Don't Just Speed, Feed!

BY Joel Tam

To Malacca and back. Over two days. With less than a tank of diesel. We join Volkswagen on an epic trip up north to sample good food and great cars.

Photos: Low Fai Ming

'Mid-week madness' took on a new meaning when we embarked on a historic trip with Volkswagen on tuesday. Over a two-day driving excursion, we were given the chance to drive a line-up of diesel-powered Volkswagens, specially prepared for this inaugural media drive-up with their TDI models.

The journey started with all of us meeting at Volkswagen's Macpherson showroom at 8:30 am. After a briefing from the crew, we were paired up and given a selection of cars to pick from for the first leg of the drive. For the trip up to Malacca, Volkswagen had prepared for us a challenge; the team/car with a fuel consumption figure closest to the manufacturer's claimed figures will win a prize.

Needless to say, it was going to be a challenging task. Even more so, as I was paired up with Sheldon Trollope from EVO Singapore. Two editors from performance-oriented publications don't make a good team for eco driving.

So who won? Read on to find out...

Our car was the Passat 2.0 TDI with 140 bhp and a useful 320 Nm of torque. The figure to beat (or get close to) was the Passat's combined cycle of 5.2 l/100 km, and the challenge started once we turned out of the showroom. The gurus of driving holidays, Wheels For Fun, were our facilitators during the drive, and we convoyed through early morning traffic to make our way to the second link.

After passing through the checkpoints, the cars regrouped and blasted up the North-South Highway in unison. Sheldon and myself made a good effort to do our best in this challenge and kept throttle-discipline during the drive up, keeping in mind the only rule for the challenge; that the last car had to be no more than 5 minutes away from the first car, upon arrival at the end-point. Sheldon being the more experienced 'eco' driver, made use of both the cruise control and optimal rev count to keep the consumption as low as possible.

This wasn't just a driving trip though, as mentioned earlier, the road trip incorporated a food trail as well. Bak Kut Teh, Yong Tao Fu, and a host of other chinese and peranakan food fare, we had it all! Once we got to our hotel though, no time was wasted, we were immediately whisked away to our next 'eco' challenge, a mountain bike expedition to help burn away all the cholesterol we built up!

Ok, maybe it wasn't exactly an expedition. But taking into consideration that the last time I cycled was about 5 years ago, this was going to be yet another challenging task. At around the midway mark, I actually nearly passed out (embarassing, I know). But it was merely a bout of heatstroke, which a good dose of H2O over the head and into the body remedied quickly.

Crossing plantation dirt roads, rocky off-road pathways and at one point, even a muddy tunnel under the North-South Highway, the cycling 'tour' ended at the corner of a beautiful lake that was truly picturesque. The Volkswagen Sharan 2.0 TDi was waiting to greet all of us who survived, and it's modern silhouette was a sight for sore legs.

I was tempted to jump into (a few of them did) the cool clear waters, but decided to just enjoy the breeze and the view instead. We then headed back to the hotel for dinner and rest before another day of driving the next day.

With the eco challenge out of the way, a group of us started out early in the morning to sample a few of the cars in the range. We started out with the handsome CC, packed with 170 bhp (those made available for sale will have the new 2.0 TDi units with 177 bhp) and 350 Nm, the test car had the sports suspension option as well. On hindsight, the CC was the most enjoyable car of the lot. Punchy in performance and tight around the bends, the sports suspension kept the car flat and body roll to the minimum. Plus its good looks added to the overall package.

Next, we swapped the CC for the Touareg 3.0 V6 TDI with BlueMotion Technology. This monster has a conservative 245 bhp but a whopping 550 Nm of torque. But it is also 2,153 kg heavy. On the straights, the phenomenal torque really does help to build up speed, but you'll have to plan a bit to bring it to a halt though, as it is after all, a heavy car.

We even took the Touareg off-road and had some hooligan fun with it, and the SUV ate up every corner and undulation with ease. Body roll was surprisingly minimal, and the large SUV handled itself pretty well throughout the drive, both on the city roads and off it.

All too soon, it was time to head back to the hotel to regroup for lunch. We hopped onto the Sharan for the trip back and packed all our luggage and four adults in with ease. This is going down as one of the most memorable media drives for me, in one fell swoop, I experienced the economy, comfort, performance, and fun of driving a diesel-powered Volkswagen.

So who won the eco challenge? I'm proud to say, our team did! We clocked 5.3 l/100km, just 0.1 l/100km shy of the product's official claimed figures. We each walked away with a brand new Samsung Galaxy Tab, courtesy of the good folks at Volkswagen. What's interesting to note, was that after all that driving and food detours, none of the TDI cars had to refuel at all, while their petrol-powered escort cars had to. It's further proof that TDI cars can truly be fun and wallet-friendly. Look out for more reviews of VW's range of TDI cars soon!