Porsche hosts test-drives here for South-east Asian journalists

The writer's route takes him to Neo Teow Lane in Kranji.
The writer's route takes him to Neo Teow Lane in Kranji.ST PHOTO: TOH YONG CHUAN

Journalists from South-east Asia are invited to try cars on set routes that take them through interesting spots

Think of international test-drives and images of exotic locations come to mind.

Carmakers spare no expense arranging for journalists to put their cars through the paces in exotic places such as the Italian Mediterranean holiday island of Sardinia or in Germany where sections of its famed autobahns do not have posted speed limits, allowing drivers to go full throttle.

In an unusual move, German luxury and sports car maker Porsche has started holding such drive events in Singapore.

Since October last year, it has played host to 90 journalists and writers from countries including Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam on three-day-two-night all-expense- paid trips to Singapore to review its stable of sports cars such as the 911 Targa, Panamera S E-Hybrid and Boxster GTS .

Porsche Asia Pacific is believed to be the only company that conducts regional test drives on a large scale here.

The only other carmaker that has done something similar is Volkswagen, but it was on an ad hoc basis for far smaller numbers of journalists: 12 from Malaysia in 2009 and eight from Brunei last year.

Mr Colin Yong, the former public relations manager of Volkswagen Group Singapore who arranged the test drives, says: "Unfortunately, the local traffic conditions and the cost of cars here precludes holding bigger events like those overseas. If anything, Volkswagen would hold those in Malaysia."

But the lack of driving roads did not deter Porsche Asia Pacific.

Its public relations manager, Ms Calista Tambajong, says it took about four months to put the programme together from July last year.

The toughest part was planning suitable driving routes because Singapore is small and built up, she adds.

International test-drives usually require journalists to clock more than 100km each over various types of road and terrain. The Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), Singapore's longest, is just 43km long. And it is straight and monotonous.

Porsche roped in local motorsports event organiser Karl Daruwalla to draw up the driving routes.

"The team looked at the Singapore map and interesting points, depending on the driving theme - eco-friendly or nightlife - and then we tested the routes," says Ms Tambajong. After trying out various routes, three of distances between 112km and 200km were nailed down.

They were then loaded into the cars' satellite navigation system, and journalists just had to follow the programmed routes to complete the test-drives of between six and nine hours, including a meal break.

I sampled a 190km route two weeks ago in a Boxster GTS.

Starting the journey at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, the drive took me to Kent Ridge Park and Mount Faber where the Boxster GTS pulled effortlessly up the steep, single lane slopes.

The route then diverted to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve via the PIE and Bukit Timah Expressway, which were mostly boring stretches of expressways.

From the wetland reserve, Porsche cleverly plotted a 36km loop along Sungei Kadut, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang and Lim Chu Kang, along mostly quiet roads lined with factories and forests.

It was my favourite section of the drive, revealing parts of Lim Chu Kang that were new to me.

The rest of the route included Thomson, Mandai, Orchard Road and the Marina Bay areas.

About 190km and eight hours later, including a meal break at the Singapore Marriott Hotel, I have driven enough to see a representative cross-section of Singapore and its roads.

The expressways were expectedly boring, but there were enough out-of-the-way and offbeat detours to keep the drive interesting.

The other two routes that I did not get to sample included pit-stops at locations such as the Kranji War Memorial, Singapore Zoo, Gardens by the Bay and Sentosa.

Porsche was coy about revealing the cost of organising such an event. Ms Tambajong would only say that it includes the depreciation of the car, accommodation and meals.

She adds quickly that the public need not worry about Porsche cars driven by foreign journalists zipping around.

"We put safety first," she says, adding that the journalists were reminded of safety rules, traffic signs and even penalties during briefings.

Porsche's test-drive season in Singapore is expected to last until September. About 30 journalists are expected to make the trip to sample the 911 GTS over the next two months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2015, with the headline 'Porsche hosts test-drives here'. Print Edition | Subscribe