
No overtaking on blind corners. No rash driving. No close calls. Safety would be given paramount importance in all circumstances. And just in case you were wondering, the overtaking images you see on the page were shot later, with staff members deputed on corners to signal a clear road ahead.
With the rules made clear, we shot off from the start of what is popularly known as the Mutha Ghat. With not much in my control with an automatic transmission at work, the Ninja took the holeshot, and with a speed breaker following soon the S4 was relegated to an object in the bike’s mirrors. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with the oddities of India doing their bit to spice things up. The S4 would need minimum traffic interference if it were to maintain its reputation today.
The initial section of the Mutha Ghat is comprised of medium straights with medium to wide uphill corners. A clear stretch after the initial hiccup saw us using the S4’s brute force to get within sniffing distance of the Ninja’s posterior. The Ninja seemed quicker than we had assumed initially, putting S4’s Quattro to good work, as it pulled itself upwards flawlessly along the serpentine road. Even as we followed close on its tail, we marveled at the brilliance of motorcycles. A machine with 10 times less cubic capacity, running on a naturally aspirated engine as opposed to the force fed unit of the car, delivering incomparably better efficiency and still offering its master the thrills which even a supercar can only dream of – amazing!
The quick pace of the Ninja 300, and the blind corner rule meant that we had to back off even as we were in a position take our chances. Smug with all the power at hand, and the relative comfort in keeping pace with the Kwacker, we got our first scare when we saw a rickety old state transport bus ahead, holding a whole train of cars behind it. Arjun, aboard the Ninja 300 got his big chance there, disappearing from our sight within no time. ‘That’s it, we’re going to see him at the top now’, said their expression as I looked at Yatharth and Hanoz, who were with me in the car.
But that was not to be. The very next turn opened an avenue for us where we had e a clear shot at the two of the three cars following the big, red snail. No gaps are small enough with 335 bhp at avail and it didn’t take much before we whizzed past the crawling red tin can too. Having held the traffic behind it, the miserable tin container had unknowingly helped us with a clear road ahead. With Quattro putting all 4 tyres hard at work in dynamic mode, we wrangled with a slightly reluctant steering wheel to roller-coaster our way to find the Green Goblin again.
And it didn’t take too long. On our way down from the summit now, we could smell the Ninja’s smoke once again. The problem, still, was that the straights were not long enough for us to get a clear go. By this time, we had found another bunch of cars, which gave Arjun his chance to build a healthy lead once again.
Having reached the bottom of the valley, where you get a few good straights before ascending back on to the steep hills, we knew we had our opportunity – and we weren’t wrong. The Ninja 300 was duly chased down, but that’s where the speed breakers jumped in to play their part. The section of the road through the Lavasa valley is the most populous part of the drive. Sporadic incidents of bikers having run-ins with local commuters and their kids who often wander on to the road, has led to the construction of scores of speed bumps. This didn’t spell good news for us. The S4 had to be brought almost to a dead halt to prevent scraping its underbelly, while the Ninja happily hopped over those obstructions at slow to moderate speeds. Also, with relatively denser traffic, we saw Arjun aboard the Ninja 300 almost mockingly extend his lead once again. By the time we turned in towards the majestic looking Lavasa dam, the Ninja had a good 75-100 meter lead over the S4.
Hereon, however, the S4 was going to have some things tilted in its own favor. The traffic from this point on is extremely scant, there are no speed breakers and the extremely sharp uphill hairpins would offer the AWD S4 better cornering capability.
Our assumptions were bang on the money, as the very first sharp uphill left hander after the bridge under the dam saw us closing the gap massively on the Ninja. Arjun was probably perplexed with the way the bike behaved as he kicked the bike down two notches, expected engine braking to kick in, tyres to dig into the tar and shoot forth. That’s where the slipper clutch came into play in extremely perceptible manner, slipping away to reduce engine braking and taking our little lad by surprise. Not that he had not observed the lack of bite in the clutch all this while, but will a steep hairpin ahead, he witnessed the technology at work in full force for the first time, unfortunately to his disadvantage. Duly leaned in thus far, Arjun had to stand the bike up momentarily, slowing him down in the process, and bringing us within licking distance of the Ninja.
With no further aid ahead in the form of oncoming cars or speed breakers, the Ninja’s glory days were about to get over. A mild left hander with the valley on the left provided us a good view of the road ahead. A quick flick of the left pedal behind the steering wheel, a shove on the pedal under my right foot, and the Ninja didn’t quite have an answer.
Once having put the green goblin in our rear view mirror, we never waited for it to show up again. With no traffic disrupting us, the ascent all the way up to the little refreshment shack uncannily swift, stamping the authority of the S4 around winding roads. Ample grip from the four wheels, and a ferocious thrust every time we dabbed the pedal extended our lead with every passing corner. Sure, there is a little under-steer on the S4, thanks to the all wheel drive, sure the feel at the steering wheel is a tad too stiff and artificial, but there is no questioning the grip at the tyres, and there’s no doubting the ominous power and torque delivered by that sweet sounding engine.
As we halted at the shack and waited for the Ninja to show, up, it took about 30 ticks on the clock for it to emerge. The Ninja may have been defeated, but it gave an extraordinarily good fight to its four wheeled nemesis. The duel, in the real world, wasn’t as mismatched we may have assumed.
As we set down at the shack to shove down some Bhurji Paav and Jhunka Bhakar, we talked about the experience like little kids with a wide smile plastered across every face. There was no pride of win, there was no shame of loss – it never was about winning or losing anyway. The spirited motoring experience through the inviting twisties provided everyone his share of the adrenaline rush. And that for us, was what really mattered.
If you wish to read as to how these two perform on standalone basis, you may go through the exhaustive individual reviews by hitting the following links: