The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away: Karun Chandhok’s … sensible estate?

by Charlotte Vowden
13 December 2023 4 min read
The One That Got Away: Karun Chandhok’s … sensible estate?
Chandhok at Suzuka during his F1 days. (Getty Images)

“It’s a little bit mad considering I’d just done a 24-hour race, but I drove back home from Le Mans in the Audi A6 as soon as the race finished. I left the circuit at 3 o’clock and was back in London by 9.30pm; the 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine just burbled along the motorway. It was a comfy car – my dad was with me and he slept for most of the journey. This was in 2013, when I was with a team called Murphy Prototypes.

My first love was race cars and motor racing, specifically Formula 1 and Le Mans. I was always much more interested in the front wing of a 1992 Williams than whatever Ferrari was on the road. For me, road cars are very much a vehicle to get from A to B, and I’ve always leaned toward something practical. I love an estate. They are less heavy and bulky than an SUV, more aero-drag efficient than an SUV, and you can get more stuff in them. I’ll have estates until manufacturers stop making them.

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I very rarely do test drives before I get cars, which is a bit of a stupid thing to do, but I’m lucky I work in an industry where I can call friends for advice. I trust their judgement and go with it. Before the A6, which was dark metallic grey, I’d had an Audi S4. It was great fun, but it drank fuel. Going from the A4 platform to the 6 was a natural progression, and it was much more economical, yet powerful. It would do 550 miles to a tank and was quick when you needed to overtake. Bizarrely, it had less turbo lag than the S4. I took it to Italy and drove it through the hills around Mont Blanc, and it was really good to have a bit of bottom-end torque.

2013 Audi A6 front 3/4
Karun put many miles on an A6 S-Line just like this one. (Photo courtesy YouTube/Prestige Cars Agent)

When I got the A6, which I think they called the S-Line sport edition, I was driving all over the country. I was doing TV, racing sports cars, and just starting out in Formula E. The race team [Mahindra Racing] was based at Donington Park in the Midlands and I lived in London, so I spent a lot of time schlepping up the M1. I figured I might as well use my road trips to learn something, so I guess I was one of the early conduits to podcasts. They’re a great way to decompress after a race weekend or track day because your mind goes into what you’re listening to, which helps you to separate from what you’ve been doing. I enjoy listening to shows about politics, history, and sport; especially cricket or cycling. For longer drives, I switch to audiobooks, because with work and kids it’s quite hard to find time to sit and read.

At the time, the A6’s interface was right up there with the best of the lot. It felt like somebody had really thought through where all the switches and buttons should be on the centre console and steering wheel; it was intuitive. Unfortunately, the VW group haven’t really moved on, and the systems in their cars now feel a bit tired.

My wife and I are lucky because we road-trip in a similar manner; we are of the ‘efficiency’ school rather than the ‘let’s stop and have picnic’ school. When we pull into the gas station we’re like, ‘right, let’s make this process as quick as possible’. One fills the gas while the other goes in to get the sandwiches. One goes to the loo while the other one pays the bill. Then one gets the coffee while the other one uses the loo. We’re back in the car and on the move in no time at all.

Pre-kids, when the two of us could just jump in it [the A6] and go, we tended to road-trip a reasonable amount. We’d go to the Lake District and mooch around there for a few days, or take the Channel Tunnel to Europe. Once we were on the train, we’d have our picnic on the bonnet of the car so that when we got to the other side … away we go. When we went to the Lake District for the first time, on our first day there we bumped into a local gentleman when we were out for a walk. He took the time to plot out this amazing drive, which took us past seven lakes in one day and ended by taking us through the stunning Kirkstone Pass into Ambleside.

I had the A6 on a lease and ended up going over the mileage, even though I’m only in the country for around two thirds of the year because I go away to India for the winter. But I’d park it up, come back, and it would fire up straight away. It never missed a beat. It was just a classic German Audi – a reliable, solid workhorse that did everything you wanted it to do.

I’ve never been able to replace it with something that has the same fuel economy, chassis dynamics, engine response, and power. You’re on a highway to nowhere with diesel nowadays because of emission laws, so I’ve had to switch to an A6 petrol, which is fine; the chassis is still good and the car is still decent, but the engine of that 3.0-litre twin turbo was just incredible. I do miss having it as a daily driver.

There is one road car I’ve always fancied: an old Mini. So, during lockdown I bought myself an old Cooper S as an ‘I’m feeling sorry for myself and I’m bored at home‘ present. My wife was furious because I made her sell her BMW Mini when we had kids, as we couldn’t get the stroller in it. She was livid for about three months after I bought the Cooper, even though I explained it was a completely different car! She’s Canadian and grew up there and never learned to drive a manual, so that fuelled the fire.

We have the A6 and an electric Hyundai IONIQ 5 for our everyday cars, so the Mini is the only thing that we’ve got which is purely for driving pleasure rather than practicality. I do the school run in it, go for meetings and potter around the country lanes; it’s a summer plaything and the kids love it. I’ll try and keep the Mini for as long as I can. It would be cool to pass it down to my kids one day, if it’s still going!”

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