Driving in Singapore - Audi A5 3.0 TDI
Story by Andreas Dharmawan, Photos by Tim Lee
Demsey Hill was once an army base. Now, many one-story white wooden buildings with red wavy clay roof tiles are housing chic and trendy restaurants, coffee shops, galleries, and boutiques. This is now a lifestyle hangout where you can find Balinese and Burmese teak furniture, European painting, Italian espresso, American breakfast, and Asian designer clothing. The founding team members of Audi Club Singapore suggested this place to meet.
Audi Club in Singapore
The temperature today is 82 Fahrenheit and humid. We sit outdoor at Olio Dome Asia-meet-West fusion restaurant. Just in front of the restaurant, our Audis – A4, A5, RS6, TTR - are parked in a military formation. Ju Ming Wong is the Technical Director of Audi Club Singapore. He developed his fondness for Audi when he first laid his eyes on a B5 RS4 in UK. Claudine Ho, the club social officer, used to be a serial BMW owner until she test drove the B7 RS4. For Monique Wong, the award winning roadster design took her breath away.
The number of highways in this 270 square-mile island country is small and the speed limit is fully enforced by speed cameras and police force in Subaru WRX’s. So, Audi Club Singapore organizes track events and social driving vacations to the neighboring country, Malaysia. Social gatherings are held frequently at different venues around town. Additionally, the club organizes European driving vacations and Audi factory tours.
Over tropical drinks and fusion appetizers, we exchange our Audi driving experiences. It is a perfect way to complement our 3 day Singapore exploration by car.
Singapore traffic is heavily congested during commute hours. To discourage drivers from driving into congested areas, Singapore government deployed an automatic variable toll system. Cars in Singapore are equipped with standardized wireless toll collectors. Depending on the hour of day, money is deducted from the account linked to the transponder in a car at different rates as the car travels through heavily congested areas. To avoid traffics as much as we can, my friend and I set out at nights and at dawns to enjoy Audi A5 3.0 TDI S-line.
Glittering and colorfully-lit holiday ornaments adorn this opulent mile-long Orchard Road. This road is the Singapore version of Fifth Avenue in New York, Avenue Montaigne and Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, and Oxford Street and Bond Street in London. It attracts not only shopaholics but also architecture buffs. Gleaming malls featuring the most sophisticated and leading edge structures are lining this street. Not only do the boutiques refresh their window displays more than a dozen times a year with the latest trend from all over the world, but the building themselves get face-lifts or rebuilds every few years!
This constant change ensures that this place here is, arguably, the epicenter of retail therapy in Asia Pacific! This is a shopaholics’ heaven. Once they check in, they will never want to check out. And if shopping is not your passion, a vast number of cinemas, restaurants, cafes, and bars will keep you entertained.
As far as shops, Bvlgari, Bottega Venneta, Gucci, Hermes, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Louis Vuitton, and the likes are abundant on this road. But that is not the only thing you can find. Tucked between high-end lifestyle stores, there are plenty of places where you can bargain and get the fashionable clothing and leading edge electronic gizmos. Given the international recognition of Orchard Road, Audi, in late 2007, hosted an R8 launch event parade showcasing the R8, the Auto Union Type C, the Rallye Quattro A2, and the R8 Le Mans on.
Style is the epitome of Orchard Road. Audi A5 with its curvy side lines, bold front grill, and racing inspired bumpers fits this surrounding perfectly. The A5’s dynamic exterior shape, accentuated by the alluring front and back LED’s, catches the attention of the fashion-crazed people walking on this road. The longer wheelbase and wide track design of A5 radiates the stance of an Olympic Gold medalist.
The A5 interior cabin is not just a luxurious and comfortable passenger space, but it is also an efficient interface between the driver and the machine. The ergonomic design and functionality, materials’ exceptional quality, and craftsmanship support various driving experiences that A5 is designed for. The accessibility of various controls, the tactile response of the buttons, and the shape of the instruments are designed such that the machine fits the driver, not the other way around. All of these heighten the driving experience that is unique to Audi.
Brash Basah Road
Orchard Road turns into Brash Basah Road. We are entering the Civic District where the past and the present converge harmoniously. Colonial buildings hosting government offices are surrounded by sleek glass and steel skyscrapers housing luxury hotels. This duality is highlighted by the two contrasting structures standing almost side by side - the white stone with red roof colonial Parliament building and the UFO-shaped glass structure on the top of the Supreme Court office.
Victoria Street crosses Brash Basah Road. Chijmes on Victoria Street is a unique complex that should not be missed. It is both a national monument and a complex of restaurants, pubs, and shops. This large neo-Gothic architecture structure was the Convent of Holy Infant Jesus; a girls school for 131 years. On weekend nights, live Jazz and dance music can be heard from the street.
Past and present in harmony is something that Audi knows well. Audi extends the cutting edge of automotive innovation while maintaining the traditions of its storied heritage. Despite today’s Audi award-winning progressive and dynamic designs, Audi keep its tradition and heritage; the tradition of craftsmanship through the continuous refinement of engineering and techniques.
This powerful combination of tradition and progress enables Audi to produce cars that generate positive emotions, in the same manner as exotic cars, and are practical and reliable at the same time.
We turn right onto Esplanade Drive. We are entering the Marina Bay area. The Esplanade complex highlights this area with its hard-to-miss architecture. The spiky metallic twin domes resemble twin durian fruit when seen from afar. These twin domes house a state of the art concert hall, theaters, rehearsal studios, and an art exhibition hall. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra plays regularly, often with world renown guests.
The spiky roof is made of variously angled aluminum shades. This technique maximizes the use of natural light and shields the glass roof from the heat of the sun. Not only this creates a visually artful and futuristic appearance but also a purposeful engineering achievement in energy efficiency.
Similarly, Audi optimizes the use of aluminum from the benefits and cost analysis. It utilizes sophisticated engineering techniques in producing metal plates with varying wall thickness and in combining different components with spot welding and joint bonding. As a result, the A5 chassis rigidity that provides crisp handling, sporty performance, and agility doesn’t come with uncomfortable vibration.
The Esplanade waterfront is another favorite destination. During the weekdays, professionals from the adjacent financial district descend here to do lunch at the trendy bars and restaurants. Tourists do their requisite pose in front of Merlion, the lion-fish Singaporean icon. At night, the view of the lit Merlion in front of the backdrop of the city skyline and its sparkling reflection on the calm sea water provides the perfect ambience for having a formal dinner with business associates or a romantic dinner with the significant one.
Crossing the Singapore River on Esplanade Drive, the view of the magnificent Fullerton Hotel comes to our right field of vision. There are many luxurious hotels in the world. But once you see the Fullerton, your sense of awe is rejuvenated. This used-to-be General Post Office Colonial building features large Doric columns and tall windows. Inside, lushly decorated, vertiginous lobby greets the arriving guests. In the 2009 Singapore F-1 Night Grand Prix weekend, Audi hosted a preview of the 5.2 V10 R8 to the fans at the Sky Lounge of Fullerton Hotel.
Temporary barriers were constructed along the five kilometers of city streets to make up the F-1 circuit. Over 1500 light projectors were used to turn night into day on the track, providing clear views for the drivers and over 100,000 spectators. The route went across the man-made harbor and then went back into the city entertainment district. Like Monte Carlo, the Singapore circuit had many 90 degree turns and a few long stretches with top speed of 300 km/h. The F-1 drivers had to slow down to about 100 km/h at the Fullerton corner and then they accelerated out towards top speed again. The smells of burning brake pads and tires, the sound of revving engines, and the sight of dueling drivers seen from the Sky Lounge balcony accentuated the Audi event.
After crossing the bridge, we are in the Central Business District (CBD). This packed urban jungle is filled with the world’s most powerful financial houses and banks. Looking up through the A5 panoramic tilting roof, I can see the reflections of the buildings.
Inside this shadowy urban concrete jungle, we lose our sense of direction immediately. Singapore roads are not in grid. There is no convention to the road naming or the road construction. Roads meander and cross other meandering roads. To top that, most narrow streets in CBD are one way.
When I drive rental cars with GPS systems, I oftentimes miss turns because the information displayed was too overwhelming or confusing. In contrast, the A5 navigation system features an innovative split screen design that simultaneously displays the aerial 3-D map and the view of the upcoming turn or intersection. The wide high-resolution LCD screen enables me to instantaneously correlate the computer generated view of the street with the real world view. This feature not only eliminates anxiety in driving through a very dense city but also allows me to enjoy the urban scenery with a relaxed state of mind.
After many turns, the concrete urban jungle thins out. The view of Singapore River emerges in front of us. We arrive at an area called Boat Quay. This place is known for its riverfront outdoor restaurants, bars, and traditional restored shophouses with colorful shutter windows. On weekday evenings, people descend from the CBD skyscrapers and they follow aromatic smells of world cuisines at Boat Quay.
Foodies find Singapore to be a culinary goldmine. The ensemble of homegrown delights and traditional dishes of Chinese, Indian, and Malay origin, can easily be found throughout the city. Some favorite dishes include chicken rice, laksa (lemon grass vermicelli soup), char kway teow (stir-fried rice flat noodle), yong tau fu (stuffed tofu), roti prata (pancake bread) , satay (sliced barbequed meat on skewer), and nasi lemak (coconut rice with accompaniments). They are not only delicious but also very inexpensive.
On the opposite spectrum, restaurants offering haute cuisines from nearly every corner of the world complete the Singaporean menus. From unpretentious hole-in-the-wall places to grand palaces with bird’s-eye panoramic views, restaurant designs are just as diverse as the menus.
Think relaxation is overrated? Are you always burning the candle at both ends? Then Clark Quay is for you. After dinner at Boat Quay, well-heeled party goers stroll towards Clarke Quay. Night live here will keep anyone charged till dawn. Latin, Jazz, and Disco bars give head-spinning options. So, most people choose to go bar hopping here.
This epicenter of nightlife has many themed bars and clubs. Clinic Bar features a hospital ambience complete with hospital wheel chairs, white linen room dividers, and operating room lights. The drinks are served from the dripping intravenous (IV) tube that is attached to a blood bag on a pole. The famous London based Ministry of Sound dance club is located here as well. On weekends, it is common to see Audi R8’s, Lamborghini’s, and Bentley’s parked here since this is where the to-be-seen crowds gather.
As we are passing this area, Pink’s “Funhouse” song comes on the radio. I turn up the Bang & Olufsen hi-fi system featuring 14 loudspeakers, 10 amplifier channels, and a total output power of more than 500 watts. This configuration is enhanced with B & O advanced digital signal processing that provides 7.1 surround sound, sonic intelligence driving-noise reduction, and laboratory-tuned acoustics. The result is a tingling dance party experience.
New Bridge Road
From Clarke Quay, New Bridge Road leads to Chinatown. Scenes of traditional old Singapore are preserved here. Old colonial small houses dominate the architecture of Chinatown center while large multi story malls occupy the edges.
What’s interesting about this Chinatown, distinguishing itself from other Chinatowns in the world, is the fact that it not only has Buddhist and Confucian places of worship, but also Mosques and Hindu temples. The 1823 Thian Hock Keng temple on Telok Ayer Street is the oldest Chinese template in the country. Gilded and lacquer decorated beams and panels, painted doors, and granite dragon sculptures adorn this south Chinese temple architecture. A few block away from the temple, on South Bridge Road, is the colorful and highly intricate high tower of 1843 Sri Mariamman Hindu temple. If you look closely on its intricate carvings, you will find 72 deities.
At sundown, Smith Street is closed and hawker stalls spring to life. Tables and chairs are setup in the middle of the road. Food vendors are greeting passerby with menus and chanting their specials. This is the best place to find local flavors in a historic ambience.
Navigating through the pedestrian-packed narrow streets of Chinatown is not an easy task. Thankfully at appropriate times, the A5 proximity system switches the MMI display to show how close the different corners of the car are with the surrounding objects. In addition to visual cues, the proximity system produces beeping sound at the specific speaker in the car to represent the location of the obstacle.
Additionally, The A5 front sports suspension, steering, and front axle are mounted ahead of the engine. This setup improves steering response with better turn-in characteristics and cornering performance, hence it allows me to turn with confidence through these very narrow streets.
Traffic is getting busy as the day is advancing. We enter Sentosa Island in our navigation system and start driving towards the southern tip of the main island. We also choose the route that includes some highway driving.
While other city planners discuss and design how many parks to build in their cities, Singapore’s city planners design and build working and living spaces in the Garden. This is how Singapore got its Garden city status. The highways around the city are lined on both sides with trees with far reaching branches that create continues canopy. The natural canopy protects the people on the road from the scorching heat during the hottest and humid days.
As the road opens, we get a taste of the beast under the hood. Previously, in the crowded urban jungle traffic, we experienced the benefits of having the fuel efficient TDI engine. This diesel engine only sips 7.1 liters / 100 kms (about 33 mpg) during our city driving. On this highway, we experience the 237 bhp and 369 lb ft torque available from 1,500 rpm. As soon as the turbo kicks in, our backs are pressed firmly against the sport bucket leather seats. And the car picks up speed rapidly; too rapid for Singaporean highways (0 – 100 km/h in 5.9 secs).
Thanks to the large dimension brakes that are designed to match the car’s hair raising acceleration, I can slow the car down quickly as I am approaching a wall of traffic. A clever program automatically modulates the braking, and the kinematics of the new rear suspension minimizes the braking dive effect.
When we arrive at Sentosa Island we are surprised by the massive development effort just as we enter the gateway. Large container and cement trucks are traveling in a formation. We stray off of the navigation map because the road is detoured due to the massive Universal Studio construction.
The road becomes harsh. Thanks to the new Dynamic Drive selector on the central column, I quickly change the ride mode to Comfort with a single button push. In milliseconds, electrical signals are sent from the brain of the car to all corners to adjust the characteristic of the suspension based on the real time data of the road condition collected by various sensors.
After passing the construction site, the serenity of Sentosa Island finally greets us. The lush vegetation makes us feel we are in a tropical forest. With all the windows down and the roof open, we hear hundreds of birds chirping. This 2 by 0.6-mile island offers a variety of activities. Families enjoy the Underwater World’s acrylic tunnel where colorful marine lives swim within touching distance. On weekend nights, young adults party at the bars and dance clubs along the beaches. Couples looking for a quiet and romantic time check into five-star hotels and spas on this island.
We park our car and sit at a café with a view of the ocean. Here, we soak in the relaxing ambience with fresh coconut juice.