Category A fun in Volkswagen and Skoda’s Cat A COE models

Jay Tee

We find out if it’s possible to distil fun from Volkswagen and Skoda’s Category A COE offerings on a trip up north to Desaru, Malaysia.

Photos: Jay Tee and Volkswagen Group Singapore


It’s a common misconception that a “fun car” has to be quick, loud, powerful, exotic or scintillating to look at. Something that elicits awe from enthusiasts and draws ire from pedants and/or lawmakers.

Given how passenger vehicles in Singapore are grouped into different Certificate of Entitlement (COE) bands, many would naturally assume that cars in Category B (or Cat E) with more than 1,600cc of displacement and/or 130 horsepower would be more “fun” than those within the Cat A COE bandwidth.

After all, it’s often misinterpreted (by the aforementioned many – that don’t know better) that greater horsepower figures and fun driving are mutually exclusive traits.

But we’re well aware that fun isn’t strictly about power gains, 0-100km/h times or top speed numbers, nor is it about straight-line speed and being the quickest to your destination. Often, it’s about how close you can get to the limits of mechanical grip that evokes a sense of euphoria in us weathered petrolheads.

2023 VGS Cat A Drive - Volkswagen and Skoda - Singapore -  - JWN02926

After all, some would say that it’s more fun driving a slow car fast than driving a fast car slow. Yes, it’s a tired old adage but one that rings true for our trip up to Desaru in a fleet of Volkswagen Group Singapore’s Category A COE-friendly vehicles.

Pictured: Leow “Minister Dementor” Ju-Len

We’d each been paired up with a co-driver for the sub-400km drive, switching seats and cars at the numerous rest stops along the way. Joy of joys (or curses of curses), I’d been paired with our very own former managing editor Leow Ju-Len – a man with nearly as many years in the industry as I’ve been alive.

The first leg of our journey was done in the 1.0-Litre Volkswagen T-Cross, objectively the least dynamic of the five Cat A COE-friendly vehicles we’d be driving up (the much longer winding route) to Desaru.

Despite that, the first hint that the cars we’d been piloting could keep pace with the lead car (the 245-horsepower Octavia RS) was when Ju-Len the “Minister Dementor” pushed the T-Cross’s 115 horsepower engine for all its worth to get up to unpublishable speeds as we crossed the Tuas Checkpoint.

2023 VGS Cat A Drive - Volkswagen and Skoda - Singapore -  - DSC01324

As the sun rose over the treeline on the Second Link Expressway, we made steady progress to Kulai Senai for our first driver swap where I took the helm of the T-Cross. My 68km journey to Yong Peng was plagued by much slower traffic and heavy rain showers, but the small SUV surged on as I drove us at a not-so-constant 110km/h (the legal Malaysian motorway limit) toward our breakfast destination.

After we ate our fill, Ju-Len and I took to the 1.0-Litre Scala for the second leg of our journey. Ju-Len has first dibs behind the wheel while I was relegated to the passenger seat. As we travelled due east cutting through the B-roads weaving through Paloh and Jalan Mersing, I began to understand why our former crack-ed Derryn often referred to Ju-Len as the “Minister Dementor”.

For the large majority of the 125km journey, the 109-horsepower Scala easily kept pace with the Octavia RS in the lead as Ju-Len attacked the meandering tarmac while we headed toward Jemaluang Emerald Lake. Such was the pace of his driving that our VGS chaperone on the trip remarked “That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen a Scala move” over our walkie-talkies.

As the United States Navy SEALS would say, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. The Scala’s 0-100km/h sprint time of 10.1 seconds is eclipsed by the Octavia RS’s 6.7 second century sprint, but Ju-Len’s wealth of local knowledge (from his numerous passes through the Jalan Mersing district) enabled him to carve through the corners and attack the apexes with vigour and confidence.

The Scala Monte Carlo’s Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres squealed in protest on occasion, but the car’s body-hugging sports seats kept us snug and secure in the passenger cab. Needless to say, we made brisk pace and overtook the Octavia RS in the lead, arriving at our rest stop a good minute before the lead car pulled up.

One of Ju-Len’s milder jaunts on the highway in the 1.0 Octavia

Of course, it takes skill and discipline to keep pace with a car that has more than double the horsepower and a sportier chassis. But how disciplined you are around a set of bends dictates a good driving line from a mediocre one, which in turn separates the good drivers from the bad ones – who think higher power/decibel levels are attributes that we’d associate with being “fun”.

Seeing Double – The Golf Life and Golf Life Plus

After switching seats, I took to the (less winding) roads of Jalan Jemuluang for the next 70km leg of our journey toward Jason Bay Beach, where we were greeted by wildlife (of the canine and feline variety) and switched to the detuned Cat A Golf Life Plus for our charge toward Jade Garden Seafood Corner for a spot of lunch. After filling our bellies again, we cruised up north to the Anantaru Desaru Coast Resort where we’d be spending the night.

The following morning saw us travel 112km west back toward the second link in the 1.0-Litre Octavia. This time, Ju-Len’s journey was plagued by rain whilst when I took over, the sky cleared and the asphalt of the Senai–Desaru Expressway dried considerably.

Rather maliciously, I decided to test the performance of Octavia’s 1.0-Litre engine on an arrow-straight stretch of motorway. I didn’t have to wait long to hit speeds that would undoubtedly have most passengers reciting a prayer, had they not been a seasoned motoring journalist with over 20 years of experience. 

Suffice to say, these Cat A COE-friendly Volkswagen and Skoda cars are more than adept at handling themselves in and around Malaysia’s road network – even at unprintable speeds. 

2023 VGS Cat A Drive - Volkswagen and Skoda - Singapore -  - DSC03520

After switching cars for the final time – this time to the Golf 1.5 Life, we made our way to RUD karting for some hot (and wet) laps to burn off some steam before making the commute back across the border.

Throughout the journey, we were acutely aware that the downsized and detuned vehicles we’d driven were immensely capable in their own regard. Sure, they were a little lacking where straight-line speeds were concerned.

But clearly, it’s still possible to distil fun from a small, modest vehicle. All it takes is a little more a little tenacity, confidence and more importantly, skill to extract the best that a car has to offer.


skoda skoda octavia Skoda Octavia rs skoda scala T-Cross volkswagen Volkswagen Golf

About the Author

Jay Tee

A millennial with the mental age of a quadragenarian, CarBuyer's latest stringer writes and talks about anything with four wheels and a motor. Doesn't fully get TikTok, makes TikToks anyway. Moonlights for TopGear Singapore. Follow him on Instagram (and TikTok) at @jayyteejy

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