I have discovered a quick salve should you feel jaded during the week and need a perky pick-me-up. Head for the hills – or in my case, a drive up the gently serpentine road to the quaint village of Janda Baik, followed by a vigorous sprint halfway up Genting, to Awana.
The opportunity presented itself with a convoy drive of the ‘All New Toyota Vios’ – all 1.5 litres of normally aspirated, internal combustion complete with throbbing pistons connected to the drive shaft and spinning wheels – as the vehicle of choice for this sojourn up the hill.
It is tagged “All New” simply because this fourth generation of the popular model is indeed new. To begin with, it sits on a new platform that is of continuous frame design and uses high tensile materials that increase rigidity but shave off 100kg from the previous model.
The ‘petrolheads’ among the automotive fraternity had their full-blooded road test way back in March and it is only now that the so-called ‘lifestylers’ got their turn to put the Vios through its paces.
You know there’s more to the ‘drive’ than just a leisurely jaunt when you are asked for your choice of menu for a four-course Western lunch well in advance.
You are also alerted that creative photography is the order of the day when Toyota engaged the services of commercial photographer Chen Kim Mun to impart his camera craft built into the day-long programme.
So, the morning started off with what I call an exquisite breakfast spread – cold and hot selection, a dollop of dim sum, and a choice of fine teas to complement the obligatory teh tarik (tea) and kopi kaw (strong coffee).
Breakfast out of the way, it was on to a little bit of ‘back-to-the-classroom’, for a briefing on the new Vios – the car for which we were to put to the test for the best part of the day ahead.
Who could be a better spokesman than Toyota’s Strategic Branding and Marketing Manager Iwan Shafiee, with his quick wit and quicker repartee, whose task it was to extol the virtues of the All-New Vios.
With features melding Malay and Chinese parentage, he has a disarmingly charming reply when asked about his ethnicity. “I get asked that question a lot,” he says, adding; “..some ask if I am American!” With that type of sparky nonchalance, the day ahead promises to be fun-filled with merriment laced with gallows humour to put the participants at ease.
Once the briefing was done, it was on to the flag-off and our first ‘pit-stop’ – PARC at Subang Jaya, popular with locals for jogging in the evenings. Local lore has it that the lake, which is its central feature, harbours some crocodilian ‘tenants’, and for that reason, fishing is not allowed.
Here, we got our first taste of celebrity-‘dom’ when the thespian pair of Amelia Henderson and Addy Asyraf made an appearance. Put stars on the bonnet of a car and some amongst the posse of impressionable pressmen will go ‘ga ga’! (Well, I am no celeb stalker, more of a ‘shrug-the-shoulders’ type of by-stander).
Here, Kim Mun imparted his knowledge and craft on the art of framing and composition – so the participants could take photos that bring out the best of both celebrity(ies) and the Vios workhorse. Everyone took this task seriously as there were good prizes promised as an incentive for clicking the best photos.
From Subang, it was a spirited drive all the way to the Gombak toll for our next pit stop at Embun Villa in Janda Baik.
The pack proceeded in convoy (and we were given the green light to push – really put the pedal to the metal), with the assurance from the lead marshal that some benefactor would absolve us of any liability for our intense effort.
On this stretch, we were encouraged by Mr Lead Marshal through two-way walkie-talkie communication to try the various features that make this Vios, new.
You are reminded that several reinforcements have been made to key areas for improved collision safety – that is indeed very reassuring, considering the rather spirited way the cars were handled in the fast-moving convoy!
When you go astray, there’s an alphabet soup of features including LDP (Lane Departure Prevention), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), FDA (Front Departure Alert), ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control), and AHB (Auto High Beam) to keep you honest.
What I did not like, but was really good for me, was the LDP, which sends a static electricity-type jolt from the steering wheel coursing through your arms to prevent the car from straying from its driven lane.
This convoy-type driving activity took the posse on the busy Thursday through a mix of dual carriageways and some busy city driving before coming to the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (DUKE) and onto the Gombak toll. This may not have been the challenging Karak highway in its entirety but challenging enough to put the handling characteristics of the Vios to the test.
The winding drive whetted our appetite – others for driving, mine for lunch. Embun Villa laid on a four-course meal befitting the occasion. Set amidst a tranquil hilly terrain, one is overwhelmed by the peace, quiet, and greenery that is, thankfully for now; the prevailing condition in Janda Baik. Visit now since it has not yet lost its allure to over-development.
Though limited in space, a quiet corner with just enough wiggle room for the Vios to be parked comfortably was one prime favourite spot chosen for the photography session.
Here, the Vios’s new iteration, featuring angular fastback outline vents and canards, as well as muscly disposition, really stood out, set against the idyllic landscape and homely compound.
We would have liked to stay longer – there was an inviting pool that I would have loved to have jumped into. Unfortunately, no one packed their Speedos on this trip, although I suspect our accommodative host would most probably not mind us skinny-dipping.
From Embun, the convoy resumed, this time headed for Awana, halfway up Genting. The sky looked ominous with clouds gathering, signalling the rains to come. The snakey mountain road gave us drivers the opportunity to unleash that pent-up desire to really press the pedal to the metal. My co-driver, who in his professional life is more of an academic lab rat actually as his day job, dared to lean into corners till the tyres screeched in submission.
With this being the rainy season, the Vios’s handling was put to the test with visibility down to 70 metres as the clouds descended blanketing the road ahead with a fluffy thick mist blanket. Had the fog gotten thicker, maybe Iwan would have issued IFR notices prior to departure, so we could ‘fly blind’ if needed.
It was fun gathering all the Vios at the hotel car park as we bravely used the foggy background for photography – you might be stimulated somewhat by the result with headlights full on when the clock only showed 4pm!
The warm bosom of the Awana Genting resort signalled the end of the journey up the hill where high tea awaited. Those who supped up enough of Kim Mun’s photography tips were rewarded with rather generous prizes, which simply drills home the point – listen to the teacher!
The top prize went to – who else but a photographer, whose efforts to portray Amelia and beau sitting on the bonnet of the Vios at PARC with outstretched arms as worthy of being passed off as good enough to go for print advertising purposes. Good for him!
The drive back to home base at UMW Toyota HQ was uneventful, except Waze chose to direct us to use the longest route possible – taking into account this was late evening and Friday return-home traffic conditions. In the event, my car was the last to reach home base – just before 9pm but there faithfully waiting for our safe return was the team from Toyota and their event guys – such patience rivalling Job’s.
A day well spent. The Vios and the location(s) fitted the bill, in this little trip up the hill – where I found my chill pill!