A couple of weeks ago, SG Family Man was invited by Audi Singapore to be part of a small group of media outlets to drive the fleet of Audi e-tron electric vehicles from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and back again. The objective of the road trip was two pronged - to showcase the abilities of the Audi e-tron fleet as premium modes of land transport and personal mobility, and to bring greater awareness to the charging network and infrastructure in Malaysia. Both objectives are of course aligned to the growing demand for electric car ownership in Singapore, and by extension, the inevitable needs of EV owners to venture up North. We were joined by our colleagues from Torque, CarBuyer, Top Gear, SG Car Mart, Ignition Lab, FUTR, Horizon Driver's Club, Oneshift, Motorist, and Revv Evolution.
What Cars Did We Drive?
For this EV road trip up North, Audi Singapore brought along the best of the best in its electric fleet, including two familiar faces in the form of the flagship RS e-tron GT which we first tested late last year, as well as the e-tron S Sportback, Audi's fastest ever, triple motor electric SUV, which we had the pleasure of driving just a couple of weeks before this drive. The lineup was completed by the e-tron GT, a touring focussed version of the faster RS, which at the time of the trip, we had not yet had the pleasure of driving. It was also the only car of the 3 that isn't fitted with air suspension.
Why is This Trip Important?
In terms of the current push for electric mobility, it is adequate to say that Audi has been one of the front runners of this current wave of the ongoing electric revolution. While I wouldn't quite describe Audi's current fleet of offerings as mass market by any measure, I think Audi have wielded the introduction of the RS e-tron GT to great effect, giving consumers an idea of what a world of electric mobility could look like with Audi. It helps that the RS e-tron GT is a brilliant car, combining immense power with 4 door practicality to create a car that is quiet, supremely comfortable, practical, and gobsmackingly fast. Superlative - is how I would describe the car. The thing is, a great car can only continue to be great for as far as it can carry you, and therein lies the importance of this trip - which is that Audi's electric offerings are in no uncertain terms, capable of the much travelled and well traversed route between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. During the press dinner that was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Markus Schuster, Managing Director of Audi Singapore, also took time to share that the undertaking of such a trip was a good indication that the time for electric mobility isn't just a dream or a future thought, but rather one that has well and truly arrived - considering both the capabilities of Audi electric vehicles, as well as the charging infrastructure required for cross border travel between Singapore and Malaysia.
How did the Cars Fare on the Trip?
From earlier testing of the vehicles within Singapore, we were already well acquainted with the performance capabilities of the RS e-tron GT, coupled with its impressive air suspension setup and ride quality. SG Family Man was scheduled for the return leg of the journey from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Our departure from the Four Seasons Hotel in Kuala Lumpur began with time spent in in the e-tron S Sportback, and we got to experience first hand, how Audi's 2.6 tonne, tri-motor monster transitioned from the less than perfect roads within Kuala Lumpur's city centre, to the wide open roads of the North South Highway. In town, the S Sportback possessed the necessary mass and hardware to quite literally bash the bumps into submission, making what would have been a pretty harsh ride in any other car, a rather nonchalant and uneventful one in the S Sportback - which was much appreciated in this case. We did not get to drive either of the GTs around town, but from what we hear from our colleagues, the air suspension on the RS paid dividends and also made light work of Kuala Lumpur's pock-marked and pot-holed streets.
Up on the open roads, we were able to fully experience the might of Audi's electric drivetrains. While comfort and ride quality still mattered, the potency of the drivetrains became omnipresent, delivering lung-bursting acceleration and what seemed like never ending amounts of torque at the beck and call of the driver. While performance petrol powered cars are also more than capable of producing performance figures similar to that of the e-tron fleet, I feel that the allure of electric power does not lie in its speed, but rather in its relentlessness under acceleration. You get shoved back in your seat and your heart skips a little happy beat, and the cars really do take your breath away - In that moment, you feel more like a pilot to these technological marvels than a driver.
Having driven all three cars now in high speed, open road conditions, I would say that the RS e-tron GT ultimately manages to be the most well rounded performer among the fleet. While it is Audi's most expensive and most powerful car to date, it is not the RS performance that works in favour of the car. Rather, it is the way the car plasters itself to the road in a manner where you almost feel the car creating more downforce the faster you go. Combine this with 4 door practicality and rear passenger comfort, along with its air suspension setup, the RS e-tron GT is an extremely relaxed performance cruiser, and will not trouble or unnerve its driver even when cutting through higher wind conditions and higher speeds less travelled by the average consumer. If you're not a particularly confident driver though, then the standard e-tron GT would present as an easier car to drive, simply by virtue that it packs less power than its RS sibling. Being an SUV, the S Sportback naturally has its advantages in terms of rear passenger comfort, and as the driver, you do feel like an absolute boss seated in the most commanding driving position. Though capable of similar speeds as the GTs, I do feel that the S Sportback does its best work at more leisurely paces, as the format of the vehicle does make it more susceptible to cross winds through certain high wind areas.
Charging & Viability
Before we set off from the Hotel, we were given a detailed driver's briefing by Mr Jason Chew, Co-Founder of Pitcrew Events, who are on the best in the business when it comes to organising and leading high performance driving based events. He shared that while charging stations were not uncommon in Malaysia, only Tenaga Nasional, the country's national energy provider, was technically licensed to sell electricity. As such, all electric chargers in Malaysia are actually charged based on time blocks. In essence, the consumer pays an augmented rate based on time rather than on the amount of electricity consumed during the charge. To facilitate our return journey, the Audi fleet was charged overnight at the lower speed chargers found within a designated area within the KLCC carpark.
Once at full charge, the cars were technically capable of making the entire journey back into Singapore had we been driving in eco mode, but alas we weren't, and so had to stop for a quick top off a little more than mid way along the journey. To facilitate this charge, we were scheduled to stop at one of the six planned Shell superchargers located at Tangkak along the North South Highway (south-bound). During this stop, Jason further shared how more of such superchargers are already in the development pipeline, which would then see decent charging station coverage across the North South Highway. He also took time to show us how to hook up the chargers to the cars, and demonstrated the 180 kilowatt charging speed of the supercharger, the fastest available charing speed available in Malaysia at the moment. At such speeds, a full charge on an electric vehicle should take approximately 30 - 40 minutes.
30 - 40 minutes feels like a long time to be waiting around for a charge, especially if you're used to the concept of refuelling with a petrol powered vehicle. However, Jason shares that while charging times are set to become faster and faster with the relevant infrastructural upgrades, some wait time for electrical charging is inevitable. As such, electricity providers like Shell have taken efforts to expand the size of the air-conditioned waiting areas, and have spruced up these areas with excellent F&B offerings in the form of a deli that carries an assortment of pastries, Costa Coffee - which boasts some of the most impressive automated coffee vending machines I have ever seen, and Tea Live - a homegrown bubble tea chain serving up refreshing treats. I had a sparkling fruit tea with pearls that really hit the spot with the outside conditions being hot and humid.
For some time, and perhaps due to Covid, the conversation about electric vehicles in Singapore seemed to revolve around domestic usage, and rightly so - it makes sense to worry about where you can charge your electric car in Singapore before worrying about whether you can take the car up North. However, the borders have opened, and land travel between Singapore and Malaysia is inevitable. While the charging infrastructure in Malaysia does feel like there is still huge room for improvement and expansion, there is factually a system in place already that works and is capable of supporting road trips in electric vehicles. It seems then, that the user experience involved with the uptake of electric vehicles is really coming together, with not just extremely capable electric vehicles taking centre stage in this equation, but also the necessary charging network and support businesses making the process a rather enjoyable one. I wouldn't necessarily take an electric vehicle up to Cameron Highlands or Genting Highlands just yet, but a trip to the more commonly visited Kuala Lumpur or Malacca is no longer a long shot - It is totally and completely achievable.
Want to find out more about the Audi range of electric vehicles, checkout our full review of the Audi e-tron S Sportback right here.
Or, watch our night drive video of the RS e-tron GT:
Photos by David Foo, Clifford Chow, and Audi Singapore.