If you’re a regular listener of the local English radio stations, you must have, at some point or other, listened to the advertisement that stars an Encik Rahman, asked to spell out in one breath how far can his Perodua Viva go in one tank. Encik Rahman then goes on like a locomotive naming “Jalan Raja Chulan, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Jalan Kuching ….” before running out of breath.
Well, Encik Rahman, I’ve got news for you. The exercise would have been a lot shorter with a Proton Waja, “KL, Singapore, and back.” On average, my Waja, a manual Campro MC3 version gives about 10 kilometres out of every litre of fuel burned. In its 60 litre tank, this translates to an extrapolated range of 600km per tank. Driving in urban traffic, this figure varies between 570km (9.5km/l) and, if I am good, 620km (10.3km/l) on the rare occasion.
On pure highway driving, I’ve managed to extract up to 14 km/l (extrapolates to 850km per tank), which, on last July, led me to attempt taking the car to our neighbours down south and back using only one tank of petrol. The journey to the island was driven by my brother with me as passenger and all his luggage in the car boot, while I brought the car home on my own.
We filled the tank up to the brim just before leaving, and in the island, the car was in the custody of my brother for a couple days before I headed home. On my way back up north, I even took a detour to Batu Pahat which added 60km to the trip meter by the time I got back to the PLUS highway. The fuel warning light came on while I was still in Malacca stretch, but I drove on until Kajang before refuelling with 827.2km reading on the tripmeter.
This little ‘success’ led me to repeat the attempt with Penang, twice. Both attempts, which were actually part of motor treasure hunts which I participated, failed, as I eventually had to refuel either at Tapah or Simpang Pulai on the way back down south. The full load, multiple stopovers and the need to keep to time made an economy run almost impossible. Further diminishing my chances were the fact that the PLUS highway route up north has substantially more gradients and curves compared to the southern stretch.
For my previous car, a 3-speed Iswara 1.5 auto, this challenge would have been even more hopeless, even if I was driving alone. The car needed only one leg of the journey to empty its 45-litre tank, even while averaging below the national speed limit. A KL-Penang trip in that car would easily be a three tank affair – one tank to drive to Penang, one tank to drive around the island, one more to drive back to KL.
Further back into the past, a friend once drove five of us in a Waja 4G18 auto from KL to the island. I remember back then how we were fooled by the less than linear nature of the Waja’s fuel gauge into thinking we still had half a tank of fuel left despite not refuelling since arriving from KL three days earlier. We passed Juru, Gunung Semanggol, Sg Perak and Simpang Pulai rest stations without stopping, the light came on, and the fuel gauge was apparently racing to the ’0′ mark. It was a nervy 40 kilometres of 90kph driving before we reached the petrol station at Tapah.
Last week, when I was invited to the Life in the Fast Lane event featuring Eddie Jordan in Penang, I saw an opportunity to attempt this ‘one tank’ challenge again. This time, the odds are better stacked in my favour. I was going alone, I was carrying clothes for only a day, I needed two rest stops at most, and there wasn’t going to be a lot of town driving taking place. I was simply going to drive straight to the hotel, and head back to KL straightaway the next morning.
The event was scheduled to start at 7pm, but thanks to my tight schedule, I only managed to depart KL city centre at 1pm. The heavy traffic of the city, and also a pre-departure fuel stop at Kepong meant that it was past 2pm when I finally got onto PLUS highway. This was bad news on two folds – precious minutes and kilometres could be lost just like that. The lost minutes would mean that I will have to floor it a little in order to make the function on time, and by not moving, I am burning fuel without extracting any kilometres out of it. On both counts, this would lead to certain penalties in my final fuel consumption (FC) figure. At that point, I could only hope it wouldn’t turn out to be costly.
As I was getting out of the city in a hurry, my first stop was made early in the journey, at Rawang for a quick lunch. Grabbed a couple of pastries from the bakery; not particularly good, but they were sufficient to keep my tummy filled. As I headed out of the the rest stop, I spotted what seems to be an abandoned stolen car. Anyone who has recently lost a grey Proton Wira Aeroback (registry JFR 4572), please head to the north-bound PLUS rest stop at Rawang.
On the highway, with the objective of keeping FC down, I maintained almost feather weight pressure on the accelerator. My Waja duly obliged, rarely breaching the 100kph mark as we took almost an hour just to cross into the borders of Perak. In fact, it felt as if as the car itself also intends to complete the entire trip in one tank. Usually, on the highways, after settling into 5th gear at 90-110kph, even under light throttle, the speedo would cheekily inch its way to the 130 mark and settle there. Then, as the highway stretches even longer, the Campro motor would slowly pull itself into its peak torque sweet spot of 4,000rpm and hold position.
This time, it behaved differently. Even applying a light shove on the throttle, for overtaking, it just lazily spins a few revs more to get closer to the national speed limit. Being its owner for two years, I am quite certain that this car really has a mind of its own. I was approaching Ipoh when that thought crossed my mind, and at that moment, the car suddenly came to life. Without even the slightest provocation on the accelerator, came a sudden rush of torque from the engine. I happily rode the surge to a few notches above the national speed limit before reining it back.
The Waja is a car not without flaws, even if we exclude the build quality problems which plagued earlier batches. While the quality issues are pretty much resolved with the Campro and CPS versions, other quirks remain. It would seem that Proton was too pre-occupied infusing it with Lotus-inspired handling, they neglected to give it the same driveability in tight spaces. Its ergonomics, turning circle, and all-round visibility, if I am to be kind, is far from being the best in the business.
Once on the highway however, the Waja settles into its element, with rock solid stability along the straights at any speed. Its weighty controls, which can be tiring in congested city driving, becomes confidence inspiring on the highways. High speed stability is definitely the Waja’s biggest trump card as far as I am concerned. Despite being nearly a decade old, this remains an excellent chassis design.
The famous twisty stretch after the tunnel and Jelapang interchange called for some third and fourth gear action to help rein in the Waja’s understeering tendencies. While this added a few revs to the engine, it made keeping the car in line so much easier, especially useful when overtaking at a corner. The older 4G18 Wajas, with their stiffer spring settings, would be better acquitted to this stretch. For the MC3 version which I am driving, the emphasis has been shifted towards comfort, a theme continued in the CPS version, which migrated from 55-series to 60-series tyres.
After clearing the twisty bits, I gave myself and the car a brief respite at the Sg Perak rest area before hitting the road again. Picking up the pace, I reached the bridge just over an hour later at 5:30pm. My timing couldn’t be more excellent, departing KL at lunch hour and arriving at Penang in the evening, I found myself squaring up against rush hour traffic of two of the country’s most congested cities in one day. The function was scheduled to start at 7:00pm, so there was still plenty of time for me to make it to Batu Feringgi.
As I crawled through the snarling traffic on the Penang bridge, it was time to evaluate my chances of making the return trip back to KL the next morning without refueling. To those of you not in the know, there’s a little quirk in the Waja’s fuel gauge – it’s not linear. The ‘full’ and ‘empty’ positions are correctly marked, but that’s it. I’ve worked out that the ’3/4′ mark corresponds to half-tank. I also know, from experience, that the fuel warning light comes out when there is about 10 litres of petrol left in the tank – good for about 100km in mixed driving conditions.
With this, I need to make sure of two things the following day. One, the fuel gauge is still hovering at the ’3/4′ mark when I reach Batu Feringgi. Two, the fuel warning light comes out well within a 100km radius of KL. These two indicators would be the markers of my potential success or failure. Coming back to the present, traffic on the bridge continued at a snail’s pace as I took almost an eternity to get onto the island. Like it was in KL, the jam in Penang was threatening to give me bad news on two folds.
The immediate concern was time – I eventually reached Shangri-La just on time at 7:00pm, despite having more than one and half hours to get from Butterworth to Batu Feringgi. Upon my arrival, I spotted a very familiar looking car at the parking lot. It was a Honda Accord, which I instantly recognised as one of the test cars Honda Malaysia lends out to the media. In fact, YS had already driven this very same car in the middle of 2008.
Watch out for this car in one of our local auto magazines next month.
(Click here for YS Khong’s test drive report)
I had to head home immediately the next morning. A quick check of the fuel gauge: it’s hovering just below the ’3/4′ mark. This is going to be close. I moved without delay. By 8:30pm, I had already checked out of the hotel and headed home. Traffic on the way out of the island was surprisingly clear, and I was back on the highway in no time. It was a pretty uneventful drive back, as I maintained light but steady pressure on the throttle. Only quick stops at Sungai Bakap and Simpang Pulai punctuated the journey as I was scheduled to be back in KL by 2pm.
As I approached Tapah, the fuel warning light has yet to come out. Good. That means that I have more than 100km worth of fuel left in the tank, which is as well, because the next petrol station is over 70 kays away at Ulu Bernam. You can’t afford to bypass this stop if your tank is running low. My fuel gauge well into the lower half, but still some distance away from being empty. There should be enough to get me comfortably into the confines of the Klang Valley, and certainly more than enough to reach Ulu Bernam.
The warning light eventually came on just shy of the Perak/Selangor border, with the tripmeter reading just over 640km mark. If I don’t drive like an idiot, the Federal Territory was definitely within touching distance. Completing this challenge was going to be a formality. With that knowledge, I drove on past the petrol station at Ulu Bernam, but the fuel gauge continued its almost visible downwards slide.
The digital tripmeter displayed the big seven-oh-oh, a rare occurence as far as this car is concerned. Satisfied that I was sufficiently deep inside the Klang Valley, I pulled over at the Sg Buloh flyover restaurant to refuel with the tripmeter reading 708.9km. The nozzle at the Esso station only let in 56.650 litres of fuel into my tank. The simple arithmetics say that on average, my fuel consumption was at 8 litres/100km, or 12.5km/l.
Final trip meter reading at Sg Buloh – 708.9km (Reflection on meter panels ruined many attempts at photographing meter face). Approximately 56.65 litres of petrol needed to bring a Waja from KL to Penang and back.
To be honest, I have recorded better consumption figures with this car on the highway, but this is definitely the best I have managed on the northern stretch of the PLUS highway. If you’re wondering, there was no need to drive at a snail’s pace or with the air-conditioning off. I was driving, especially on the return leg, with a pretty liberal interpretation of the national speed limit. All I did was to ensure a steady build-up of speed and then attempted to maintain the speed with a minimum of effort. There were even times where I explored the upper ranges of the engine’s rev range to pull away from tailgaters.
If you’re wondering why I bothered with this exercise, well, the reason is that simply because I can. It was simply the satisfaction of doing it, not to mention the good story telling material available when the topic moves into fuel consumption. Without quoting figures, ’driving from KL to Penang and back in one tank’ sounds quite impressive to many people. The other part of the truth, which I don’t really need to share in my storytelling, is that the second thing that Proton got right with the Waja after its ride and handling, was definitely the size of its fuel tank.