You deserve a good holiday. You know you do. But instead of the average rigmarole i.e. booking a flight that can be rescheduled without warning, checking into a homestay for its photogenic qualities, and gorging on authentic tourist cuisine as recommended on ‘TotallyGenuineFoodTrippers.com’, why not skip the sea of selfie sticks and boorish tour-bus throngs for a proper Malaysian road trip? By Zech Pharamond
The worst bit about Covid – perhaps more than being deadly – is how it dictated and inhibited our daily lives. Roadtrips put control back in your hands. You’re the captain of your ship, setting whatever pace you like, following whatever winds catch your fancy. But before you chart your course, here are two important questions to consider:
A) What bevvy of delicious snacks will accompany your upcoming adventure?
B) What are the best cars to experience our iconic highways and byways?
We’ve chosen cars that return decent enough mileage, that is reliable in a pinch, and with sufficient space, if you’re bringing along several best friends – because hey, what’s a road trip without the right passengers? But more than anything else, we’ve chosen cars with character. These are the vehicles that make the long journey just as exciting as the destination.
And ‘long journey’ are key words here. While a red Ferrari is exactly the type of car that everyone gets out of bed for, a vehicle like that is better appreciated creeping along Jalan Telawi or speeding down a race track. Not swallowing ribbons of tarmac as you munch on those aforementioned snacks. So yes, ride comfort is a big consideration as well.
That however doesn’t mean our choice of car will be boring and uninspired. Fun should measure just as important as the other parameters. Along with comfily bolstered seats, we shall also want a smile-inducing performance. We’re not talking about pushing a car to its top speed but it should at least have more than enough grunt to comfortably break speed limits – not that we’re suggesting you do anything of the sort.
Without further ado, here are the road trips and cars we feel, will give you the most bang for your road-tripping buck.
1. K.L. to Pantai Irama, Kelantan
- Travel time: 6.5 hours
- Distance: 450KM
- Car of choice: Porsche Cayenne CKD
We’re very cautious about over-selling seaside destinations, but Pantai Irama or Melody Beach is one of the nicer ones without having to go off-shore. But while the sand is powdery and the lapping waves a welcome respite, it can get ever so slightly crowded on the weekends. Bring your picnic basket or better yet, dig into traditional Kelantanese cuisine that’s rich, sweet and creamy. Just don’t expect a pristine beach.
Still, this could be a pretty epic if the not historic journey to make in the Cayenne CKD. Not only will you be charmed by Kelantanese food and culture, but that uber-lux SUV would have just come off the very first Porsche assembly facility outside of Europe. Based in Kulim, Kedah, the new plant only produces base model Cayennes, priced from RM550,000, offering a savings of up to RM115,000 from previous filly imported vehicles.
It’s powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine that’s good for 340 PS (335 hp) at 5,300 to 6,400 rpm and 450Nm of torque between 1,340 to 5,300 pm. An eight-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission and active all-wheel drive ensure you carve up those East coast roads like a hot knife through butter.
2. K.L. to Legoland, Johor Bahru
- Travel time: 3.5 hours
- Distance: 330KM
- Car of choice: Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 AMG Line
What good reason does an adult have to be at a water park? First up, stop being such a grown-up. Between talking politics at your favourite watering spot, or jumping on a water slide and going with the flow, which do you figure is more life-affirming? Take off your big boy pants and take a lesson or two from kids who know exactly how to enjoy life’s best moments. And anyone who’s spent a day – let alone several in quick succession – at a water park, will know how exhausted, famished and completely refreshing it can be. Want a more physically and mentally challenging day than you’ve ever experienced? Invite your young nephews and nieces, and you’ll be having the best sleep of your life come the day’s end.
For this trip, we recommend hopping into the GLC 300 that now comes in a new Spectral Blue paint option. Retailing from RM338,693 without insurance, this beauty offers 258 PS and 370Nm of torque plus the right amount of space to fit enough luggage for several days for four adults. Blending premium quality and style, this comfortable drive has all the styling, tech and driver appeal to win over the weekend cross-country tripper in you. That means it’ll feet every bit as great whether running down North-South Expressway or navigating through Johor Bahru’s heritage streets or cafe hopping in Mount Austin.
3. K.L. to Malacca
- Travel time: 1.5 hours
- Distance: 155KM
- Car of choice: Hyundai Ioniq 5
Malacca’s tourism has always been a double-edged sword. You might be experiencing a UNESCO World Heritage site on a trishaw powered by an equally ancient-looking man, except his bike and cart are decked out in garish Hello Kitty pink. As he takes you across historic cobbled streets toward the steps of a 16th-century church, you might also spy on numerous new hotels, built-in disregard of said UNESCO guidelines, because there’s really no such thing as over-commercialization. It’s still worth a visit though. Especially if you roll in on a spanking new Hyundai Ioniq 5.
This all-electric beauty ensures you eliminate your car’s carbon contribution to this still rather charming city. Offered in three variants, we like the range-topping Max that retails for RM259,888. It offers an additional motor at the front for an all-wheel-drive while pumping out 305 PS and 605Nm of torque. Its range? A whopping 430km. Taking between 6-7 hours for a full charge, just be extra careful about single-use plastics from all the delicious hawker fare and you should be good! Mini-road trips under two hours like these are perfect for getaways that won’t require too much fussing over the itinerary.
4. K.L. to Cameron Highlands
- Travel time: 3 hours
- Distance: 206KM
- Car of choice: Volkswagen Golf GTI MK8
Hooray for life’s simplest pleasures; like picking fresh strawberries to have with hot scones and cream. Or how about a cool stroll through the surreal Mossy Forest? Or simply breathing in the crisp mountain air?
Serene activities like these are the perfect come-down, after a spirited drive up from KL in the cracking Golf GTI MK8. Thanks to its Vehicle Dynamics Manager, it sticks to mountain corners and spits you towards the next bend faster than ever before. Overseeing stability control, the electronic differential and adaptive damper settings to optimise your driving experience, this new-fangled software allows regular joes to push the car’s limits albeit under controlled parameters. But If you’re really feeling adventurous, then you’ll need to set your GPS for the longer Ringlet Road-Sungai Koyan road via Route 102. Certainly the more “scenic” route, you’ll be putting an additional 30-40 minutes into your fun time. Just make sure your passengers’ stomachs are up to the task.
5. K.L. to Penang to Kota Bharu
- Travel time: 4 hours (K.L. to Georgetown), 5.5 hours (Georgetown to Kota Bharu)
- Distance: 354.5KM (K.L. to Georgetown), 341KM (Georgetown to Kota Bharu)
- Car of choice: BMW i4 M50
There is just a stunning range of geographical diversity as you travel up north; it’s filled with mountains, rivers, forests and wetlands. With attractions so diverse, this medium to long-range journey is perfect if you’ve got five to seven days to spare. In Penang, punctuate your meal times by visiting Penang Hill, Kek Lok Si Temple, and the Botanical Gardens. There’s popular Batu Ferringhi Beach and Cheong Fatt Tze’s Blue Mansion to take selfies at. Penang boasts the best hawker food in Malaysia, but trendy cafes serving creamy lattes and buttery pastries have also been mushrooming across the island.
Once you’ve had your fill, Kota Bharu offers sights, sounds and smells that might seem completely foreign if you’ve never experienced them before. There are shopping bazaars, Thai Buddhist temples, and a thousand delicacies at the famous Kota Bharu Night Market.
Our chosen car? BMW’s jaw-dropping i4 M50. Retailing at RM430,000, this is the German maker’s first fully electric M model. Arriving with all-wheel drive, the power to sprint from zero to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, real cowhide seats, and (we kid you not) Hans Zimmer-designed engine sounds, this model is the one that finally convinced us that those oversized kidney bean grills are actually pretty attractive.
6. K.L. to Ipoh
- Travel time: 2.5 hours
- Distance: 205KM
- Car of choice: Mercedes-AMG A35
Georgetown will always be the rockstar destination for local road trips. While Ipoh is all about turning off and slowing down. You still get pretty colonial buildings, and historic walkways like Concubine Lane, and the charming city’s tin-mining history is gloriously retold at the Han Chin Pet Soo museum. But contemporary attractions like the Ipoh Art trail – thanks to a collaboration between the Old Town White Coffee company and Lithuanian artist Ernst Zacharevic – shake things up and remind you that Ipoh has its eye on moving with the times. And if the sweltering heat at Kellie’s Castle is a little too much to take, step into the Kek Lok Tong cave temple and its cooling mini-ecosphere instantly puts a weary traveller at ease.
The perfect car for this quick getaway – is the Mercedes A35. Like Ipoh, the A35 is the more down-to-earth brother to the limelight-hogging A45. Unlike its older sibling that comes with its very own bespoke AMG engine and an impressive RM450,000 plus price tag to match, the A35 (RM336,278) still pumps out a very serious 306 PS and 400Nm of torque via its 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Its short wheelbase is perfect for navigating tight nooks and crannies, while still cocooned in Merc’s signature luxury.
7. K.L. to Taiping
- Travel time: 3 hours
- Distance: 266KM
- Car of choice: Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric P8
Did you know that Taiping’s Lake Gardens was completed in 1880? It is one of, if not the oldest, park crafted from leftover tin mines. Its mesmerising Rain Trees, also known as the Pukul Lima Tree for the way their leaves curl up in the evening, are a sight to behold. Just don’t get in the way of numerous pre-wedding photoshoots that dot the water’s edge. Other fascinations that might pique your interests: All Saints Church is Perak’s very first, the Taiping-Kuala Lumpur railway was Malaysia’s first train route, and Maxwell Hill was Malaysia’s first hill station.
Unlike many destinations mentioned in this list, Taiping is still relatively pristine given its long history. And we’d like to keep it that way. Enter the XC40 P8, the very first ever fully electric car to be locally assembled. As the third XC40 variant, this snazzy new car is powered by two electric motors, delivering a healthy output of 408PS and 660Nm of torque. Completing the 0-100 sprint in 4.9 seconds, it takes 7-8 hours to fully charge and features Volvo’s very, very, extensive list of safety and driver assistance systems. What you really need to know is yes, this model features those insanely cool Thor’s Hammer LED daytime running lights.
(This story first appeared in augustman.com/my)
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