With the emergence of the electric car in recent years and rising fuel prices in recent months, consumers have been exploring different options, trying to balance convenience and efficiency - with many settling on driving a hybrid vehicle. However, is a hybrid car actually good for long distance driving? Can they handle long distance road trips as efficiently as they handle city driving? In an exclusive partnership with Borneo Motors Singapore, we drive a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid from Singapore to the Southern Tip of Thailand on just one tank of fuel - to find out what driving a hybrid feels like over long distances, and just how efficient these cars can be on such a road trip.
In taking on this fuel economy challenge, the goal was always to carry out a real world test of the efficiency that the Toyota Hybrid System accorded its vehicles. While we had plenty of experience with these cars within Singapore's driving environment, taking it so far up north and attempting to do so in just one tank of fuel was something that had never been done before in the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid that we had decided to use. We chose that vehicle as it offered us ample cargo space for our filming equipment, and ample legroom for the crew the travel in comfort. We also wanted something that was large enough to comfortably handle the higher highway speeds along the North-South expressway, and also to simulate a family style road trip with a full size vehicle carrying 4 passengers and cargo.
On paper, the distance from Borneo Motors' Leng Kee showroom to the Southern Tip of Thailand was just 740km, but we were mindful that once we crossed into Perak, we would be driving through elevation. We also considered that beyond the town of Ipoh, the roads toward the actual MY-THAI checkpoint were smaller B-roads instead of an expressway. As a stopover point during the trip, we chose Ipoh as the place where we would spend the first night, before tackling the B-roads further north toward the border on the second day. As we had to drive into Ipoh town in order to get to our hotel, we also considered the impact that the congested town traffic would have on the car's economy. To make the challenge as realistic as possible, we also factored in some sight-seeing spots along the way as well as some light off-roading to add some flavour to the trip.
As we cleared customs and got on our way along the North-South Expressway, it quickly became clear that the optimal speed for the RAV4 to alternate between its engine and electrical power sources was actually between 90-100km/h. At that speed, the car was able to keep a relatively low RPM rate that was sub-2000, while allowing the electric power from the hybrid drivetrain to kick in intermittently and aid efficiency. Throughout the entire drive, we utilised the air conditioning as desired, with a mobile phone plugged into Apple Carplay - further simulating real world conditions. With economy figures in mind, we kept to about 100km/h - which is slower than the speed limit of the North-South Highway.
By the time we reached our hotel in Ipoh at the end of the first day, we had travelled 571km and were averaging more than 20km/l, and had used approximately half of our 55L fuel load - which was based almost entirely on expressway driving, but was nonetheless an impressive figure. The situation was promising, and we were fairly confident at this point that we would accomplish the challenge.
After a night's sleep and much needed rest from a fairly long first leg drive, we headed out of Ipoh on the second day, past Kuala Kangsar, and headed to the different locations and checkpoints. We visited an old monument, a lake, did some light off roading, and drove though beautiful mountain scapes and valleys - we even took a 15 minute detour to hunt down a durian farm, where we had some of the best durian we have ever eaten. Although these checkpoints were categorically on the way, they still took us off the shortest possible course and definitely affected fuel economy. Travelling on the B-roads also posed another challenge, as we were now trudging along at between 60-80km/h and were subjected to traffic, braking, traffic lights, and plenty of elevation changes. However, we were still on track to hit our target of reaching the Southern Tip of Thailand on one tank of fuel.
After half a day of driving and adventure, we finally made it to the Southern Tip of Thailand - with a quarter tank to spare. As if disappointed that the RAV4 hybrid made it so easily, we decided that instead of refuelling and ending the challenge, we would attempt to take the car back. into Ipoh without refuelling. Based on the range counter in the car and the distance back to Ipoh, there was a 60km variance, but with the checkpoints out of the way, it was a straight shot back to Ipoh, and we were quite confident that we would eliminate this variance over the course of the drive and make it back - except we didn't.
With darkness and fatigue setting in, we tried our hardest, and as we closed in on Ipoh, we were on the edge of our seats. We drove and we drove, until the range counter on the RAV4 Hybrid went 3km, 2km, 1km, and then 0km. At this point, we were still 10km from the nearest petrol station located within Ipoh, and stuck in a traffic jam in a tunnel with no road shoulder for us to pull up on if we ran out of fuel. There was not much we could except hope for the best, and with much anxiety, we inched closer and closer toward Ipoh and toward safety. Each time we felt the car was going to give out, it soldiered on bravely. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw it - the huge Petronas sign in the distance. As we rolled into the station, it was difficult not to cheer, the release of anxiety sending us into weird fits of laughter and sighs of relief. Pulling up by the pump, I took a final look down at my driver's display. We had accomplished 980km of full on adventure on one single tank of fuel - a true testament to the abilities of the Toyota Hybrid System.