I Drove (Almost) Every Car at Malaysia Autoshow 2019 (Part Three)

My challenge to try and drive all the cars available for the Malaysian Autoshow remains undeterred as I walked around the halls for about four hours. Having driven all the 1.2 litre cars, and almost all the cars from one half of the hall, my next target was Honda.

While everyone was gathering around the Mugen Civic Type R concept, I went straight to the test drive booth. Unfortunately while Honda were displaying a few interesting Mugen models, the test units offered were only the City and the HR-V Hybrid. Reserving for one is quite a breeze as most of them were at the counter next to the the test drive booth to collect some free merchandise. I saw that there was an empty slot to drive them both back to back and went for it.

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The first car on offered wasn’t even featured in the booth, and despite being a little old, it was still popular in its segment and was given a facelift last year along with a new hybrid variant. The Honda City that was featured for the test drive wasn’t the Hybrid model, that is a range given to another model that I would be driving later. The City is Honda Malaysia’s best-seller. These cars moved in volumes of sales and often leads against its rivals from Nissan and Toyota. Even though the Vios was just recently given a completely new look, it was essentially the same car underneath with the same mechanics as the previous generation.

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Driving wise, the City felt much more dynamic compared to the Vios and miles ahead compared to the Almera. The model which was offered was the highest spec 1.5V. Unfortunately, Honda Malaysia does not feature a manual version for all of their models except for the Civic Type R and that’s a shame. The Honda CVT is one of the most boring transmissions available. Sure, it has a pretty smooth gear change but it feels so boring. The older model had an option of paddle shifters but it was omitted with this generation. However, compared to its competitors, it feels better on the road. Honestly, at RM86,983, the City feels just right for a B-segment car. It’s just disappointing there is no manual for this, but then again no one buys a manual B-segment. Toyota dropped it for the newest Vios and Nissan is the only one that offers a manual with the Almera.

Verdict: Pretty decent B-segment sedan but it lacks pizzazz with a boring gearbox. 2.5/5

After the City, the next car on the list was the HR-V Hybrid. This was Honda’s newest model as the HR-V was just given a brand new facelift and got two new additional specs. One was the RS and this was the other. The HR-V itself is one of the best-selling crossovers in Malaysia. Adding a hybrid model may add some green credibility but in fossil-fuel crazed Malaysia, could a hybrid crossover really make waves?

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Visually, there isn’t much difference between the hybrid model and the petrol models. In fact, the facelifts were very minimal. The obvious thing that separates both models is the blue Hybrid logo plastered on the grille, the sills, and the boot. Apart from that, everything else looks like a normal HR-V.

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Step inside though and you’ll notice one obvious change, the gearbox. It’s no longer a CVT but rather a 7-speed DCT which is the same one you could get in the Jazz Hybrid and City Hybrid. I almost forgot the former was available in Malaysia. Actually, I don’t recall seeing one on the road compared to the City Hybrid and even the HR-V Hybrid. If you’re not used to the gear change, don’t worry it’s pretty easy to get the hang of it since everything is shown on the gear knob.

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Under the hood is the same 1.5 litre engine that powers the aforementioned available Hybrid models. Of course this being an electric hybrid, when starting the engine it doesn’t make any noise but at least the drive is quite nice. I am personally not much of a fan of hybrids but at RM120,000 it seems decent. There is no rivals that can match its hybrid engine and honestly, I would actually preferred the petrol variant over the hybrid. The Malaysian government used to offer cheaper road tax among other incentives for buying a hybrid but sadly they phased them out so buying a hybrid wouldn’t really much make a difference unless you’re an eco-warrior.

Verdict: The regular petrol model is pretty much everywhere in Malaysia. Get this if you want to stand out and be greener. 2.6/5

Shockingly enough, I actually found a decent crossover and it is a direct competitor to the HR-V. It is more expensive and it looks a whole lot weirder than the HR-V.

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When I first laid my eyes on the Toyota C-HR, I really hated the design. It looked a little too ugly and the rear sloping roof may look like it’s a trend but it actually gives slightly poor visibility and bad rear headroom. Also, it was far more expensive than the HR-V. This comes in at RM150,000. Regardless, it was the most popular crossover in Japan and this was Toyota’s chance to eat into the HR-V’s pie seeing how popular that was.

However, before I could drive it, I was greeted by the most assholey salesman. My initial plan to drive all the cars turned out to be close to not happening. Maybe I was eating into his lunch time or he’s just freaking lazy but when I wanted to drive a few of the Toyota cars available besides the C-HR, he just stopped me and laid a list of excuses. Fine then. I’ll just begrudgingly took his business card and walked to the C-HR to take a test drive.

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Despite Asshole Salesman’s behaviour, the C-HR actually surprised me. Okay, it is much more powerful and faster than the HR-V. It is powered by a 1.8 litre 16-valve DOHC VVT-i compared to the HR-V’s 1.5 litre. There is only a 8hp bump between the C-HR and the HR-V but the CH-R beats in terms of a much higher torque (171 Nm at 4,000 rpm to 156 Nm at 4,000 rpm) and that torque makes the C-HR more effortless on the road compared to the HR-V. Also, dare I say this, the C-HR drives better than the HR-V. I used to always believed that Honda is the superior one among the big three but after the short drive in the C-HR and despite dealing with Asshole Salesman, I prefer the C-HR. It’s more expensive and it looks smaller but I dig it. That styling is no longer ugly, it’s quirky.

Verdict: More reliable and actually more fun to drive than the class leader 3.1/5

As time went by I realized I wouldn’t be able to drive every car. The remaining brands were Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Kia, and Mercedes-Benz. With time running out, I decided to skip Mitsubishi and Nissan. Mitsubishi had only two models for their test drive, the Outlander and the brand new Triton. Both of which I honestly did not fancy driving. I’ve driven the Outlander before and it was an okay-ish car. With all that’s happening with Mitsubishi, people still actually buy them. The Outlander is pretty much lost in a sea of crossovers, but the Triton was a different story. it at least has that other Mitsubishi philosophy; power and 4WD. OF course, if a pick-up didn’t have those features it would be embarrassing.

The Nissan booth had four cars available, the Almera, the Serena Hybrid, the X-Trail Hybrid, and the Navara. None of which interested me. The Almera is a cheap sedan that offers no frills to people who just wanted a cheap car that is not made by a local brand. The Serena Hybrid is a big minivan, something I’m not gonna spend 15 mins reviewing, same goes for the X-Trail Hybrid and the Navara. Both the latter models are quite fascinating but with time running out that only leaves three car brands which I am interested in.

A Revealing Car Salesman

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I did not take a pic of the unit I was driving, so here’s a press photo of the Cerato instead

I made a mistake with Kia. I should’ve gotten the Optima but I went for the Cerato instead, a car that wasn’t displayed at the show. The Cerato is a pretty old car and Malaysia hasn’t gotten the newer third-gen yet. So, here I am driving what was essentially a three-year old refreshed car that hasn’t changed much since 2013. Essentially, this is a 6 year old car. No wonder people aren’t buying it. Prices for the Cerato starts at RM91,888 but you can go lower to RM85k according to my salesman!

That salesman did mentioned a few other things like how these cars are CKD but the only thing that was only assembled in Malaysia were the tyres and a few body panels. Of course, it’s no open secret that some manufacturers go all out to circumnavigate the rule that makes the local players cost so much more cheaper than an import. But back to the driving. The Cerato makes for a decent car and it costs cheaper than the Japanese equivalent, which is the Corolla and the Civic. No, it isn’t competing against the City and Vios. It’s actually a C-segment model. All that for less than RM100k? Granted what you get for that price is pretty much an outdated infotainment system. The graphics are best described as very blocky. Think modern Perodua UI. That’s probably a low bar to set. For something this cheap, and if you ignore the outdated UI, the Cerato is a good car to drive but there’s no denying it is old in the tooth.

Verdict: An old man in streetwear. 2.7/5

Next to the Kia booth was the Peugeot booth. Peugeot displayed three models, the 208, the 3008, and the 5008. Mazda said that they are trying to rival with BMW. I think we can put Peugeot in the same boat as well. All three companies have an incredible heritage in performance, Peugeot and Mazda both created cars that are unique in looks and both carmakers even got back in the design groove after a decade of stagnant boring cars in the 1990s. Also, all three have launched numerous crossovers in their lineup. While they had three cars on display, there was only one model available for the public to drive, the 3008.

The French crossover with all that style

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Looks wise, it has a sort of Gallic charm and it looks millions times better than the previous generation. What was once marketed as a weird MPV with faux off-road looks turned into a crossover SUV that still couldn’t climb a rough mountain. Those looks however bring an attitude, and it is even translated in the inside, with a small square wheel that is ergonomically designed. As someone who likes weird cars, the 3008 brought me smiles in my short time driving it. If you like to personalise your car, this is the car for you. There are multiple gauges that you can play with and a lot of ambient lighting you can show off to your friends.

The drive is quite smooth. As smooth as VW’s DSG despite using a conventional 6-speed automatic. There are two models in its range and the one I was driving was the top of the line Allure spec with a leather interior and cloth trims around the dash and the doors. The 3008 feels really stable and with all the gizmos and tech, it feels like a space ship. Self-levelling side mirrors is a plus that helps you when you’re reverse parking or even parallel parking. Another thing that I liked was the gear itself. It feels like a joystick. All that makes this a pretty special crossover.

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At RM147,090 it may seem very pricey compared to some of its Japanese competitors but a quick search shows that it costs about the same and sometimes cheaper than its rivals. The Honda CR-V with a 1.5 turbo costs a little over RM150k, the BMW X1 costs RM220k, while the lowest specced Mazda CX-5 with a 2.0 costs around RM132k. The same goes for the Mitsubishi Outlander and the newly facelifted Nissan X-Trail costs RM129k. However, for the amount of spec and for a different kind of crossover, that price seems like a good value. Of course, there’s the concern of reliability since some of us have heard of horror stories with Continental cars but if you’re willing to forgo all that, the 3008 is a decent crossover and a fun one too.

Verdict: Quirky looks with some quirky value. 3.8/5

Finally we reached the end of the day. With the night sky looming and even darker rain clouds coming in to threaten the end of all test drives, I have only one more brand left. Mercedes-Benz had its own special room outside of the venue and they had three cars available for a test drive; the A-Class, the C-Class, and the GLA. Being a novice with the German luxury car, I went for the entry Mercedes, the A250.

I have truly driven greatness

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Out of all the cars I have driven, this is by far the most expensive. Ever. Obviously, that comes with the baggage of being an amateur journalist but the A250 completely blew me away. It was no A45 AMG but it’s still special. Let me throw out the obvious observations first seeing this is the first Mercedes I have ever driven, new or old. The quality feels great. The center screen is one of the best I have ever seen in a car, it’s so intuitive and the controls feels so easy to touch. Sitting lowered in it, I feel like I am in a sporty hot hatch or even a sports car. Despite this not being the AMG model.

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Having given the green light to push it to the limits, I floored the A250. The 2.0 turbocharged 16 valve engine quickly accelerated as the wet clutch 7-speeder did its thing. Even for a smaller engine than the A45, it surely have that sporty DNA embedded in it. Compared with the BMW 1-Series, this is the much better car. Around the corners, the steering feels very lithe and the car throws its athletic capabilities. 0-100km/h takes 6.2 seconds, clearly outpacing every car I’ve driven. My god, this baby Merc is indeed special. I wish I could keep it as my own and drive it on the highways. Sadly, that high price (RM263,888) is far more than I could ever afford. For that brief 15 minutes driving around though, I felt so happy and overjoyed. Truly a special car.

Verdict: A great car that justifies everything. 4.3/5

With the A250, that concluded my mission to drive every car at the Malaysian Autoshow. Or at least almost all. It took me almost half of the day to drive thirteen cars in one day, minus the three 1.2-litres I drove the day before. It was an unexpected challenge and at the end, I found surprises in almost everyone of them. It also matched my mission to drive almost every car and with that, here’s a little segue into my next project which is a YouTube car review channel which I’m doing with my friend, Brian Wong.

Check us out at All We Drive on YouTube!

 

 

I Drove (Almost) Every Car at Malaysia Autoshow 2019 (Part Two)

Day 2 of the Malaysian Autoshow. Now, normally I would only come to shows like this once but since I got two free tickets and I’ve used one the day before, I thought, maybe I should go back and drive EVERY single car that’s available for a test drive. Delightfully devilish, Seymour! So, I went on my merry way, driving back to Serdang with the hope of driving all the cars that were available and give a quick review.

Halfway there, I thought back on my original idea; it would be impossible to drive all the cars in time since it was the last day. Also, as I later find out, some salespeople were reluctant to let one person to drive all the cars available in one go, or there were too many people queuing to drive that particular model. Either way, let’s begin! I’ve already driven three cars the day before, so let’s start off with a rear wheel drive vehicle.

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The first stand I went to was Perodua and I initially wanted to drive two cars, the Myvi, which was launched two years ago but I’ve never driven it yet, and the Aruz, a rebadged Toyota Rush, and it has rear wheel drive. Unfortunately, there was a long line for the Myvi as there was only one unit available for testing. The Aruz was the newest model, so they had a few waiting. The salesperson that accompanied me was a friendly guy, even when I told him I wasn’t looking to buy a new car soon. Even if I was, the Aruz wasn’t in consideration anyway.

Styling wise, the Aruz isn’t that bad. I wouldn’t call it generic either. For some people, this was seen as a successor to the Kembara as the Aruz was sold as an SUV. Okay…the line between what is an SUV and a crossover is already blurred to the point that even carmakers are confused on what to call them exactly. While both the Aruz and the Rush are actually built at the same plant, the highest spec Perodua costs RM77,900 OTR without insurance while the cheapest Toyota Rush costs RM93,000. That’s RM15.1k in savings and the Aruz has pre-collision braking which the Rush has. At a premium of RM5k from the base model. Seems Perodua had learnt their lesson with the Nautica from nearly ten years ago.

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The Aruz is powered by a 1.5 liter engine that produces 101 hp. Now, I know a lot of reviews out there have shown how this car can go up Genting Highlands with no problem, but even at the sort of hilly area of our test route, I can feel the car trying to push hard as it goes up even with two people in it. 133Nm of torque and with the power feeding the rear wheels, makes it possible and the noise isn’t so bad, unless you go up the hill. The car doesn’t much produce excitement. Around corners, there is body roll but not so much, surprisingly for a car this high. At RM77,900 (very few will buy the X, which cost RM5k less, I presume), it is a car that is suitable for families.

Verdict: An okay SUV/crossover to take the families to. Or as a Grab driver. 2.4/5

The remaining cars available from Perodua were the Bezza, Axia, and Alza. I’ve driven all three before prior to coming to the Autoshow. All three are unremarkable to drive to say the least. The Alza I’ve driven was an older model, but the newer one is just a facelift and that car actually lifts surprisingly. I suspect nothing else changed other than some visual changes. Moving on to the next booth.

My day isn’t ruined but my disappointment is slowly approaching

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I’ve always liked Mazda. An interesting alternative to the Big Three Japanese brands, Mazda is the one that still retains a driving philosophy. Jinba ittai which means the unity of horse and rider is pretty much on all its range. Or at least it should. Mazda had three cars available for testing, a Mazda6 2.2 SkyActiv-D and a couple of CX-5s. I’ll start with the Mazda6. It’s a really beautiful looking car, both inside and out. In Malaysia, diesel isn’t a popular choice for most cars. After all petrol is still cheap (compared to other countries around the region) and diesel is always seen as agricultural and dirty, even though it’s cheaper.

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Driving the 6, I was surprised by the quietness of the car. I don’t really know about the smell coming out from the exhaust, but everything is all good inside. I’m sitting quite low and the car does show a little bit of its sporty side around the corners and its steering feels very taut. Being a diesel, it is very torquey, at 420 (Blaze it) Nm, so no problem with power over there. While everything feels good, the price is a little on the higher side at RM197,401. The petrol 2.0 is a lot more cheaper but you do lose a bit more on the safety equipment like blind spot monitoring and auto braking. Then again, Mazda is aiming to compete with the likes of BMW and Audi, so at that price range, the Mazda6 is good value.

Verdict: Not bad for a black burner cruiser. 2.8/5

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If Mazda is saying they want to be the next BMW, putting out more crossovers is a great start. On the Mazda stand, there was the new CX-8 on display; which hasn’t been launched in Malaysia, a CX-3, a CX-5, and a CX-9. The only other non-crossover was the 6, and there were two CX-5s available for test. One was the 2.2 SkyActiv-D and the other was the 2.5 SkyActiv G. A direct comparison between two engine options, this will be interesting.

The first one I driven was the diesel model. It is the more expensive one of the two models and is marketed as the top of the range model with all the safety features. One thing that you would notice driving these two engine models back to back is that it feels much more smoother on the petrol version while for the diesel, there is more power and despite all efforts to reduce the NVH, it is much more noisier in the diesel. Not that it’s loud but it can be heard faintly. Good work on Mazda in the sound-proofing department.

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Now, here’s the bad part. It’s boring to drive. It seems that being a crossover and with the Mazda badge as well as the philosophy of Jinba ittai doesn’t make it zoom. Another thing which I felt surprisingly was the body roll. In the Aruz, it’s normal with its high centre of gravity but even that was barely felt. In the CX-5, despite looking shorter, rolls quite easily. Maybe it needs the G-Vectoring after all. Sadly, that makes my disappointment even more since I actually admired Mazda.

Verdict: If another manufacturer can inject fun into a crossover, why couldn’t Mazda? 2.6/5

After Mazda, the next booth I went to was Volkswagen. Having driven the Vento and was completely surprised with its amazing gearbox, I figured about driving the remaining three cars that were available, the 1.4 TSI Tiguan, the Golf 1.4 TSI R-Line, and the Passat 2.0. Unfortunately, I was only allowed to drive two models, so I went with the Tiguan and the Golf. There was a one hour waiting list for the Golf, so it’s the Tiguan first.

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At this point, all hope I’ve ever had with crossovers are basically dead and crapping on the bed. The Tiguan, I thought wasn’t going to change that perception, as great as the DSG box was. I mean look at it, it looks very generic and conventional. With a 1.4 liter turbocharged 16 valve four-cylinder, how is this going to be exciting? It’s a freaking crossover for God’s sake.

Hoo boy, was I wrong. Very wrong. The car is just right. It zings around with no problem, and best of all it’s stable. Maybe Mazda should learn a thing or two from this. More importantly, it sparked joy and fun when I was driving it around the short trip. There’s even a sport mode and that got the buzz going. The salesperson I was with was a cool dude too who owned a Volvo S40. Later on, he asked me about the Mazda CX-5 after I told him I was there to try and drive every car that was available. Having driven both, I told him to go for the Tiguan. It was a quick car and maintenance wise it shouldn’t be an issue for him since he owned a Volvo. Plus, road tax would be even cheaper too.

Verdict: A zippy crossover. Two words that doesn’t fit together but it works for this. 3.1/5

Since it takes an hour to wait for my turn with the Golf, I went over to the next booth; Proton. Proton and Perodua were basically in the centre of the hall and Proton had a bigger booth and had all its models on display and that includes a pair of brand new facelifted Persona and Iriz.

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I liked the older Iriz. It had a fantastic manual transmission but a really crappy CVT automatic. The latter gearbox got some improvements when the Persona was launched a year later in 2015 but it looks really frumpy and weird. A few nick and tuck facelifts of both models appeared in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Then, we finally come to this, the newer 2019 Proton Persona. Honestly, I now prefer the changes made on the Persona compared with the Iriz. Both cars share the same mechanics with the Persona still offering a five-speed manual option for the only engine offered which is a 1.6 litre VVT four-pot while the Iriz only offered the manual for the 1.3 litre.

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The test unit available was of the highest spec Premium model which is Punch CVT automatic. I’ve driven the older Persona way back when it was launched and my verdict was pretty poor. Could this new Persona offer a completely transformed Proton just like the X70? Well, one of the most noticeable change when you’re sitting in the Persona is how well bolstered the seats are. It feels very semi-bucket like. However, I do find that the digital display in between the gauges at the front to look very cheap, and I know since Proton is now owned by the Chinese which also gave the wonderful X70, is kinda a letdown.

Another thing I found disappointing is the “Hi Proton” feature which couldn’t detect my voice when I wanted to switch the radio station. Worse, I don’t even know how to shut it up. Good thing, there is still good ol’ steering wheel buttons. Now back to the car, it rides quite well but the biggest change is the Punch CVT feels better than before. The car isn’t great but at least it is smoother. Now, would I recommend the Persona or the Iriz, since both are basically the same? Probably not. Smoother gear change and quieter cabin aside, the car is still a cheap buy at most.

Verdict: The new Persona/Iriz is just like an iPhone XS. A simple upgrade with minute changes. 2.5/5

Most of the people that were lining up at the test drive booth were planning to drive the X70. I’ve driven the X70 before and I really like Proton’s first SUV. It completely blew me away on how great the car is to drive and the quality is superb. Maybe being owned by the Chinese seemed to be a fruitful partnership based on the X70. Granted, the Persona and Iriz were just facelifts and nothing more. Hopefully the X70 would be a sign of things to come. Besides the X70, there were also the Saga and Exora. I’ve driven the Saga when it was launched and there was nothing much to shout about other than being a very cheap car to transport your family or mates.

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After the Proton booth, it’s back to Volkswagen with the Golf. This was the R-Line model, which had R badges on the seats, the grille, the side, and the scuff plates on the floor. Now, the Golf R is the fastest Golf in the range, but this isn’t a Golf R. Similar to how BMW sometimes sold an M variant that isn’t really an M-car, VW does this for their Golf. The Golf itself is a very sporty looking car. I was impressed with the Tiguan and as a matter of fact, it shares the same engine and powertrain with the Tiguan.

The Golf R-Line isn’t particularly cheap, at RM173,390 for a 1.4 litre car, it sounds ridiculous and you can take our local car industry for that. But politics aside, the Golf packs quite a punch. I got the same salesman as the one that accompanied me for the Tiguan drive and immediately went for sport mode. That burst of acceleration just kicks you in after putting the foot to the throttle. I saw the tacho reaching the redline as the DSG kicked in and change the gears. It feels so effortless. Seeing as I’m having fun with the car, the salesman allowed me for a second round, this time he adjusted the suspension. What GTi? I’m paying much less in road tax and having as much fun, and that’s coming from a staunch manual elitist.

Verdict: An everyday fun pocket rocket. 4/5

I thought this would be worth putting one whole day of test drives crammed into one article. Turns out, I may need to continue the next test drives in another part. In the next part, one asshole salesman tried to get himself out of helping me with my challenge, a shocking discovery on why some cars are cheap, in particular the one I was driving in, and I’ve finally found a car that puts a big smile on my face.

All photos taken by the author

I Drove (Almost) Every Car at Malaysia Autoshow 2019 (Part One)

The Malaysia Autoshow, it is claimed to be the biggest car show in Malaysia. Unlike the Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show (KLIMS) which happens once every 3 years or more (kinda like the election), the car launches aren’t that spectacular. There was the limited edition Bezza, which was just a Bezza with some cosmetic changes and a special livery. There was also the public debut of the facelifted Proton Iriz and Persona as well as the Toyota Yaris. The main focus is to attract car buyers, not showing off the latest concepts. Just like last year’s event, it was held at MAEPS in Serdang, about 35 mins from KL. The benefit here is that there are test driving sessions for the brands that are featured, which are Perodua, Proton, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Volkswagen, Citroen, Peugeot, Kia, and Mercedes-Benz. BMW has a booth that featured the i3 electric car but no test driving sessions sadly. The same goes for DS Automobile, Citroen’s luxury upmarket brand.

It’s not all just normal cars on display, Honda has a few Mugen cosmetics on display like the Civic Type R Mugen, which looks like a Need For Speed modification especially with the 18/19 inch wheels, while Perodua on the Myvi GT and X-Concept from KLIMS’18 on display at their booth. Another hall features some tuners and modified cars courtesy of International Automodified (IAM). Occasionally, some car clubs showed up and parked their cars at the boulevard between the two halls.

Oh, did I mention the test driving session? Basically, you are allowed between 10-15 mins driving from those 12 brands at a prepared route around MAEPS but seeing there’s a lot of cars to choose from, it will take more than two days. Thankfully, I got myself a couple of complimentary tickets for the show. I initially wanted to check the cars out, but then I figured, why not test drive them all.

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The Citroen C3 Aircross. Personally, I’m a fan of quirky and weird cars and the C3 Aircross fit well with me. The car hasn’t been launched yet but ever since I saw it at KLIMS’18, I was attracted to it. It says weird through and through. Then, a salesperson asked me if I was interested for a test drive. I immediately registered without hesitation.

Sitting inside, I feel the car’s unique French charm. After all, Citroen is seen as the quirky French car brand. The digital dash has a very cool angular font that truly screamed out French. The handbrake is a cute lever as seen in the picture above. I really hope that the Aircross can be customised based on the individual but there may be slim chance for that to work in Malaysia. I doubt Naza Euro, the importer of Citroen in Malaysia might do that even though you could customise your DS5. Now, the engine, 1.2 liter may not sound much but in the Aircross, all that power is felt through the torque. With a car this size, torque is all you need to get going but to be frank, this isn’t an off-roader, it’s a crossover. As a city car it fits in hip areas like Bangsar or Bukit Bintang, but for long distance driving, there is no fun, which sadly belies the whole quirky look of the Aircross.

Then we come to the elephant in the room, the price. The C3 Aircross costs RM115k, on the road without insurance. Its French rivals, the Renault Captur and the Peugeot 2008 cost much less at RM108k and RM105,888 respectively without insurance. Both cars are bigger than the Aircross too. Another problem is that the Citroen brand is very obscure. In Malaysia there are only 6 dealers. Compared to Peugeot which has 20 dealers and Renault which has 8, though the latter had a better advertising budget than Citroen, the Citroen brand is having a tough time in the Malaysian market. As of writing there’s only one Citroen model offered, the C4 Space Tourer. Peugeot has seven while Renault has four. Plus, there’s also the risk of difficulty and high cost in getting parts especially from an obscure brand. However, if you are looking into something different, the Aircross might be a perfect car to set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd.

Verdict: An interesting car to look at but patchy dealer network and obscurity hampers it. 3.7/5

Then, I decided to drive the other 1.2 liter cars on offer.

There were actually two other cars with a similar engine displacement albeit from completely different categories, one was the Kia Picanto, a car I recommended to get if you’re planning on a city car, and the other is a Volkswagen Vento, a 4-door saloon based on the Polo, a B-segment car basically.

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Let’s start with the Kia Picanto. The one I drove was the 1.2 EX, which is not the one in the picture above. They had the GT Line offered for a test drive but frankly the EX is still worth the money and it’s the car that I’m looking for if I were to buy a new car. Both models came with the same engine and 4-speed automatic. Having driven the car, I stand by my verdict in it being a great new city car. The engine is powerful enough and the whole car is stable even at high speeds. Despite the sort of tall boy design, it feels very solid around corners with minimal body rolls. It probably helps that it has a stabilizer already built in.

Price-wise, it is affordable. The EX costs a RM47k while the GT Line costs RM57k, but that RM10k premium is best left for something else unless you want leather seats and and a sunroof. Kia also offers a 5-year warranty and free service for 3 years. Both of them comes with unlimited mileage which is even better for those who wants a brand new car but can’t afford the maintenance fees.

Verdict: What you want is the GT. What you need is the EX. 4/5

Next, I went over to Volkswagen. Volkswagen had 4 cars available to drive, but we’ll get back to that later. On the list of cars available was a Vento. A 1.2 Highline model at that. Hang on, I thought, wasn’t the Vento offered with a 1.6 liter as standard? Shouldn’t the engine be in the Polo and didn’t VW offered that engine in a Polo before?

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As it turns out, 1) the 1.2 Vento was just recently updated and was launched last year to replace the Polo Sedan which had a 1.6 liter naturally aspirated four-pot engine (which you can still get with the Vento), and 2) the 1.2 Polo was sold in Malaysia but it has been discontinued citing, and I’m quoting this from the salesperson that was with me, “poor sales”. So, why is VW Malaysia trying to sell a “poor selling engine” as an option for their Vento? Well, I took a test drive to find out.

Let’s start with the styling. Very conventional and although it doesn’t really make much difference with the old Polo Sedan, it still looked fairly decent even if it looks really old and pretty outdated compared to its rivals. The Polo Sedan was on sale since 2014 before they changed the name. Granted the City has been on sale since 2014 with a facelift in 2017, so it’s not the only car that is getting a bit too old. The interior is the same but this upgrade now features a multimedia system that is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready which is great news for those who wants convenience. Also the price has been dropped to RM91k from the original price of RM94k. Still, even with the price drop, the Vento’s competitors offer more equipment for less.

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But the piece de resistance comes from the engine and that smooth 7-speed DSG transmission. Normally, I hate automatics but having driven VW’s DSG, I can’t help but to give praises to it. Driving with the DSG for the first time (Yes, I’m that much of a novice who only gets information from articles and yet to experience driving even more cars), I felt the smooth seamless gear change, and when it accelerates, it just lifts. Combine that with the 1.2 turbocharged engine and you have a winner. Unlike the Aircross, the Vento feels the complete opposite. While the Aircross looks fun, it doesn’t drive like it has the pizzazz. The Vento doesn’t have quite the looks but it sure brings a smile when you’re driving it.

Verdict: Proof that a great gearbox and engine combined can completely change your outlook in certain cars. 3.9/5

At the end of the day…

Each of these three cars represent different categories and it’s unfair to compare between them based on engine size. The Aircross is a quirky crossover, the Picanto is a capable value for money city car, and the Vento is a small family car that’s fun to drive. Each cars have their pros and cons, so with one ticket used to just check out the cars and take a few photos of it, I still have another ticket in my hand and what I decided to do with it is sort of a challenge; To drive all of the cars that were available in one day. At least, that’s what I thought…

All images provided by the author except featured image which was taken here.

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

3/5

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

2/5