After a brief lunch stop in Latvia, I drive the Duster support vehicle to give Jay a break. “It’s amazing, but extremely tiring, to see the world like this,” he says. Has he ever felt like throwing in the towel? “Never,” he says. “It’s been the most incredible trip. But I have 1200 songs on my phone and I’m bored of every single one of them.”
I keep the Kwid within sight all the way to Lithuania and we park up at our hotel. The team is so battered and bruised from their time on the road that no one can resist the temptation of room service and an early night.
Another 6am start follows. We shovel down three platefuls of breakfast and, as per the morning routine, I set up the sat-navs for both cars, help take down some figures (mileage, temperature, time, date) and share a few laughs with the others to keep spirits up. Then it’s out to the old town in Kaunas. We make frequent photography stops during the day, but the main opportunity is first thing in the morning in a scenic part of whichever town we end up in.
“You can take us into Poland,” Rahul says, handing me the keys to his beloved Kwid. I accept reluctantly, thinking of all the TV shows and magazine features that depend on this car. It hasn’t had a single fault so far – not even a puncture – and I don’t want to be the person to cause one. My accelerator inputs are tentative and my gearshifts almost apologetic as we join the traffic.
The attractive-looking Kwid is comparable in size to a Hyundai i10, a bit longer but slightly narrower, and this one has the new three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine, as opposed to the 0.8-litre model I’ve driven previously.
Although it’s noticeably peppier, it’s still not quick. A total of 67bhp and 67lb ft means that it’s as breathless as an asthmatic OAP with a 40-a-day habit and has no poke whatsoever. By European standards, the only things that stand out about the Kwid are its eyecatching looks and its eye-popping price. This version retails for around £4000. But the car isn’t destined for this continent; it’s not going to muscle in on the budget territory owned by in-house rival Dacia. In India, where most cars on the road are dangerously poor, the Kwid has become a best-seller in a colossal market that has proved impossible for some manufacturers to crack.
The interior might incline you to think that the car costs twice its actual price. Cabin space is generous and air-con, as well as a touchscreen infotainment system, are standard with this engine.
But once you drive it, the costcutting becomes obvious. The steering is feather light and vague, especially at speed, not helped by the tiny, 13in wheels and skinny tyres. It’s difficult to get any sort of feel for what the front end is doing, although it could have been much worse if they hadn’t switched to Ceat winter tyres in China. The lowspeed ride is pretty jerky and under any acceleration whatsoever the engine moans like a teenager forced to watch Question Time. There’s also a lot of noise and vibration to contend with, although the fivespeed gearbox is at least fairly slick. But this is one of the cheapest cars in the world, remember. That it hasn’t disintegrated in the rain is a marvel, but this Kwid has made it nearly halfway around the world.
As we head towards Warsaw, the roads widen but the weather worsens and crosswinds shake the Kwid on its axles. An ultra-light kerb weight of 700kg causes a battle with the steering wheel to keep on the straight-ahead. The snow stops and the skies clear, offering postcardperfect rolling hills as far as the eye can see, blindingly white from the glare of the sun. Even with snow underfoot, the Kwid doesn’t miss a beat. It had a planned service in Kazakhstan. The check included an oil change, coolant top-up and a new air filter and oil filter, but apart from that, it has needed no intervention from an engineer. Miraculous.