How far can one tank of fuel bring you? Enough to cover the distance between Singapore and Melaka, perhaps? Or maybe even to Kuala Lumpur, if you're feeling a bit adventurous?
What if I told you that it’s possible to drive from Singapore to Thailand in a single tank, and still have some leftover petrol to spare?
Joined by a group of dedicated motoring journalists, Audi Singapore, and a quartet of their brand new vehicles, I set off for the Land of Smiles to prove this seemingly absurd theory right.
An Early Start
Our journey began right here, at the Shell petrol station along Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim. My trusty co-driver and I were the first to arrive in our Q3 Sportback Mild Hybrid at 4:00 AM, after a 41-kilometre leisurely cruise from Pasir Ris and Punggol.
I was already familiar with the Q3 Sportback's highly competent chassis and great degree of practicality after reviewing the 2.0-litre variant last month, and could not wait to give this 1.5-litre version a go.
We were soon joined by our counterparts and event officials for a quick safety briefing prior to the start of this Audi fuel efficiency challenge, as our road trip would take us across the challenging North-South Expressway in Malaysia and beyond.
The objective for the next 14 hours was simple: make our way to Hat Yai in one tank of petrol, and use as little of it as possible in the process. To up the ante even more, our fuel tank cover would be sealed to prevent any cheeky top-ups from happening.
Before long, all four participating cars were soon filled to the brim with RON 95 petrol and then sealed up in front of everyone.
Some participants had opted to over-inflate their tyres and/or seal up their respective vehicles in a bid to reduce drag and improve aerodynamics.
Not on our car, however. My steely co-driver and I decided that tackling this challenge without any aero mods would be the best way to assess the car's true real-world capabilities right out of the showroom floor. With that firmly in mind, we made our way to the Tuas border first, trusting only each other's driving skills (and banger music playlists).
And thus began our 900-kilometre drive across the Malay Peninsula.
It's All About Balance
While both of us were well aware of the Q3 Sportback's more-than-adequate headline figures (150 horses and 250 Nm of torque), we successfully resisted the temptation to gun for the Thai border just so we could eke out as much distance from the 60-litre petrol tank as possible.
This meant plenty of feather-footed driving on Efficiency mode, sticking to an RPM range well within 2000 rotations, and occasionally letting gravity to the acceleration ━ in controlled doses, of course ━ along the downhill sections.
It also helped that our trusty Audi's equipped with a mild hybrid system that deactivates two cylinders whenever we lifted off the throttle for a while, which translated to even more fuel savings.
Having said that, it's not all about the car when it comes to succeeding. My brother-from-another-publisher and I made several brief stops along the way to refuel ourselves and to swap driving duties whenever one of us started feeling drowsy. When it comes to long distance driving, staying alert is critical in ensuring a safe trip!
Equipping your ride with some proper tunes was also key to keeping the morale high and drowsiness low. Ours was an eclectic mix of the latest Top 40s and 1980s J-pop, soft rock and ballad hits, and a dash of Frozen songs (in both English and Japanese) thrown in for good measure. Don't judge us.
A Little Detour Never Hurt Anyone
A memorable journey's simply not complete without some twists and turns. We soon found ourselves out of the main expressway after lunch at Jejantas Sungai Buloh R&R, and on to the winding B-roads of Selangor and Perak due to GPS irregularities. As it turned out, our little detour was a blessing in disguise.
Not only did we get a chance to test out the Q3 Sportback's agility and refinement levels around the challenging twisty roads, we were also treated to some spectacular mountainous views up close.
As we blasted through the likes of Jalan Ampang Pecah and Kampung Gumut, we got to appreciate the wondrous nature (and equally wondrous rural Malaysian roads) that made our driving trip that much more special.
Our little reverie was soon cut short by an anxious call from the Audi officials, who advised us to jump back on to the main highway. After making a turn (or several), we were soon back on the North-South Expressway and headed straight towards the border town of Changlun, Kedah.
The surrounding environments gradually flattened out and resembled something out of a Hayao Miyazaki film, complete with raised railway platforms, telephone poles, and rice fields.
Making the Cut
A mandatory stop at the borders soon followed, and after what seemed like an eternity, it happened ━ we finally made it into Thailand!
Both of us made a dash for the end-point, ecstatic not only because we cleared our objective in comfort, but also because we could finally take a well-deserved rest from the intense driving.
We arrived at the designated Shell station at about 7:20 PM, and were greeted by Audi officials and a fellow pump attendant.
After clocking over 900 kilometres from Singapore, we still had about 260 kilometres of estimated range left on the clock, with an average fuel consumption of 19.3 km/l.
Our peers soon arrived at the station, all understandably exhausted but grinning from ear to ear. Those behind the wheels of the Audi A3 1.0 variants averaged between 25.6 to 25.8 km/l, while the lads driving the Q3 1.5 Mild Hybrid clocked 18.4 km/l.
Mighty impressive figures from all the participants, truth be told, and a testament to our competitive spirits!
Needless to say, all of us hit the sack just moments after reaching our hotel, completely spent both mentally and physically.
The following day was spent exploring the beaches and mountains of Hat Yai, putting over Audis through their paces. It'd be a crime to visit Thailand and not try their local delights, so we indulged in delicacies such as fried sea bass and Thai iced milk tea.
Driving around the city was as exciting as it was hairy, due to turbulent weather conditions and far busier traffic than what we're used to in Singapore. Nevertheless, our Audi cars took them on like proper champs, and soaked every single bump and pothole with ease. I went for the A3 Sportback, which was every bit as fun to drive as my colleague had described in his recent piece.
Running For the Border: Part Deux
At precisely 4:30 AM the following day, the peace and tranquility in the early morning air was quickly disrupted as all four turbocharged Audis (not including the accompanying support vehicles, which included the beastly SQ7) rumbled into life.
Everyone ━ backpacks and pillows in tow ━ were locked and loaded, raring to set off on our return leg towards Singapore. It would be another arduous drive, and the one to determine which team would ultimately win.
Keen to beat potential jams, we started blasting through the arterial roads and narrow streets of Hat Yai, and headed straight for the border.
The convoy pulled over at the very first Shell station just after the Malaysian border for a pre-race briefing as well as to get all the cars fully pumped.
We swapped out our Q3 Sportback for the A3 1.0 Sedan, which received rave reviews from the Motorist team recently. Our team strategy remained the same: we would tackle this journey with no aero mods or over-inflated tyres, relying on purely driving skills and a prayer.
The only difference was, a deadline of 5.00PM (GMT +8) was now set by the Audi folks, with a single mandatory stop at Tapah R&R. Crossing the Tuas Checkpoint after that would cost us a 10% fuel consumption penalty.
The cars were once again refueled, the tank covers sealed and signed, and the cars given a final inspection by their respective drivers.
We soon set off, with 910 kilometers of estimated range showing on the digital display. With the deadline in mind, we kept close tabs on the GPS to ensure minimal time wastage.
For further assurance, I turned on the Motorist app to know about potential road hazards or incidents along the way, and was in close communications with other teams and officials via radio.
We bumped our average pace up to about 110 km/h on average ━ much faster than on the initial leg, but kept the RPM range below 2000 just like before. Slipstreaming tactics were also employed, though sparingly, in the interest of safety.
Dark clouds greeted us near Negeri Sembilan and by the time we approached Yong Peng along the N-S Expressway, our poor Audi was on the receiving end of a torrential downpour of almost biblical proportions. The only course of action was to slow down, but this cost us precious time in the process.
More frustratingly, our impressive fuel economy took a hit. From an average of 23.7 km/l, we were seeing up to 0.6 km/l being shaved off. We decided to drown our sorrows with even more efficient driving and "Love is an Open Door" blasting through the A3's decently punchy audio system.
The skies soon cleared once again, and we were back on track with our original average speed. We made headways and practically flew across the Southern tip of Malaysia.
Passing through the Malaysian checkpoint was a breeze, and then we saw this familiar banner, welcoming us back home.
Clearing through the Singapore side was just as quick, thankfully. And once our passports were handed over by the kind ICA folks, we bolted straight for the final stop, a Shell station located along Moulmein Road.
My co-driver and I pulled up at the station at precisely 6:57 PM, almost 14 hours since we departed from Hat Yai.
Our final average fuel consumption for the return leg was 23.1 km/l, after travelling over 835 kilometres. And more impressively was the leftover range, which stood at 410 kilometres. In other words, we still had enough fuel left for a trip to Muar and back.
We found out a few days later that we clocked the best fuel economy out of the four competing cars on the return leg even after the 10% penalty had been incurred.
Averaging it out with the results from the initial trip (covering 1736 kilometres with a combined fuel consumption of 20.2 km/l), my trusty partner and I clinched the second place position!
Impossible is Nothing
With this road trip, we've proven that it is indeed possible to drive from Singapore to Hat Yai in one tank of fuel ━ with the right setup, of course. It's easy to drive fast, but finding the right balance between velocity and fuel efficiency is an achievement that requires patience and persistence.
It also helps that the Audi cars that brought us way up North and back home are more than just fuel sippers. They seamlessly blend frugal consumption with all the frills and luxuries that you've come to expect from the carmaker, which is a winning formula in itself.
Combine all of this with a golden music playlist, and you'll have yourself a highly effective road trip recipe.
Motorist would like to thank Audi Singapore, Pitcrew, and all the participants for making this Fuel Efficiency Challenge possible.
Photo Credit: Audi Singapore & Muhammad Mu'tasim (@mutasimdrives)
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