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Effortless to drive, and of course, surprisingly easy to recharge - the Audi e-tron family impresses us on our first post-pandemic road trip from KL.

19 May 2022

In one of the early shots of Avengers: Endgame, Tony Stark interrupts Steve Rogers' morose staring-into-the-distance when he rumbles into view driving an unidentified Audi. Cutting a low, wide and fittingly futuristic figure, it perhaps resembled the A7 Sportback most strongly, but was still nothing like we had ever seen from the marque. 

That was in 2019. In the years that have followed, that car has since been revealed to be the e-tron GT - arguably Audi's halo car of the 2020s, promising to usher in an unprecedented and bold era of style and performance, all-electric. Coincidentally, it's also the car I find myself sitting at the helm of now as we bear down towards Johor. 

Our all-electric road trip from KLCC to Aperia Mall: Straddling the line between fantasy and real life - each side for a different reason
If parallels have to be drawn with the fantasy of alien-fighting and time-travelling in Marvel's universe, piloting the e-tron GT on the fast lane of the NS Highway does momentarily light one up with a feverish, child-like sensation of invincibility. Almost wildly. 

When taking a step back to regard the entire day from start to finish, however, the manner in which our expedition today has unfurled is decidedly un-superhero-film-like - in the sense that it's demonstrated that an all-electric road trip up North/down South is (thankfully) no longer far removed from reality. 

Driving - and therefore recharging - as we would on the NS Highway 

Our e-trons are left to charge overnight with the AC wall outlets in the basement carpark of Suria KLCC
I am first acquainted with our three all-electric companions for the road trip on the basement carpark of Suria KLCC, where they have been left to charge overnight. 

There are 20 outlets here at the shopping mall's Premium Parking area on level P2 - all AC (alternating current) ones with a power rating of 22kW. The e-tron S Sportback's 95kWh battery pack makes it the largest here, but only by a margin, since the e-tron GT and fiercer RS e-tron GT use the same 93.4kWh battery. Because all three cars support a maximum of only 11kW when charging via AC though, getting their batteries loaded (and locked) does take the full duration of a night's rest - no issue, nonetheless, since that's exactly what we were doing in preparation for the road trip.

Hypermiling such powerful machines on the NS Highway is like going to a Michelin star restaurant and only ordering one starter...  
Driven efficiently, the longest distance runner of the three, the e-tron GT, will easily return more than 430km of range (it's rated officially at 480km), meaning you could technically make it to the Causeway… but be worried sick throughout the entire trip about bad traffic, and then have to dart to the nearest Shell Recharge once across the border. 

Moreover, to want to hypermile along the North-South highway when in any of the three cars we have here today is sacrilegious; almost like going to a Michelin star restaurant and ordering just one starter because you want to spare your wallet.

No - cars are built for driving (well, some are), and highways are built for speed. With the Audi e-tron S Sportback, e-tron GT, and RS e-tron GT, speed is exactly what we get up to (I personally only have a go at the first two). Because southbound traffic is thankfully very light on this Thursday morning, we get no shortage of opportunities to just let the world slip into slow motion and… go. 

Whenever we get the chance, we point and shoot the e-trons at the horizon - although that ultimately eats into their range 
When the lead car gives us the green light (quite literally, since it's the Kyalami green RS 3 Sedan) to push forward, even the heftiest of the lot - the e-tron S Sportback - is raring to charge ahead.

These are breathtaking machines, built not just for a greener, but more exciting future. Our undeniable star of the pack, the RS e-tron GT, will do 0-100km/h in 3.3 seconds (0-200km/h? In just over 10 seconds), putting it right up there among the quickest EVs now. With the exception of a blue Lamborghini Urus at one point, and (for some reason) um, a very brave Proton X70 driver, nothing tries to challenge the pack. 

As such, in spite of having taken multiple rest stops for driver swaps, and another for some root beer floats from Ayer Keroh A&W, we end up hitting pause at Philea Resort (just north east of central Malacca) - some 130-140km off our starting point in Kuala Lumpur City Centre - well before 12:00pm for lunch. 

Gunning the cars as we do, we ultimately pull off the highway into Shell Tangkak to recharge
Having put the cars through their (frankly terrifying) paces means that we ultimately pull off the highway again not long after lunch at Shell Tangkak, where a rapid charging outlet is already waiting for us. A collaboration between energy provider Shell Recharge and local Malaysian app ParkEasy means that parking bays (some, with EV charging stations) can be reserved up to 60 minutes in advance for drivers wishing to recharge their cars, which the crew has kindly done for us. 

While driving the e-trons with a bit more caution thrown to the wind means eating into range, their battery architectures also allow for extremely quick recharging. The e-tron S Sportback will regain 80% of its range in less than 40 minutes with a 150kW DC charger, while both the e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT can narrow the wait time down even further - to just 23 minutes - should a 270kW DC outlet be available. 

Shell Recharge's HPC network is set to expand very soon, with at least five more locations confirmed
The Shell Recharge station at Tangkak has the fastest charger currently on the entire North South highway, rated at 180kW (it's CCS, so CHAdeMO-fitted EVs may kindly turn away). Of note, however, is that this serves only the Southbound part of the expressway.

In the meantime, plans have already been made for at least five more 180kW chargers to join what Shell Recharge is calling its High Performance Charging (HPC) network, including a Northbound one at Shell Pagoh, close to Muar. For about half an hour, the three all-electric siblings take turns to get their electrons fired up, while we stretch our own legs and sip on bubble tea and coffee (essentials for any road trip). Then we're off again. 

Planning is necessary, but not difficult

At about 5:00pm, we are already back in Aperia Mall. (After switching from Dynamic to Efficiency mode, and then back to Dynamic mode again, the Audi e-tron GT's trip computer is showing about 8km of range left as we pull into the parking bay with Audi's fast-charging outlet.) My eyes are a bit sore from the relentless sunlight over the past six hours, but I am buzzing silently with excitement: Over my first ever all-electric road trip from KL to Singapore. 

With its amount of range (and with the amount of fun we have), the Sportback ends up needing two recharges
Nonetheless, it would be remiss not to point out that there was a point where the weakness of being a less-than-outstanding marathoner started to show. What I haven't mentioned up to this point is that earlier in the day, our rest stop at Ayer Keroh also saw the e-tron S Sportback being tugged away from its siblings to get plugged in for a brief 20ish minutes. 

Its official range stands at 380km - an acceptable, not remarkable figure - but gunning it along the NS Highway cuts that down almost as quickly as the car can accelerate. During the stretch for which my trip partner and I had the SUV, the car's trip computer was displaying an energy consumption of roughly 2.8km/kWh - far off the official 3.8km/kWh. 

At about 4:00pm, we are already near the border - with lunch, driver swaps and recharges all done and dusted
What this means is that planning one's rest stops - and doing so purposefully rather than according to when you feel your bladder is at its limit - is key when you're in an all-electric car. Malaysia's network of chargers is growing exponentially, with Shell's Recharge network facing off with other local service providers like JomCharge, which is aiming to have at least 50 fast chargers on the NS Highway by end-2022. 

The fact that we were closing in on the border just slightly past 4:00pm, and then back in the East at 5:00pm, shows that a road trip doesn't have to be massively drawn out because you're whiling hours away, waiting for your car to recharge. Not in 2022 anyway, where the push for infrastructure on both sides of the Causeway Link will only continue to grow. 

Besides, to make the best of any road trip, a bit of planning does go a long way. Especially if it's to squeeze as much fun as possible out of all those miles in between.

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