Tour de Peninsula: Day 3
This was D Day, no more games, no easy cruise, no more stopping for photo ops. This was a day completely hijacked by the Route Hunters. And the main course was only one, hard driving! The team was already seasoned by both low speed and high speed B roads driving, and also mastered B-road overtaking skills over the last two days. This journey will take the team across two of the biggest lakes in Peninsula Malaysia, and the longest mountain range in South East Asia, the Banjaran Titiwangsa. Make no mistake it’s a long and arduous drive which demands a lot from Man and Machine so the drivers brief was a very serious one this time around. Mistakes could mean crashes or someone getting seriously hurt in the process.
Chiku to Jeli via Dabong
After topping up the fuel tanks and stocking up with some snacks, we threw another set of intense driving road to the team, this time between Sungai Sam to Jeli via Dabong. Just along the Gua Musang – Kota Baharu road is the exit to route no. 66 (yes we have our very own one in Malaysia). A firm favourite amongst some of the participants of the drive, this route switches from sweeping switchbacks to tightening radius blind turns within seconds.
The first part goes through some villages and then onwards is miles of flying tarmac into rubber plantations. The corners are long and really puts the balance of the car to the test. I could feel the 208 PureTech finding its damping limits here, especially with mid corner depressions. But the GTi brigade behind me were on form and totally committed.
It was hard work and after what felt a lifetime (approx. 45km), we took a breather at Gunung Stong where we could see the Stong waterfall. Claimed by waterfallsofmalaysia.com as ‘the tallest waterfall in south east asia’ it’s an imposing sight and really mesmerizing to watch. I shall let you enjoy the images we caught of the falls tell the rest of the story.
We soldiered on until we had reached Jeli, where we came to the crown jewel of our 3 day tour across the Peninsula.
Felda Airing to Chiku
If you follow through the Tasik Kenyir road you’d end up to a dead end with construction equipment. However, there’s a little, rather unassuming left turn that snakes into the oil palm plantation. After the flowing tarmac of Tasik Kenyir, we dive straight into the twisty high intensity plantation road of Felda Airing.
The tarmac is fresh, laid down just after 2015, the first time Route Hunters trekked on this road. At that time bulk of the road was still badly paved or completely unpaved in some areas. Now though with the exception of one or two rather nasty bulges in the tarmac (expected since commercial vehicles are the biggest users of the road), this road lets you live your Sebastian Loeb fantasies.
The hazard here is to watch out for slow moving tractors or trucks that might pull up from either side of the roads. Otherwise the crazy elevation changes gives a good view of the road ahead, aiding overtakes. Towards the end of the course the surface gets a little choppy, where you will join the Gua Musang – Kota Baharu Highway.
Jeli to Penang
And we finally came to the crown jewel of the Malaysian driving roads, Route 4 linking Jeli and Gerik. Regarded as the best road in West Malaysia, this piece of tarmac did not disappoint. A little history, this piece of highway was NOT primarily designed to be an infrastructural project, but more related to Security. It was a way for the government to monitor and subdue communist activities which were rampant in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Proof of that can be seen today as there are bunkers littered along the way on the highway. And unlike other mountain passes in Malaysia, this route here cuts right OVER the mountain tops and not around it like say, Simpang Pulai, Sungai Koyan, or Karak.
Because of that, this road is prone to extreme weather and achingly beautiful landscapes on either side. Both were things we encountered in this drive. As soon as we started climbing up the mountains the heavens opened up and torrential rain just poured relentlessly until the visibility was down to almost zero.
Here’s where the GTi club really showed they were made out of real enthusiasts. Zero excuses were given, maximum effort was put in and they soldiered on up the mountain despite the appalling conditions. We zoomed uphill until we reached the Banjaran Titiwangsa R & R point, which was 1050m above sea level (good god!). We waited until the storm passed as we pacified the hunger storm brewing in our stomach.
Merang to Tasik Kenyir
Timing was everything for day 3 and I was having none of the compromises that we tolerated for Day 1 and Day 2. So after a quick sunrise photography we shot off at 8.00am from the Suria Beach Resort in Merang towards Tasik Kenyir. To get to Kenyir we would traverse through the heart of Terengganu via the villages of Chalok, Setiu and Kampung Basu before heading into the road that would lead to Tasik Kenyir. The first half was mildly twisty, definitely narrow, made for a better substitute to the morning coffee.
It was still fairly early and this is a region far removed from any urbanization activities. So the roads and the mountains surrounding them were still shrouded in early morning mist. That was not to say that the drivers did not feel warmed up! As the drive progressed and the roads opened up, the convoy became more lenient on the throttle. Suffice to say the tyres, engine and our blood was warming up fast and warming up quick.
It was the right type of introduction the team needed, as this would set the tone for today’s drive until we reached Kulim. We pulled into the Pengkalan Gawai jetty area, which brought us to the water’s edge of Tasik Kenyir for some cool drone shots of the facelifted 208 GTi and a quick toilet break.
Facelift GTi on Route 4
I left the best for last, and it was well worth it. During the trip, each GTi owner took turns to sample the facelift 208 GTi on the road. I made sure that I was reserved the car for the final slot of the drive, the segment between the Banjaran Titiwangsa R&R and Kulim. This is where the roads were at its best, with beautiful downhill slopes until the Belum Rainforest Reserve complex across Tasik Banding and then again up and down the mountains towards Kulim.
The scenery is utterly breath taking and technically challenging. Although the roads are relatively wide, and well sighted, it’s still steep and the cambers are not really aggressive in aiding the turn in. It comes down to the car’s setup and balance. There’s a lot of high speed turns that require commitment from the driver, which can be unnerving for the inexperienced. This is where the GTi came into its element.
From what I gather off the technical team, there’s been a slight revision in the front suspension to accommodate the extra weight of the car, with changes made to the dampers and springs. The tyres are now Michelin Pilot Sport 3’s, and there’s a noticeable growl from the engine, as though someone locked an agitated Rottweiler under the hood. All this combined, the face lifted GTi was noticeably quicker and more planted in the turns compared to my own car. Granted, I have never driven my car out here, and it could be because I made the jump from the PureTech to the GTi on this road, but I can assure you the pace this car is capable of is nothing short of remarkable.
Once again, beautifully damped, stable, and direct, this sharp hatch was completely at home on the greatest driving road in West Malaysia. Now with 300Nm torque going through the 6 speed manual gearbox, it’s an overtaking monster. This little monster was despatching lumbering trailers with confidence and ease.
Tasik Kenyir to Felda Airing
The roads that goes around the biggest man-made lake in Peninsula Malaysia is like off a different planet. Completely void of traffic, with a couple of pickup or trailers as exceptions, this road literally leads to nowhere. But for those who are curious enough to venture into these areas the roads are utterly amazing!
There are some rogue portholes on one side of the road, either left or right, otherwise the road itself is a fast paced sweeping course. The scenery on either side is unbelievable. On one side is the mountains that crown the lake, and on the other side is the glimpse of the great lake. This can be hazardous, as you may get distracted with the scenery. Best to slow down safely and take in the view before driving forward.
The other hazard here is the frequency of landslide occurrence. It is a fairly new road on a really remote region, so landslides are plenty. Be vigilant at anticipating detours around landslides, coming in too hot is not going to be too pleasant out here, especially with zero mobile phone reception.
CS Euro and Concluding
By the time we had reached CS Euro in Butterworth, we were still pumped up with adrenaline, barely believing what we had actually accomplished. After a quick photo shoot as a team, we drove towards the bridge to CS Euro’s roadshow in Queensbay Mall. The sun was setting, the sky and sea glowing in an array of amber and orange hues behind rain clouds, the entire convoy of GTi’s were rumbling along quietly without a fuss in typical Penang traffic. It was a serene feeling, a feeling of accomplishment.
All these cars were everyday drivers used by the respective owners for their daily use. It’s what they use to commute in the Klang Valley traffic, it’s what they do their grocery shopping’s in, it’s what they drive their family around in. It’s not a bespoke weekend car, it’s their daily. The fact that the GTi put up to this kind of abuse is the second miracle. We suffered zero mechanical failures throughout this entire trip, every car drove on its own power and was never on top of a truck due to any mechanical or electrical issues. It’s been a month plus after the drive and we still have not experienced any issues. I guess the lesson here is simple. It’s a performance car with practical usage, if used as its intended with proper maintenance, the car will have no issues. This journey was proof of that.
Of course, we had one more day of driving, but for me, the TDP concluded here. On the island of Penang, I knew I bought the right car. Every dynamic and driving aspect of the car which I wrote about in my earlier blogpost in 2015 was demonstrated in this drive. A perfect car, with the perfect community, on some really perfect roads. Many thanks to the kind folks of Peugeot Setia Alam and Peugeot Citroen CS Euro Butterworth for supporting such an endeavour, and a round of applause for the Peugeot GTi Club Malaysia, you guys are mad, but in an amazing way. Now for the next trip……..