First Impressions: Perodua Bezza 1.3 Advance

Remember back in the day when the only choice you have as your first ever car was either a Proton or a Perodua? Naturally, you would immediately choose a Proton because it has a more powerful engine, more space, and of course, a boot. Peroduas then were small city cars based off a variety of Daihatsus. Both Perodua and Proton were more like close cousins then the frenemies you see now. Perodua deals in making affordable cars for Malaysians and Proton was the symbol of engineering achievement for Malaysia. That all changed when Perodua launched the Myvi in 2005. See, Perodua was a small player and Malaysians tend to prefer 4 door sedans than hatchbacks. But as the urban population increase and perhaps the need for practicality than spaciousness becomes important, a shift in tide was seen in the Malaysian car market. Proton at around the same time launched its version of a small city car called the Savvy. Thus begins a shift in tide. Perodua was making best sellers after best sellers from that point out while Proton seemingly staggered and surprised by the sudden shift could not catch up.

perodua-myvi-studio-2015-02

The one that started a renaissance for Perodua. Photo credit: Perodua

Fast forward to 2016 and Perodua is now leading the charts. The Myvi has gone on for 2 generations with a number of facelifts in the past 11 years but it is no longer the prized champion of Perodua. That award belongs to the Axia, a small city car whose lineage traces back to the little Kancil/Nippa. The Axia was launched around the same time as Proton’s Iriz and although both cars are different in category (The Axia is a small city car while the Iriz is supposed to compete with the Myvi in the small family car range), many people cannot help but compare the two cars. The comparison between the latest car launched by the two Malaysian automotive giants did not stop there. Proton finally launched the newest Perdana, its flagship model that is essentially a stretched out old Honda Accord to much fanfare that quickly dissolves into a disappointment once you see sat in one and feel it. A few weeks later, Perodua finally launched its first ever sedan, the Bezza, which is a small family sedan that is essentially a stretched Axia to much fanfare and… Well, to find out more, read on my first impressions of the Bezza.

Writer’s note: I test drove the Bezza a few days ago at a nearby Perodua dealer. All photos are credited when noted. All views here are independently the writer’s own.

The Perodua Bezza is quite possibly a game changer not only for Perodua but the Malaysian car industry too. In fact, a few weeks ago I mentioned 5 reasons why the Bezza is a Proton killer. Not that I hate Proton but after one disappointment after another, it seems that RM1 bil government “bailout” seemed like a waste of taxpayer funds. The next Persona have a lot to live up to. It would be launched in a few weeks from now and if you’re interested in what’s under the new Persona, check it out here. Perodua on the other hand had been releasing success after another like it is the golden goose. The Myvi, Viva, Alza, and Axia had become market leaders in their own category and no doubt the Bezza will be one too. But how does it actually feel to drive? This is Perodua’s first foray into the sedan market and an actual competitor to Proton’s Saga. The Saga has been in production for years and the aged model shows no signs of slowing down. A supposed refresh is due soon and while it is cheap, buying one is just not likely.

The Bezza comes in two engine choices, a 1.0 VVT-i that is nearly similar to the Axia and a 1.3 DVVT-i that is similar to the Toyota Avanza. It comes in three trim levels, the Standard G, the Premium X, and the Advanced. The first two are offered with a choice of manual or auto and the one that I’m reviewing is the Advanced which is the top of the range model. Perodua’s entry into a new market is something that I’m intrigued to talk about. Initially, everyone thought Perodua’s first sedan would be based off the Myvi, which makes sense seeing the new Persona would based on the Iriz. Instead they decide to face head on with the Saga. Will it work? With bookings that have reached more than 10,000, Malaysians agree that this is a right decision.

Interior

perodua-bezza-interior

Photo credit: Autoworld

The first thing when you step foot in the Bezza is how spacious it is. There is obviously no doubts in the spaciousness of the Bezza seeing the Axia is already pretty wide. The headroom and legroom is adequate even for those sitting at the back. The plastic feels thick but certain areas feel hollow. The dials for the air-conditioner feel pretty rubbery and it feels like I could easily take them off. But those are the only complaints I find myself with the car’s interior. The Bluetooth system works seemlessly and the touchscreen is a tad better than the Axia. The dials are clear and readable and the the gearstick feels solid. However, the coup de grace of the Bezza 1.3 Advance is the start button. Seeing that this is Perodua’s first attempt at introducing a start button technology, the button feels solid and it immediately attracts the attention of those who wanted to get a car this cheap that has that feature.

Driving and handling

f9d7badb-ecde-49f6-b6a1-ab32b7adfc74

Photo credit: Perodua

Handling-wise, Perodua does not offer anything exciting in their cars unlike Protons. Driving one usually means a bland experience. Like decaf coffee. And it is no different with the Bezza. The gear change is simple and it does its job just fine. There is no sense of slowing down especially up an incline. The Bezza rides pretty smoothly for a car this size but it handles awkwardly with a slightly tall stance. Steering is a bit off-putting and the NVH is similar to the Axia. There is still wind resistance but it is not as bad most Peroduas. A function that Perodua boasts with the Bezza is the Eco Idle function. Found in most hybrids and Continental models, this function allows more fuel efficiency. The Bezza is already fuel efficient in the first place so this function is not much to actually brag about. I tried the system and it feels like it’s slowly draining the battery away. Yes. It is essentially a Stop/Start function but in a car like this, it is not really that useful.

Design

perodua-bezza-side

Photo credit: Autoworld

Perodua was once known as a company that takes whatever Daihatsu car and slapped on the eliptical P logo on it. The Bezza is technically Perodua’s first in-house designed production model. (I don’t know whether the second-gen Kancil would count as that because it isn’t really based on any Daihatsu model I can think about) While the front looks pretty decent, the rear…doesn’t. I have mentioned before that he car’s design is not that bad but when I looked up close, it looks weird. Look at the picture above and see for yourself. The back makes the rear tyres look like trolley tyres. I know 14-inch wheels are indeed small but couldn’t they at least make it look a little more presentable? Overall, the Bezza has some Toyota elements in its exterior design. The rear lights remind me of a Toyota Vios and if you remove all the Perodua badges, it really does look like a Vios.

Verdict

perodua-bezza-1-3-advance-rear

Photo credit: Perodua

Overall, Perodua’s first ever sedan is not a bad effort. As a commuter, it works fine. Prices are even cheap and enticing too. The Bezza starts off at RM37,300 and this top spec model costs RM50,800 and it includes a start button, infotainment system, and…I think those two are the only interesting things. Nevertheless, at around RM51k with a lot of equipment for that price, it’s no wonder it is the car everyone is talking about. The Perodua Bezza is not only a Proton killer but a game changer for Perodua. Now if only they fix the disproportionate rear design.

f48b4fdd-a98d-4890-84e7-b5798ed065ea

A new start for Perodua. Just like that start button.

3/5

Advertisements

First Impressions: Proton Perdana 2.4

When Proton announced that, after more than 30 years of producing tin cans on wheels automobiles for the masses, their newest model is a Honda Accord with fresher clothes and a longer butt wheelbase, every Malaysian must be thinking, have Proton gone backwards? Remember the Inspira six years ago? That was just a Mitsubishi Lancer with Proton badges sticked everywhere the Three Diamonds used to be. Instead of being just a ‘baka’ copy and paste effort, at least they improved on the handling of the Lancer and I’m talking about the normal Clark Kent Lancer and not the alter ego Evolution model. Speaking of the Evolution, remember those old cop car Evos? Whatever happened to them? The Inspira was a less than modest success and you can probably buy one new. Even if they were supposed to be out of production for a year. It must be hard to sell them off.

Writer’s note: I test drove the Perdana fairly recently from a Proton dealer and as such, I am not allowed to take pictures or record my drive. Also, the words expressed here are of my own and I am not paid whatsover by Proton, so this is 150% independently of my own opinion. All images are credited when necessary.

Proton has been in the down recently. Heck what was once a dominant brand in the Malaysian car market thanks to obviously bias protective laws against imported brands has suddenly become the third best selling car brand instead with Perodua and Honda ahead with Toyota not far behind. Part of this slip is because of its model range that were sold. While most car companies refresh their lineup or perhaps sold models based on the economics, Proton’s range of models are just all over the place. At the bottom, there’s the Saga. There’s an MPV model called the Exora. a hatchback called the Iriz, and then there’s the confusing part which is the Persona, Preve, Suprima S, and the aforementioned Inspira. All of these are in the B-segment, which are basically medium-sized family cars. The Persona will be replaced soon by a sedan based off the Iriz which will basically downgrade that model’s segment. That’s not all, Proton will soon release the Ertiga, an MPV that will be built by Suzuki in Indonesia. Another MPV? It will be smaller but who will it target exactly? Also Malaysia’s MPV market is growing but not many would want a small-ish MPV in this day and age. Does anyone still buy an Avanza anyway?

Which brings me back to this car. The old Perdana was an amazing car especially the V6 model. In fact the V6 was so popular, government officials used this as their de facto model of showing support of local brands. It was fast and it was quite smooth. The V6 was also in production far longer than the other variants, and its facelift was reminiscent of Alfa Romeos, but only the grille. It was based on the Mitsubishi Galant and like most Protons of the 90s it was round. The Perdana was and still is Proton’s flagship model. So, when Proton announced that their latest Perdana would be based on the Honda Accord, every joy to finally see a cheaper version of the Accord turned out to be just that in 2014 when the new Perdana became the Accordana. A Honda Accord with Proton’s lion slapped onto whatever that held the H logo. However Proton assured us that the newer Perdana will not be a simple ctrl+c and v, and that in two years time it would be different.

innerwheeljan2014

Accordana MkI Photo credit: Autocar Asean

Well, 2016 has finally arrived and after all that teasing, the all new Perdana is launched. Ugh…2016 is just so different to 2014. The economy is stagnant and fluctuating compared to two years ago. Halfway through the year and I feel more lethargy thinking for the year to end quickly. I have the key to the car in my hand. It feels solid and… What’s this little button…*click*. And out pops the metal fob. For a car that costs RM134,888 they could have at least toss in a start button. Honda’s Accord has one but not this. At least the quality feels good. The salesperson told me that Honda oversaw the quality control. The salesperson also told me the petrol cap is on the right when it is actually on the left. I’m not going to trust a single word on her opinion from now on.

Interior

proton-perdana-2016-interior-view-630x350

Two screens, a row of buttons, a lot of wood trim  Photo credit: paultan.org

So, let’s start with the interior and first thing’s first. It retains the mishmash of buttons seen in the eighth-gen Accord, which the car is based on. The buttons are in a row just below the air-cond which is not really user friendly. What do those buttons do? They control the air-cond obviously! No knobs or touch sensitive buttons here. Just clunky buttons. Also not user friendly is the touchscreen below that row of buttons. Did I mention that the Perdana has two screens in the centre? That’s right! Two! One on the dash and the other on the centre console. Let’s call these screens as Top and Bottom. Top is basically useless. It shows the clock and the air-cond temperature as well as the radio. The only thing Top is useful for is the reverse camera which is a must for maneuvering a parallel park in this behemoth. Bottom is the media centre. It is a touch screen and the interface is an improvement over the Suprima S and Iriz. As usual, the navigation isn’t available but it’s just a short drive. I haven’t try the Bluetooth since it somehow non-accessible but the sound system is good. There are 8 speakers and surround sound is so loud I set the volume at Level 2. 2! The volume knob acts as a power button and it’s the little things that annoy me in this car like the fact that the “On/off” symbol rotates as the knob moves. Good thing there are control buttons on the wheel. Time will tell how long will these not function eventually. The seats are comfortable with leather and on the front seats, the word “Perdana” is embossed on them to remind you that this is NOT an Accord. The wood trim is only on certain parts of the tested car, mainly on the storage compartment covers and boy are there a lot of storage here. There’s even a safe located in the rear seat. A freaking safe! Seems Proton already thought of how dangerous Malaysia has become with all that shooting. Speaking of the rear, legroom and headroom is good. Even better than the Accord or most of its close rivals like the Toyota Camry and the Nissan Teana. It has rear air-conditioner that is controlled by the driver but one of the benefits of a Proton is that the hot sticky weather becomes cool in seconds.

Driving and Handling

post8865

This is the 2.0 model. Note the absence of a front splitter. Photo credit: Proton

Normally, Proton brags about Lotus ride and handling in its cars. In the Perdana, it feels…meh. There is no excitability in this car. Even Mercedes-Benz changed their ethos to provide cars that have handling AND comfort. Speaking of comfort, the NVH is nothing much to brag about. It is similar to the Accord. And most other Protons. The old Perdana was once advertised to have quiet power windows. This one doesn’t have quiet power windows but mainly normal Honda-derived windows. Hopefully it doesn’t break like most Protons. The 2.4 engine is the same seen in the Accord so of course the VTEC will kick in, yo! Efficiency is not this car’s strong suit. I admire Honda’s engine, don’t get me wrong, but with all that added weight in this Accordana, you can bet spend time making dates at petrol kiosks. Another problem is that for a big car like the Perdana, it shouldn’t take a long time to get it up to speed. It’s not like the car runs on a conventional Proton CVT gearbox that changes once a millennium. In fact it uses the similar Honda-derived gearbox from, you guessed it, I’m not even writing what this car is based on again. It should have been as efficient as most cars today even if the gearbox is a little bit long on its tooth. Despite being a long car, it feels easy to drive. Handling is not much different to the Honda but I am really impressed with the way it moves. It doesn’t feel like it’s a long car after getting used to it pretty quickly.

Styling

2016-proton-perdana_pandulajudotcomdotmy-3

Picassso once said great artists copy. Not that Proton is No.1 in car styling. Photo credit: PanduLaju

Yes, it’s long and huge but before you decide to bash the keyboard on how it copies a lot of elements to make this car, the Perdana and a typical Chinese car would be on different Venn diagrams. Yes, the roofline reminds me of a Jaguar XJ but come on! How often do you see cars that have some influence of Jaguar and still look good. Okay, how about decent? At least we’re better than an early 2000’s Hyundai Sonata (Look how far they’ve gone). The rear does remind me of the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, a car which is not available in Malaysia, and the front makes it easily distinguishable from an Accord. Not a bad effort by Proton to make it look different. On the other hand, there are some aesthetics that just give the car a false sense of hope. The side gills are mainly for decoration and could one day be a marker to differentiate the different ranges of the car, which reminds me of a BMW except that they don’t have any uses. Like a Buick. The rear skirts that are absent makes the car feel incomplete especially with the front and sides inserted. This is something that cannot be ticked off the options list unfortunately. Of course, the worst part of the design has been ranted on here but looking at it up close, I really wonder what were the designers thinking when they decided to match the colour of the obviously useless exhaust tips with the body colour.

Verdict

2016_proton_perdana_spied_white_2

Photo credit: Autofreak

Having been with the car for about 15 minutes, there really is nothing much to shout about the Perdana. While it essentially is an elongated Accord with a Proton badge, at RM138,888 for the metallic colour model and RM450 less for a solid variant, it is cheaper than the Accord which is RM40,000 more. The closest rival within the Perdana’s price range is the Kia Optima K5 at RM150,000. But since it is based on the old Accord, why not get a used one? Same drivetrain. Same engine. It ain’t new. But with the road tax going for a similar price, there isn’t much harm. And that brings us back to square one of Proton’s economics. Malaysia is going through some troubled times economically and politically. Proton’s timing may be bad and I would not be surprised if Proton flopped this model. The old Perdana sold badly because it was launched around the Asian Financial Crisis. Had Proton learnt its lesson? We’ll see.

perdana-keyart_front-black-and-rear-white_cmyk_hires-resize

 

A high price mixed with mediocre quality and old technology makes this a really hard sell for Proton.

2/5