After countless cruises along expressways that offer little variation in scenery and even less interaction with people living in the vicinity, it is exciting to get off the traffic arteries and slip onto small roads that take you through sleepy towns, little villages, forest reserves and farmland.
The BMW iPerformance Drive 2018 from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh was planned along such a scenic route. The 322km journey — compared with 200km if the media group had used the North-South Expressway — took five hours, plus a few more for those new to BMW’s plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The detours were long and winding but far from tedious. With the cars having all sorts of driver assistance — navigation and head-up display, land departure and lane change warning, pedestrian collision warning, park distance control, cruise control with visual and acoustic feedback and more — you felt unharried as you whizzed past colourful homes with pretty curtains and tended gardens, caught villagers going about their daily business on bicycles or motorcycles, spotted mosques and quaint shops that hark back to another era, and gazed at green fields that stretched on and on.
Just before reaching Ipoh, as the sun dipped below the horizon and the lights started flickering on, everything connected in a heady manner and you felt like humming, “Kampung roads, take me home”, to the tune of John Denver’s 1971 hit, Take Me Home, Country Roads.
The recent event was organised by BMW Malaysia, the sole distributor of German marques BMW and MINI in the country, to give participants a chance to test-drive the BMW 330e M Sport, 530e Sport, X5 xDrive40e M Sport and 740Le xDrive. A team from GoPro Malaysia was at hand to teach the drivers how to take videos along the way using its latest action camera, the GoPro Hero6, and various accessories.
BMW’s plug-in hybrid cars pack a combustion engine that is combined with a long-lasting lithium-ion battery which enables them to continue driving even with an empty fuel tank in an emergency. Vehicle performance is more environmentally friendly than that offered by conventional drive technologies and you can charge the motor from the electricity mains at home or on the road. All this translates into reduced emissions during your journey and lower operating costs.
As the brand explains it, a plug-in hybrid vehicle offers low-emission mobility as well as long-distance capability with functionality on the same level as a conventional vehicle. You particularly benefit from the silent driving and electric boosting. This means that during temporary increases in speed, such as during overtaking manoeuvres, the combustion engine is additionally supported by the electric motor, ensuring even more dynamic driving.
Before taking off from the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, the 13 media members were briefed that there would be a break for lunch and various pit stops to swap cars as well as to let their co-drivers take their turn at the wheel. Personnel from event agency Xperience jumped into the backseat of a number of vehicles to help with road directions.
At first, it was intimidating revving up the Mediterranean Blue 530e, a gleaming beauty with sporty contours. But minutes into the drive, you get the hang of its cruise control function and start to enjoy the ease of rounding corners and how smoothly this first-ever BMW 5 series hybrid with eDrive technology laps up the kilometres.
Lunch at the Templer Park Rainforest Retreat was a delectable spread of smoked salmon salad, mushroom quiche, mixed fruit tarts and mini chocolate and salted caramel brownies prepared by Jessica and David Nathan, the couple behind creative catering unit 23aubergine.
After a quick stop at the Behrang R&R, followed by 70km of driving, we pulled up at Menara Condong, known to most as the Leaning Tower of Teluk Intan. The rain had stopped too and it was refreshing climbing up the 110 steps of the 25m tower, built in 1885. It originally housed the water tank that supplied water to the town area and was a reserve for use during fires and drought.
Driving in pairs was good because it gave us a chance to take our hands off the wheel every 30 minutes or so and fiddle with the knobs, buttons and multifunction switches in the cars. Take the 740Le, which has an infotainment system you can control with hand gestures. Its rear passenger seat is equipped with a massage function that offers eight programmes. Sitting back for a vitality massage and looking out at the shifting scenery while listening to music was a cool treat.
Kellie’s Castle beside Sungai Raya in Batu Gajah was the perfect backdrop to snap a photo standing in the X5 xDrive40e, with its sunroof rolled down, naturally. The castle had been built by William Kellie Smith for his wife Agnes and to celebrate their son’s birth. Construction started in 1915 but was stopped 11 years later when the Scottish rubber planter died of pneumonia.
Agnes Smith sold the castle to Harrisons and Crosfield before returning to Scotland with her children and the property was left abandoned before it became a tourist attraction years later. Certain rooms have been refurbished to show how they could have looked had the building been completed. Visitors can now check out the wine cellar and elevator shaft, or climb to the rooftop for an unobstructed view of the surroundings.
After the better part of a day on the road, it was good to pull up at Ipoh’s Weil Hotel for a quick shower, followed by dinner at Plan B. Then it was time for the team to work on their videos of the drive.
Editing the video was a breeze with GoPro’s mobile app, Quik. All you had to do was select the pictures, clips and video style you liked, then use the app to make smart cuts, frame the shots, add graphics, text overlays and music, and put everything together. The videos were shown the next day at Tian Siang Premium Auto, BMW’s sole dealer in Ipoh, after a lunch of local favourites: chicken rice, tau foo fah and guilinggao (tortoise jelly). They certainly had a professional touch and were a fun recap of the drive experience.
Equally memorable was taking the roads less travelled in eye-catching cars designed for comfort and performance, with safety features, luxurious interiors and intelligent connectivity to boot.
This article first appeared on May 21, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.