Cycling Road Trip: Cameron Highlands

Mercedes Benz Malaysia (MBM) have been on a roll recently, firstly by introducing the second generation A-Class, then debuting the face lifted C-Class and ending 2018 with the introduction of three monster V8 sports utility vehicles (SUV), the GLC63, GLC63 S and the all mighty G63 G-Class.

This was all done in the span of three weeks, pretty much summing up how MBM likes to do things: fast and efficient.

When MBM introduces vehicles to the market, they usually accompany them with some sort of theme. For the A-Class it was “Urban Hunting”, which showed its true identity through an all-out party weekend with some live stage performances by an assortment of international performers such as Hoobastank and renowned DJ, R3HAB.

For the V8 SUV monsters it was themed “Performance Athletes”, with a soiree of test drives for journalists as well as customers at the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) so that they can run havoc on the track.

The C-Class on the other hand was themed “Never Stop Improving”. As this is a facelift model, it was no surprise that MBM themed it that way, but what surprised us is how much difference a facelifted vehicle can be.

The experience started when were invited for the facelifted C-Class drive in a three-day two-night excursion up to Pahang’s beautiful mountain top holiday destination, Cameron Highlands.

It’s been a few years since we cycled there, where the greenery is vivid and temperatures are low, so we kindly accepted the invitation, asking MBM whether we could bring our bikes along.

When the heads of MBM are cyclists, it’s easier to convince them to allow us to take some time out of their planned activities for a bike ride. A quick message to MBM’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Mark Raine and General Manager for Marketing Communications, Elaine Hew, who excused us from one activity - making strawberry jam.

This gave us a couple of hours to ride our bikes accompanied by both of them, who are very strong cyclists themselves. Obviously, we needed to get someone who would give them a run for their money.

This is where mixed martial arts actor and model Peter Davis came in. Since he is a petrol head as well as an avid cyclist, he agreed to come along for the trip. Although we were given the chance to drive most of the C-Class line-up, including the frugal yet punchy C200 with Mercedes’ new 1.5-litre turbocharged power plant, we only managed to drive two different C-Class models.

It was by pure coincidence these were two of the fastest. We drove the C43 AMG, which has been aptly nicknamed “Everyday AMG” up to Cameron Highlands and took the C300 back down. Both have their strong points which we will delve into later.

On the way up to Cameron Highlands we had to participate in an activity called the C-Class Rally. It would include some challenges that mimic a vehicle treasure hunt, but was photo oriented.

From the Mercedes Benz showroom at Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur, we had to make our way up to Bentong, where the challenge began. With Davis in the driver’s seat and bikes mounted on the roof of the C43 AMG, we set off.

This was Davis’s first time driving a C43 AMG - he is more used to souped-up Japanese cars which usually sling and drift their way around the track.

Since it was an AMG with an abundant amount of power on tap, I had to keep reminding Davis that there are a couple of bikes on top of the car only secured to the roof by suction cups. He did remember for the first five minutes and promptly forgot about it.

But can you really blame him, driving an AMG? All the way up to Bentong through the twisty tracks of Karak Highway I was praying the bikes would stay on top especially with Davis testing out the 4MATIC (four wheel drive) system, pushing the car quite hard through the corners. When we reached our checkpoint I looked out to check whether the bikes were still attached, and thankfully they were.

This was a real testament to the C43’s 4MATIC system as well as its suspension, which kept the car flat instead of wallowing around whilst absorbing any imperfections on the road. The previous C43 was a little stiff even in comfort mode, but it seems Mercedes have knocked it out of the ballpark with the suspension setup in the facelift version.

Once we got to Bentong we had to do a lot of start stops to solve some riddles and photograph the answers. This part really did show that you can live with a C43 AMG vehicle, driving slow and hopping in and out like everyday life. The car can be easy or go all out when you need it to.

We then proceeded to Cameron Highlands from Bentong via Sungai Koyan and if you have ever used that road you will know it was made for AMGs with no bikes on top.

Narrow roads with sharp twisty bends, and it didn’t help that it was pouring cats and dogs. We were aquaplaning most of the way up, but the 4MATIC system really did give us back control of the car. One thing to note, those Sea Suckers ensured the bikes were still on top when we reached Cameron Highlands.

The next day started with a jungle trek around the area where silk legend Jim Thompson was supposedly last seen, a warm-up of sorts before we went cycling. We were greeted by the surprise appearance of the C-Class Coupe before heading for lunch.

These Coupes can be had either in a 1.5-litre engine (c200 coupe) or a 2.0-litre mill (C300 coupe). The good news is, the rear seats fold down and after doing some rough science (removing the front wheel), we can safely say you can stuff a bike in there.

After lunch we skipped the strawberry jam making session, heading out with our bikes. Since we only had a couple of hours we decided to take a 40km route from the Cameron Highlands Resort to the Boh Tea Estate near Habu and back.

Though short, the route is mainly a climbing loop and the only respite you get is the 17-kilometre downhill start, before climbing again. The 6km climb from the bottom of Jalan Boh to the Fairlie tea plantation at the top is definitely not for the faint hearted. There are not many easy inclines here, with most commanding ranging between a 6 to 10 percent gradient.

Once at the top, we headed back down the same route and started the monster climb back to the Cameron Highlands Resort. The return leg of the loop is a mind challenging ride, featuring 17kms of climbs up roads with a steady incline of 8 percent, with some gradients reaching up to 12.

To give you some perspective, this route is also sometimes used by the Tour de Langkawi organisers. Although the ride was short, it was tough especially when you are not a climber.

The next day Davis and I decided to try and put the bikes in the C300 for a swift drive back to Kuala Lumpur. To our surprise the bikes fitted in easily without too much shuffling around. This gave us the chance to try out the C300’s air suspension, a relief as I was all sore and stiff from cycling the day before.

On the day we were recovering from a tough ride, it was nice to be in a vehicle that has a buttery smooth magic carpet ride, even in sports mode. Davis preferred the predictability of the rear wheel driven C300, which can still give a sporty drive with the air suspension. He reckons the C300 has caught up with the dynamic drive that another German automobile manufacturer is known for, but we won’t mention any names of course.

It soaked up all the big jumps and bumps and was a pleasure to ride all the way back to Kuala Lumpur.

As you can see, we could have probably done without the Sea Suckers as the C-Class seems able to swallow a couple of bikes into the car. Cycling up to Cameron is a badge of honour for any cyclist, but to be honest, we truly enjoyed the drive instead this time around.