The car was a Proton Persona 1.6 Premium CVT; the occasion was the Proton 1 Tank Adventure; and the objective was to take the scenic route to the destination on just one tank of petrol. Before the briefing started, we got to know that our destination would be Ipoh, Perak. Now, if any of you have driven between KL and Ipoh, you would know that it would take you just over a couple of hours to do so (at the legal speed limit). And if you were trying to be frugal with fuel, you might add another hour to the driving time. AND, achieving an average fuel consumption of 4.95 litres per 100 km wouldn’t be too difficult on the North-South highway if traffic was smooth (we did set off on a working weekday).
Before the full briefing, I also had the idea of setting my navigation app to take the shortest route to save as much fuel as possible. But there was a reason why the latest time to get to the hotel in Ipoh was 7:30 pm, despite us setting off from Proton’s Centre of Excellence in Subang Jaya in the morning.
It turned out that we (the Central Region participants) had to drive a very scenic route to Ipoh and back. Our drive would take us to historical landmarks in both states i.e. the Bukit Melawati lighthouse in Kuala Selangor, the leaning tower in Teluk Intan, and Kellie’s Castle in Batu Gajah. On the return leg, we had to stop at MAEPS in Serdang for a Dynamic Driving Course and then to a Petronas station in Bukit Jelutong to refuel and calculate our final consumption, before heading to the Setia Gemilang Proton dealership in Shah Alam.
All in, the journey would stretch about 640 km. For some of us, it would be more than 640 km because the organisers didn’t specify where we could eat, drink or relief ourselves. But as free as we were, we had to adhere to time limits to reach specific checkpoints along the way. This is to ensure that all the participants (that included celebrities and local personalities, members of the media, and owners of Proton vehicles; one could also rent a Proton to join in too) did not drive too slowly.
The purpose of the time limit was also to ensure that this journey would be as close to a real-world situation as possible, because not everyone drives at the legal speed limit. Bear in mind also, that the “110” or “90” signs you see on the sides of the highway DO NOT represent the minimum speed one has to travel at. Now, it can be argued, of course, that such exercises could pose a danger to other road users. But as long as you’re keeping to the left lane and out of the way of faster vehicles, you’re good to go. Even if you’re driving at the speed limit, but you’re not overtaking any vehicles, you should still stay out of the right lane.
Alright, so how did we manage to get a Proton Persona to achieve an average consumption of 4.95 litres per 100 km (20.2 km per litre)? Short version – there was a lot of gentleness and ‘farsightedness’ involved. Long version – we put effort into gentle acceleration to build momentum and then steadily maintained that inertia so fuel-burn is kept to a minimum without sacrificing the speed. Cars like the Proton Persona have an ‘Eco Drive Assist’ indicator that lights up when you’re driving frugally and this helps with pacing your fuel economy. And to keep a steady pace, we also had to look further ahead than the few vehicles in front of us to anticipate any changes in traffic flow. A brief survey among the drivers found that most had driven within acceptable speeds of 60 – 80 km/h on trunk roads, and even up to 100 km/h on the highway.
For the record, we also did not fold the wing mirrors, throw out the spare tyre and rear seat, or run the course without air-conditioning. We did lean forward in the car while going downhill but we found out that doesn’t work so we scrapped that too.
The incline from the Bukit Gantang R&R on the North-South Highway to the Menora Tunnel heading to Ipoh had us burning more petrol than we wanted just to keep up with traffic and not get stuck behind trucks that would ruin our drive.
The Kuala Selangor area was challenging as well where smoothness was concerned, thanks to school buses that stopped without signalling, a large number of trucks and major roadworks that reduced traffic to a single lane. If we hadn’t looked as far ahead as we could to anticipate traffic, we would have slammed on the brakes a lot more often here and lose speed. And trying to regain momentum is a surefire way of burning more petrol.
This is why two people who drive similar cars can have very different fuel economy figures if one driver accelerates and brakes gradually while the other is more brisk. A Persona owner on this trip managed to use just 4 litres per 100 km (25 km per litre) so our achievement of 4.95l/100km is nothing spectacular. But I also put it down to the fact that he’s more familiar with his own car since it’s his daily ride, and also that me and my driving partner from Motoring-Malaysia are the heaviest driving pair in the Persona category. The best of the lot on this drive was a Saga 1.3 CVT with 3.57 litres per 100 km (28 km per litre); all verified by third party scrutineers.
Of course, being members of the motoring media, we have opportunities to drive fast (which we try to keep to tracks or closed courses), and we also know not everyone can accept driving below 110 km/h. But going at a lower speed allowed us to enjoy the scenery that didn’t fly by as a blur. It also gave us a chance to stop by the local stalls to savour the local offerings. Seeing how the Proton owners also enjoyed themselves despite having a challenge on-hand, this trip was more about the journey than the destination. For one group at least, that journey included a durian feast. Yet with all these minor distractions and detours (which we still had time for despite being ‘slow’), all the cars surprisingly managed very decent fuel economy. Hats off to them, especially the owners.
The Proton 1 Tank Challenge is split into five regions i.e. Central, Eastern, Southern, Northern and East Malaysia (Sabah). The Southern one starts today (27 July) and the Northern one on 31 July. You can follow #proton1tankadventure on social media.
But more importantly (even if you don’t drive a Proton), go out and explore this beautiful country of ours. There are many things to see if you just took the time to.