Have you ever looked at a map and wondered, whats there on that point of it? I am such person. I was notoriously known for that one fella who never submitted any homework for the Geography, but never scored anything less than an A for it. I loved reading maps, just to stare endlessly at maps and wonder what life was like there. And two corners that always caught my eye on the Peninsular Malaysian map was the two biggest lake this side of our country. Tasik Kenyir and Tasik Temenggor were two places I fantasized about visiting. After lots of conversations with the regional ‘otais’ and some research online, I plotted the right type of route to cover both lakes in one go. Only one concern though, this trip takes us across some of the most remote locations in Kelantan and Terengganu respectively. I wanted to make sure we had the most apt and heavy duty car for the job.
Enter the Decepticon-looking Chevrolet Colorado Sport. The Chevy Colorado was already known in the market to sport the highest amount of torque, 500Nm to be exact with its rivals toying with the early 400 figures. With the Sport however, Chevy takes it one step further with adjustable suspensions, bigger tyres and rims, and a tinny tinkering in the engine’s ECU to change the mapping and power delivery. The result, something closer to a Baja 1000 racer than your average pick-up truck. After just two corners on our personal ‘proving ground’, I barely slept as my camera crew and me prepared for a journey that would take me over 1000 km across the peninsular.
Cheras to Sentul (1.00 am)
My crew for this trip consisted of two lensemen and two drivers including me. It would be a non-stop trek from Midnight to the coast of Terengganu. We left my house at Pekan Batu 11 in Cheras on a wet 12.30 midnight and proceeded to Sentul for some killer Sizzling Lamb Chop from the famous Mani’s mamak. After a heavy supper, we headed off to Temerloh via the Karak Highway in semi-wet conditions.
Sentul to Temerloh (2.30 am)
The mist shrouded and slippery Karak highway is nothing short of mesmerising. It’s every bit as beautiful as it is dangerous, a point that was proven just after the tunnel towards Bentong. We just missed an accident by mere minutes, whereby a trailer overturned on the downhill right after Bukit Tinggi. Since there were emergency vehicles on site we chose to proceed with our journey. An important note, if you were to witness an accident out here make sure your cars parked further away from the accident site in a clearly sighted location and be quick to call the 999 emergency hotline. Use the KM marker as reference to the location, also inform the emergency response team which direction the accident has occurred (Dari KL menghala ke Bentong… vice versa). Every minute counts so make the call first even if you don’t choose to stop to help.
Temerloh to Rantau Abang (6.00 am)
We arrived in Temerloh at about 2am, and with a quick pee break and fuel up, it was time for driver no. 2, Sebastian Chan to take over the wheels and for me to get the much needed shut eye as we trekked towards the east coast along the LPT highway. It was pretty much a smooth, mist covered drive towards Kerteh where I woke up from my slumber. The petroleum refinery is visible in the dark as an amber glow from the ground against the overcast above, you can’t mistake it for anything else.
Its 6 am and we pull up towards the quaint coastal town of Rantau Abang. The citizens of the town had yet to begin their activities as we pulled into a stall next to the beach, hungry, tired and in dire need for nourishment. The “Akak” who runs the stall served us a plateful of Nasi Minyak Gulai Ayam, and Nasi Lemak with something called sambal ikan tongkol. We apologize for the missing food pictures because all that remained was empty plates when we remembered we brought along DSLR’s.
Rantau Abang to Tasik Kenyir (8.30am)
A quick drive to the beach itself for some sunrise shots and kissing the South China Sea, we loaded up and continued to trek towards Tasik Kenyir. The roads from Rantau Abang to the biggest man-made lake in the Peninsular consist of fast sweeping turns in the initial part and eventually becoming more 3 dimensional with marginal slopes. For a truck, the Colorado Sport could be made to turn by using just the power. The tyre and suspension setup allows the car to be stable as the 500Nm torque (I swear it feels more than that) shoots you out of every turn in vigor. Be mindful of the local residents, bikes with helmetless riders are common out here so be sure you practice caution before jetting around the bends.
The roads around Tasik Kenyir could have been straight out of the sets of The Walking Dead, or Jurassic Park. Misty cool mountain and rainforest lined, there was not a single car to be found in any direction for the longest of times. To a point it was actually eerie to rumble along alone. My biggest fear was stumbling upon a heard of Elephant, which would result in a long and interesting explanation to Chevy Malaysia’s insurance panel.
The sights that awaited us was nothing short of spectacular. It almost seemed like we were in a completely different country, a far cry from the urban jungle of the Klang Valley. The roads itself is smooth with plenty of straights to bury the loud pedal. Be mindful of the corners thought, cause there are plenty of landslides that most definitely occur here. With no cell phone reception (barely) and virtually traffic free it’s not a pleasant place to have an accident. Otherwise the scenery, flowing but slightly bouncy roads are amazing for an exotic motoring getaway.
Tasik Kenyir to Chiku (via Felda Airing) (9.30am)
This was the missing link I wanted to investigate in this part of Malaysia. I’ve seen plenty of videos of people heading to Kenyir but no one mentions of any link to the Gerik-Jeli highway. But Google maps suggested that there is a way to reach the Gua Musang – Kota Baharu highway from Tasik Kenyir.
This is where the Colorado came in really handy. With the adjustable shocks and big Falken tyres allowing it to take fast sweeping corners in the roads before and on the highway, the fact that it was a truck gave us confidence that we could manage most of the nasty surprises that the road is going to throw us.
And just as expected, a whole section of the road was being repaved, both lanes. There was no tarmac, only gravel. In my Peugeot 208 GTi I would’ve broken down and cried. With this though we just rolled along, listening to Snoop Dogg.
Once we passed the unpaved sections though we saw what the product of the repaving would look like. Smooth and thick tarmac awaited on the other side, with beautiful elevation changes that cut through the Felda development. Just a light prod of the throttle and the 500Nm (and according to my butt dyno about 200bhp) 2.8 Duramax (love that name!) diesel pinned us all back to our seats.
Towards the later end of the stretch the roads got a little ruttered and patchy but nothing a hot hatch or GT car cant handle.
Chiku to Gerik – Jeli highway (via Kampung Sg Sam) (11am)
As we emerged on to the Gua Musang – Kota Baharu highway, we took a quick pit stop at the nearby Petron station. After topping up with the beast with Diesel and emptying our bladders, we proceeded forward towards the second Felda shortcut at Sungai Sam.
Route 66 (the Kelantan version) links Highway 8 (Gua Musang – Kota Baharu) to Highway 4 (Gerik – Jeli). This stretch reminded me a little bit of the initial part of Sg Koyan towards the end and a little bit of Episode 5 in the beginning.
The Colorado Sport’s chassis tuning is brilliant here. Im surprised that I manage to coax this beast to clip every apex despite its mass and setup. I mean, it’s a utility vehicle at first right? Not to mention the axle hop it should suffer on bouncy tarmac at speeds. But this Beast just clips, absorbs and drives away. All you need to do is not to get too ambitious at entry speed, direct the nose to the apex, a little in from where you’re aiming, ease in the gas and open up the steering wheel. The truck jets you out of the apex and into the next corner. Repeat this process and you will cover half the country in less than half a day.
Being a diesel you don’t have to rev its nuts out. Its kind of counter intuitive if you’re used to high revving petrol engines. But that’s the way the Diesel works. Ride the torque.
Gerik – Jeli Highway to Penang (12.30am)
This was the main reason I started this trek. As mentioned in the beginning, I have heard so much about this highway that I really needed to see what the fuss was all about for myself. From what I heard is that this highway was not built for practical reasons but mostly to serve as a quick access for the troops to the mountain top bunkers that lined the Titiwangsa Mountain range between Penang and Kelantan. The other road that I know off that was built for military purposes is the Autobhans.
This route didn’t disappoint. The initial part just out of Dabong will seem like any other mountain pass in Malaysia, like Jelapang, Simpang Pulai and Karak. But there onwards, the highway cuts right across the mountain peaks. That’s right, OVER THE PEAKS. The view on either side of the highway is nothing short of spectacular. I’m not going to lie there were times I did get distracted with the view.
At the aptly named Hentian Titiwangsa, the Colorado Sport has already got heavy streaks of watermarks, brake dust, and a battlefield of dead bugs on the grille. The media crew have totally washed themselves out too staying up from midnight until 1 pm the next day.
After a forgetful lunch at Tasik Banding, I buried the loud pedal once again to jet towards Penang. After 15 hours past my bedtime, I was also getting a little cranky. The sweeping downhill corners was a breeze for the torquy stable beast. Any high speed bumps does not throw the rear end off the line, the adjustable shocks keeps the hopping in check at the back and tracking the right line accurate at the front.
Pure grip from the Falken’s just aid in deploying the torque and managing the weight of the beast downhill on turn in.
Gerik to Butterworth (3.30pm)
Reaching the paddy fields just outside of the Seberang Prai area after Kulim, gave a sign of comfort. It meant we were reaching the goal of our day journey. Our friends at OTC Holdings Sdn Bhd, Butterworth were waiting for us with the standard Colorado and a nice cosy apartment.
It was no time to crash in just yet, we had one more thing to do. A quick dash over the straights to the Island. With the mandatory bridge crossing shots taken, and a lazy drive into the city for some late night desert, my zombified crew and I crashed into our beds after staying awake past our bedtimes for more than 20 hours.
Breakfast in Butterworth (8am)
The next day our friends at OTC Butterworth requested us to get up real early and join them for breakfast. Most of us are well informed about the famous eateries on the island. But butterworth held a better secret and was teeming with amazing items in just one morning market spot.
Curry Mee, Prawn Mee, Apam, Mee Bandung the works. We barely finished all the dishes and we were very hungry. It was literally death by breakfast. The guys at OTC had a standard Colorado Muscle Power with them, which is the base car the Sport is built on. Driving both cars back to back showed just how much the Chevy Malaysia team had worked on the car. Yes, this is an exclusively in house project with local parties working on turning a utilitarian beast into a fire breathing cross country Dakar racer.
The wheel hops were way more controlled in the Sport, the turn in much crisper, way more speed can be carried in. Even with Chevy Malaysia refusing to disclose the actual output of the remap, the throttle characteristics is completely different. The aggressive tune of the entire vehicle makes it feel like an overtly steroid induced, red bull jacked up bull. It’s still capable of hauling cargo and be used as a workhorse but when you do put the foot down it can scare hot hatches on Touge’s.
To KL and Conclusion
As we avoided the traffic riddled North South highway and cruised along the B-Roads with my 2nd driver taking the wheel, I checked out the pictures and reflected on our journey. All in all the round trip from KL to the East Coast to Penang and back amounted to 1280km. There were two things that stuck my mind.
Our country is an exotic driving heaven. Forget Stelvio Pass, forget Col de Tourinin or the Evo triangle. The culture and flora rich rural Malaysian countryside hides many gems that will serve as the perfect backdrop for an amazing driving getaway. The scenic riverside view with the misty mountain as the backdrop, fishermen fishing in the river, it’s just breath taking to know that such enclaves still exist. A far cry from the Friday evening massacre on the klang valley roads. Every petrol head has to drive up here at least once just for the sake of it, just to reward your ride and you.
The car. With the right collection of parts and tuning, this high performance truck was very fast and very well sorted at handling the challenging and technical courses we encountered. And since it’s a utilitarian truck underneath the sporty garnish, it feels like I can run 5 more journeys like that and still it wouldn’t break sweat. It’s the heavy duty high performance ride we all need in our garage. The Japanese rivals did produce similar spinoffs but on the outlook alone the Chevy Colorado Sports looks a million miles cooler, especially in all black. Its far less fussy and much more imposing than its rivals.
So to conclude, before you dismiss that Ulu Yam or Kelawang are the last driving resorts in Malaysia, take time to get to know our rural areas a little more. Put the passport down and pick up the car keys. Don’t be too quick to dismiss that our roads are too clogged up.
And if you’re lucky enough to spend RM140k on a truck hands down this would be it. The latest Colorado High Country is a big improvement, inside and out compared to this version, and yes, we have driven it too. And from what I hear there might be a 2nd incarnation of the Sport that will ensue. Now where does this road go…. (scrolling on google maps)