A stress-free drive

DRIVING, especially in the big city, is often stressful. However, the folks at Volkswagen Malaysia believe driving can, and should, be a relaxing and enjoyable thing.

To prove their point, Volkswagen Malaysia readied seven vehicles comprising its best-selling Jetta, Passat, Tigua, and Beetle and invited a handful of journalists on a 310km road trip from Kuala Lumpur to Gambang, Pahang.

The trip not only allows the journalists a first-hand experience of driving Volkswagen's top models but also a chance to relax at a yoga retreat in Gambang.

Along the way, we stop to switch drivers, test-drive a competitor's models, and take a break for lunch.

I have the pleasure of driving the Passat on the first leg of our journey. The sedan offers a pleasant ride that befits the well-finished German machine it is.

Its solid build ensures that noise from the outside is tuned out to the minimum, adding to the level of comfort for both passengers and driver.

I feel as though I am driving a car in a video game using a controller. It is responsive and powerful to the touch, moving precisely as the driver commands it.

It is also nimble on turns, shows no fatigue on hill climbs, and its wheels are always firmly gripping the road with no feeling of the 'lift' experienced in less stable cars
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Switching places with my co-driver on the second leg of the drive, I take the opportunity to play with the car's entertainment console and climate controls.

A standard in almost all Volkswagen cars, the console works in tandem with the mobile phone, via Bluetooth, to provide navigation and entertainment.

I just drop my phone in one of the car's many convenient compartments, and it automatically connects to the car, giving me full access to all my media.

The console also doubles as a status display, which not only keeps track of the car's condition and performance, but also its driver's preferences.

The car's climate control system divides the vehicle into three areas – the driver, the front passenger, and the back seat passenger.

The comfort level of all three zones can be adjusted independently or synced together.

After five hours on the road, we are welcomed by the staff of the uber-relaxing Mangala Resort and Spa for a night's stay.

We are also treated to three sessions of yoga – one in the evening, one at night, and one at sunrise – to get both mind and body back in tune.

On the trip back, I grab the opportunity to drive the only car in the fleet that everyone wants to try, at least once – the Volkswagen Beetle 1.2 TSI Sport.

This 2017 sports version of the iconic Beetle packs a 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged engine, which though modest in size, can run alongside the bigger cars in the convoy just fine.

Its interior is also surprisingly spacious.

Apart from its looks, what differentiates the Beetle from the rest of Volkswagen's offerings is that it offers a more traditional driving experience.

Unlike the others, it presents a broad open feel and drives like a car built for people who love driving.

At the wheel, I feel the road beneath me, and every gradient of its hard and sharp turns.

Surprisingly, for its price point, it does not have keyless entry or an electronic parking brake. Instead, you use a key to enter the car and start the engine.

In the centre console is the familiar ratcheted emergency parking leaver instead of a switch.

This retro aesthetic extends to the interior design, which features the same colour as the body of the car, large dials, and bold chrome trims.

During a pitstop at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan, we set out to test the ABS (anti-lock braking system) and manoeuvrability of the Volkswagen vehicles.

Although the Beetle is in a class of its own in terms of design, it still has the same high level of stability, manoeuvrability, and performance as the other Volkwagen models.

In the end, Volkswagen has made its point. Driving does not have to be stressful, especially if you are driving the right car.

I can see myself being stuck in the rain while driving a Volkswagen home from work, and not minding time spent in traffic because it is such a comfortable experience.

It certainly makes me consider that perhaps it's time for a new car.