The Agra-Lucknow expressway has been in the news recently and comes as a boon for travellers to the city of nawabs. The expressway is claimed to cut down travel time from Delhi to Lucknow from eight hours to just five hours. For a distance of more than 500 km, the expressway is going to have multiple benefits for the economy as well. The landing of fighter planes at its inauguration day was not just a grand launch since the expressway has a stretch that is about 3 kilometres long and can support landing/ take-off for Indian Air Force planes in times of an emergency. While all of this sounds great, the reality is that the Agra-Lucknow expressway is far from completion.
For whatever political reasons, the expressway has been opened early to commuters, there are several shortcomings and dangers to watch out for right now on India's longest expressway. We drove to Lucknow in a Toyota Innova Crysta to find out the condition of the expressway and it turned out to be an eye-opener. Here's what you should look out for:
The Agra-Lucknow expressway is supposed to be connected to the Yamuna expressway but right now it isn't due to a railway overbridge being incomplete. This means you need to get off the Yamuna expressway from the exit towards Kanpur. Once on the old road, continue straight and do not take a u-turn for Agra. You'll need to drive for about 75 km till you reach a town called Shikohabad. After crossing Shikohabad, you'll come across a toll after about 5 km. Once you pay Rs 25 here, you'll see signs indicating the point to get onto the Agra-Lucknow expressway.
Once you take a left for the new expressway, there comes a 2.5 metres high barrier, which presently allows only vehicles below this height to ply on the expressway. The moment one crosses this barrier, signs become evident that the expressway is far from completion. The entry to the expressway does not even have a boundary and has sand on both sides.
Once onto the expressway, one is greeted with cars coming in the wrong direction, pretty much at you. That's because only one side of the expressway for the first few kilometres is open since the other side isn't ready yet. Seeing construction vehicles is a common sight across the length of the expressway as dividers are being worked upon, poles for traffic signs are being dug into and many places only one side of the road is operational. One needs to be very careful here since some drivers were driving like lunatics from the opposite side. We advise our readers to be extra careful on these stretches and flash their headlamps frequently.
Right now there are no facilities on the expressway so please ensure you have enough fuel and food to get you through the distance. In case of any assistance, the only back-up is the UP police patrol units and the good thing is that you can spot them every few kilometres so, in case of any emergency, help shouldn't be too far.
In terms of general safety, we would advise people to avoid travelling at night as there aren't many people around. During the day, there's construction happening all along the expressway so there are enough people all the time.
We took a total of 8.5 hours to reach Lucknow from Delhi as the 75 km stretch from Agra to Shikohabad had many towns along the way and hence traffic congestion.
Although construction is happening at a war footing, it should take at least another month before the expressway is complete. Expect another two months or so before petrol pumps and eateries come up. Right now, there are no toll gates and hence the ride is free for all.
The good thing about the expressway is that it's made of tarmac and not cement like the Yamuna expressway. This means tyre-roll noise is less and the tyres don't heat up as much as they do on a cement surface. This should translate into better safety as most accidents on the Yamuna expressway are a result of tyres bursting due to excessive heat build-up. The quality of the expressway surface too is good and driving over it at the speed limit of 100 km/h in most place is a breeze.
The Agra-Lucknow expressway once complete will be a world-class infrastructure with multiple socio-economic benefits. For now, though, there is some time to go before it's fully complete and till then commuters are advised to use this road with caution.
We chose the Toyota Innova Crysta for this journey and there's more than one good reason why. The Innova has always been known for the comfort it offers to the occupants, owing to the seats, space and ride quality. The new Innova Crysta has only bettered its predecessor and the variant we drove was the top one with a 2.8 litre turbocharged diesel engine, an automatic gearbox and captain seats in the middle-row.
Most of our driving on this journey involved highway runs and less of curves but we did get to experience some rough patches due to construction on the Agra-Lucknow expressway. We also had to go through some crowded towns such as Ferozabad and Shikohabad as the link from Yamuna expressway to Agra-Lucknow expressway isn't ready yet.
On smooth tarmac, the Innova Crysta performed well and significantly better than the previous Innova. It felt significantly more stable at high speed and was more composed during hard braking. The company claims the chassis is more rigid than earlier and the results are easy to spot, however, this is where I think Toyota missed an opportunity by not going for a monocoque chassis. While the Innova Crysta feels more stable than the earlier Innova, it doesn't feel at home beyond 140 km/h, especially if going over mild undulations on the road. Going in for a monocoque frame would certainly have raised the cost but at more than Rs 20 lakh, this version of the Innova Crysta isn't cheap exactly.
The ride quality though is spot-on and at urban and highway speeds, occupants are barely exposed to the shocks arising out of irregular road surface or potholes, thanks to the soft suspension setup. Owing to the same setup, there's a fair amount of body-roll but it comes in only when turning hard, something the vehicle isn't meant to do so no complaints here. Maneuverability however could've been better as the Innova Crysta doesn't feel too eager to change direction and in heavy traffic it can be a bit bothersome after a while.
However, if you're mostly going to be in the middle-row, there's hardly anything to complain of in the Innova Crysta. The captain seats offer impressive comfort and will easily accommodate people of different sizes. Legroom and headroom shouldn't be an issue even for tall/ large occupants and the interiors too look rich and premium, compared to the older Innova. The individual roof-mounted air-conditioning unit for the middle-row features a blue-lit borderline and not just looks cool but makes the cabin cool too quickly. The pull-down tables at the back of the front seats can easily be used to have food or to place your laptop for work. Moving further to the last row, it's easy to spot the space is suitable only for two adults at best. I never recommend kids to be seated in last rows since it can be more dangerous for kids in the last row in case of being rear-ended. For short runs, the seat should be fine for most people but it isn't going to be comfortable for a long journey.
Watch: Toyota Innova Crysta 2.8 Litre Diesel Automatic Review
The 2.8 litre engine develops 171 hp and 360 Nm of torque between 1,200 and 3,400 rpm. The engine itself is quite responsive with hardly any turbo-lag and the motor doesn't feel strained even at 150 km/h. There are two driving modes too – Eco and Power, both of which change the nature of the engine and transmission exactly the way their names suggest. In Power mode, one can hold on longer to higher revs and remains largely in the meat of the powerband, as a result of which acceleration is always available at the dab of the throttle.
Despite all this, the Innova Crysta doesn't drive as well as the engine suggests and the reason for that is the six-speed automatic transmission. This unit is a torque-convertor type but it simply isn't as smart as the engine, as a result of which under quick acceleration, the engine revs quite high and there's a perceivable amount of lag before the shift is executed. However, under gentle throttle inputs, things go along in an acceptable manner.
The Toyota Innova Crysta is a massive improvement over the older Innova and that in itself is a major compliment. The vehicle does exactly what buyers expect from it and in terms of comfort, it beats some of the more expensive European vehicles too. Yes, there are areas of improvements including the ladder-on-frame chassis and the slow automatic transmission but these aren't core reasons for which anyone would buy the Innova Crysta.
With the Tata Hexa, the Innova Crysta might feel a bit expensive for similar levels of equipment but Toyota's reliability record and strong resale value cannot be ignored. Driving the Toyota Innova Crysta through the Delhi-Agra-Lucknow expressway was a great decision in hindsight as it brought out the strengths and weaknesses of both.