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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!