Last weekend, KON was sent to join DRB-Hicom’s Amazing Hunt in Lake Kenyir. Over a period of three days, he got to drive the Mitsubishi Lancer GT, Suzuki Grand Vitara, and Audi Q7. He now recounts his adventures
It was in the movie Forrest Gump that Tom Hanks uttered one of the most famous (and most imitated) lines in cinematic history. In his thick and charming Southern United States accent, Forrest told us how his mother always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. Ya never know what ya gonna get”. Indeed, I’ve come to learn that Forrest’s momma does know a thing or two about life. Lessons like these are easy to learn when they directly apply to you.
I was invited to an appreciation dinner set to take place on Friday, 7 Aug 2009; at a very classy restaurant down town, as a matter of fact. It was a dinner I was very much looking forward to attend. But, on Thursday, 7pm, I was suddenly re-assigned to represent Autoworld at the Amazing Hunt in Lake Kenyir event organized by DRB-Hicom the following day. Twelve hours later, I arrived at the assembly point in Holiday Inn Glenmarie for the flag-off.
It was a 3-day 2-night event at Lake Kenyir taking place from 7 to 9 August 2009. Fifty journalists, driving 25 cars, were to sent all the way up to Lake Kenyir and back, covering a total distance of 1,140km both ways. An exciting preposition indeed, though I wasn’t looking forward to making that call to pull myself out of that said dinner on such short notice.
|Total length of the journey was a staggering 1,140km|
At the media registration desk, I was asked to pick the car in which I would embark on this trip. The choices were plentiful. There were three Audis, four Hondas, four Isuzus, three Mitsus, four Suzukis, two Chevvies and a Proton. Although the Audis were already filled, the rest were still open.
|Other cars in the lineup|
Among what’s left, Honda brought in the Accord, City, CR-V and Civic. Since I have just tested five Hondas not too long ago, I decided to give them a skip. Three of the four Isuzus were the D-Max, which I have just published a test drive report on. The remaining one is the MU-7 SUV based on the D-Max’s robust mechanicals. Hmm. No.
Mitsubishi offered the Pajero Sport, Triton and Lancer GT. The Lancer GT looks good. KIV. Next were the Suzukis – Swift, Swift Sport and two Grand Vitaras. Swift Sport sounds interesting. KIV that too. Then came the two Chevrolets, both of them the Captiva. There was a tinge of nostalgia here. Among the Captivas was my very first test car for Autoworld. But there’s no room for sentiment here. So, no to the Captivas too. The final item on the list was the Exora. Also just tested, so, no.
As other journalists queued up for their turn to choose, I had to make a decision. I picked the Lancer GT. It wasn’t the facelifted one, but no matter. The Lancer is known to be a good drive. I’m looking forward. We went through the usual routine of breakfast, speech, and photo before we were flagged-off. Each car was supplied with a set of navigational tulips and GPS system plotting our course to lunch at Hyatt Kuantan and marking all the driver change points as well. As each car only had two, maximum three drivers, we were all assured a lengthy drive.
|Response from the media was good.|
Mitsubishi Lancer 2.0GT
I’ll do something a little unusual here. I’ll jump the gun and give you a little spoiler. Of the three different cars, I tested in the duration of this event, the Lancer was the one I enjoyed the most. I’ve actually driven the Lancer briefly in a showroom test drive shortly after its launch. At that time, I confirmed for myself what most journalists said of the Lancer; handles exceptionally well, but let down by poor build quality.
That showroom unit back then had a very cheap feel to its interior, so much so that even a Proton Persona felt better built. The materials were low rent, and the leather seats looked cheap. It didn’t look like it would last.
This newer, but not-so-new, test car I had the pleasure of driving is much more satisfactorily built. Not quite German, but good enough, though it is on the road where the Lancer truly shines. It is a little stiffly sprung, but, believe me, it is very adept both on the straights and along the bends.
I will sound like a cliche, but the Lancer is a car that loves to be driven fast. At high speeds, the car is so planted and so stable that the speed which you perceive yourself to be driving at, and the speed indicated on the speedo, differs in the region of 100kph. Normal conversation could be carried out with ease. The only acoustic intrusions are hints of tyre noise.
In corners and bends, the Lancer has unbelievable amounts of grip. Mild bends can be taken with full throttle with the gear stick left at ‘D’. For sharper corners, you’ll want to call the magnesium shift paddles into action to dial in additional traction. The routine: see the bend, pull the left paddle, transmission steps down a ratio. From here, just gun the throttle and marvel at how tracks the lane as if as it’s on rails. For all but the sharpest of corners, you probably don’t even need brakes if you pull this off right.
Unlike most autos with manual overrides, activating the ones on the Lancer surrenders control to you completely. It does not second guess you, it does not counter-override you, which is precisely the point. Why give manual overrides when you don’t intend to trust the driver in operating them?
In terms of sheer bang-for-buck driving pleasure, few out there offer as much as the Lancer. Whether its handling prowess is due mainly to its chassis, the 18″ Yokohama tyres, the outrageous rear wing, or a combination of each, is entirely up to debate.
|The Lancer was unflappable, whatever the speed.|
However, a point to note before you sign on the cheque book for a Lancer is potentially high running costs. The KL-Kuantan journey along the Karak highway, albeit under heavy throttle, almost dried up the 59 litre tank. Also, I don’t imagine that the 18″ Yokos will be cheap to replace.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
After lunch at Hyatt Kuantan, we then had to swap cars with another pair of journalists before continuing our way up to Lake Kenyir. For the second leg of the journey, I found myself in a Suzuki Grand Vitara.
|Swapping cars mid-way during lunch at Hyatt Kuantan.|
Fresh from the euphoria of driving the brilliant Lancer, the Grand Vitara, ride height aside, appears to be a step down in almost every respect. It also has a 2.0-litre engine, but compared to the Lancer it has to contend with a significant power deficit and also weight penalty. The CVT with paddle shifts are gone, replaced with a standard 4-speed auto. Not good news as far as driving appeal is concerned.
At our first driver change for this car, my esteemed partner handed the keys to me quite happily. This second leg of the journey was markedly different from the first. Where we simply barreled down Karak Highway at speed in the Lancer, the task is a little trickier here as we took the trunk roads, having to negotiate not only bends, but also uneven roads and heavier traffic.
The thicker tyres of the Suzuki ensured a more comfy ride than the Lancer, but at the compromise of handling. The Suzuki is definitely the less capable car, but was also satisfying in its own way. There’s no question that the Grand Vitara should prove to be an adequate cruiser on the highway, but along our twisted an congested trunk roads, the engine and transmission needs some hard working to get going.
Though the Grand Vitara is a tad underpowered, its saving grace is that its engine is willing to be worked and revved. Using a combination of revs and forced downshifting, some semblance of progress can be made. Holding the transmission at either ‘2’ or ‘3’, depending on situation, allows you to call on all of the Grand Vitara’s reserves of power and traction.
Overtaking on single carriageway trunk roads is an exercise of judgment, strategy, and guts. As you close in on the car in front, which is neither slow nor fast, you nudge the gear lever leftwards to ‘3’. Keep the revs boiling above 3,000 as you train your eyes on the opposite lane. As soon as a clear stretch appears, bury your right foot with all its weight into the accelerator.
The response is instantaneous though still not very rapid, but this exercise allows you save one precious second of kickdown response time. Which means you reduce your time exposed to danger in the opposite lane by one second. At a speed of 80kph, your car covers 22 metres in one second. You therefore travel 22 metres less in the opposite lane. Massive difference.
At the twisty bits, you will need some constant flicking of the gears between ‘2’ and ‘3’. Getting this right enables you to summon additional traction to grip the tarmac as you power past the apex. Who said it was not possible to have fun in this car? You just need to work it harder.
|Grand Vitara needs effort to negotiate tricky conditions of trunk roads|
(I hope Suzuki does not send me repair bills for the transmission.)
At the Resort
Late in the afternoon, after about seven hours on the road with each person having driven two different cars each, the cars began to arrive at the Lake Kenyir Resort & Spa. Here, members the motoring media took their rest, while the travel and lifestyle writers began their work, absorbing in the natural beauty and scenery of the lake and the surrounding flora and fauna.
|Surrounding view was breathtaking|
A combination of heavy rain in the first evening, and a packed schedule of activities throughout the second day precluded us taking any of the cars out for a quick spin during our stay.
|Rain poured on us just moments after we arrived.|
The night before departing, writers began their jostling for places in the cars for the return trip home. The ferocity and efficiency of Malaysian motoring journalists were astonishing. The three Audis were snapped up in no time, as were the Hondas and also the Lancer GT. Through some negotiation, I was able to set myself up for a grand return home. I got a spot in the Audi Q7.
Audi Q7 4.2 FSI quattro
Powered by a 4.2 FSI V8 engine, the Q7 is the biggest car of the group both in terms of size and engine capacity. In the Q7, I learnt another lesson in life, bigger isn’t always better.
Ownership of the Q7 will set you back by RM770k excluding insurance. Here’s a tip: don’t. You get 345bhp and 440Nm of torque. You get Audi’s famous quattro drivetrain, and you get electronically adjustable air suspension. Impressive, but because of its sheer size, putting these items to the test is probably not the best thing for your health.
Even with the suspension set to the sportiest ‘dynamic’ mode, you will still need to drive it sedately due to its height. Remember, Audi may be brilliant, but they can’t cheat the laws of physics. Hammer it too hard at a bend, it will understeer; it might even topple.
My other qualm with the Q7 is that for the amount of money you have to pay, there are simply too many features that were obviously omitted. The rear blower control panels has four blank buttons. The steering wheel needs manual adjustment. The other issue, and this is shocking for an Audi, is that the leather on one of the door handles in our test car is showing signs of discolouration. What happened to the famed Audi build quality?
The Q7 is much better when driven sedately, but then it calls into the question of needing a 4.2 V8 engine under the hood. The 6-speed auto tiptronic transmission allows effortless highway cruising, but I suspect that the 3.0 TDI, at a much lower price of RM600k will deliver the same levels of refinement and thus, better value for money.
As mentioned earlier, the Lancer GT was the car I liked the most among the three I tested. It was by far the most communicative car, and married with the superbly engineered chassis, it inspired the greatest amount of confidence for the driver.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara offers good value for money, and you can actually have good fun with it if you work it hard. It was probably not meant to be driven hard, but drive it hard I did, and I am pleased to report that it took all my shoving without a hint of complaint. Some cars are underpowered and lazy, but the Grand Vitara is at least willing to work hard to compensate for its deficits.
I’m sad to say that the Q7 did not fully meet my expectations of it. No doubt it is a well-engineered and solidly built car, but you’re paying a lot for performance that you would not be able to effectively extract. The Q7 is still better suited for a sedate drive, which renders the massive V8 up front rather pointless.
In this exercise, DRB-Hicom has managed to, in one swift stroke, gather a sizable group of writers in the fields of motoring, travel, special interest, lifestyle, business, and others to introduce the full range of its ventures. For motoring writers, at least, it was a great joy to have this many brands of vehicles gathered in one event for us to test drive, even if we only got to test three cars each.