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The term “game changer” has been thrown around rather liberally these days, although more often than not, the cars carrying the label have failed to shake up the segment.

UPDATE: The Perodua Bezza has now been officially launched, with official prices ranging from RM37k to RM51k. ASEAN NCAP has also officially released the crash test results. As reported earlier, it’s five stars for the VSC-equipped 1.3L Advance and four stars for the other four variants.

The Kia Optima K5 facelift was branded as such in Malaysia, and we’ve seen the phrase repeated in the local review blitz of the Volkswagen Vento. While certain elements are standout – the design of the K5 and the sophisticated drivetrain of the Polo Sedan facelift, for instance – the segment leaders have been untroubled. While the tenth-generation Civic has revitalised the fading C-segment, it’s a relatively small game in the tournament.

Here’s something that I feel is a true game changer, a car that will not just sell in huge numbers, but alter the status quo in Malaysian budget motoring. It gets no bigger than this – Malaysia’s market leader for the past decade has been quietly planning a sedan, and it is now here. Ladies and gentlemen, the Perodua Bezza.

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The battle lines are being redrawn. For the longest time, first car buyers and those looking for a budget hatchback turn to Perodua. While the Rawang-based company has defied common perception that “Malaysians don’t like hatchbacks” (truth is, any car that’s reliable and offers good value will sell), there are many who like a boot.

While hatchbacks have great carrying capacity, an extended backside serves balik kampung and shopping trips very well, and for small and growing families, that’s vital. They turn to Proton, which has the Saga, Persona and Preve sedans for different budgets. Those doing better aim for the Honda City, Toyota Vios and its kind. They now have a new option.

Mid last month, we were given an exclusive opportunity to preview the new Perodua Bezza sedan at the company’s Sungai Choh headquarters. The session included stretching the D63D’s legs at P2’s new test track, which is a combo of high speed straights and “real world” challenges such as a hill meant to simulate the North-South Highway’s Gua Tempurung stretch just before Ipoh.

Click to enlarge spec sheet

The sampling session was much anticipated by this writer, more than the usual pre-launch test drive. Partly because of the significance of this new model, partly because I was the first person outside the company to see the car naked (two other industry colleagues would do so in the same week), but also because unlike the other national car company, Perodua had up until that point successfully managed to keep its baby away from prying eyes. I had no idea what to expect.

After getting through layers of security, I was greeted by Perodua R&D head Albert Ngu and his team, who must had had the feeling of proud new parents when they unclothed the D63D. The name ‘Bezza’ (taken from the KLIMS 2010 concept car) and the price of the car were the only details withheld (note the covered boot badge in some of the photos) as I laid eyes and hands on P2’s secret new model.

Now, the Bezza isn’t a pretty car. That’s because sedans based on small hatchbacks usually aren’t lookers. Compact dimensions, which isn’t a problem with a bootless car, don’t allow for nice sedan proportions, which is why most end up tall and narrow. Probably the toughest sort of car to design, I’d imagine.

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Take this fact into consideration, and the many awkward looking small sedans that have come before (Honda City, Suzuki SX4 Sedan, Ford Fiesta Sedan), and Perodua would have done a great job with the Bezza. It’s no Axia with a boot jutting out either, unlike the upcoming “Iriz Sedan” new Persona. Not bad for a bunch of “bumper designers” eh?

That’s a common jibe directed at P2, but the company has been given design responsibilities by Daihatsu for some time now, and this sedan is a 100% original, designed in Rawang for Malaysia (Ngu says that it’s “export ready” with a smile, without elaborating). Looks a little undertyred with 14-inch rubber and tall sides, but for a first attempt at a car with a boot, we think it’s a highly commendable effort. What do you think?

There’s a bit of Toyota Corolla Altis in the headlamp-grille relationship, and the fuss-free rear is not a world away from the Japanese Corolla Axio and local Vios. Simple design for a simple car, the way it should be, IMHO. Toyota, which now fully owns Daihatsu, Perodua’s Japanese partner, probably wouldn’t mind the design references.

Things are livened up by some jewellery. The rear lamp clusters remind us of the previous-gen Civic FB’s, and have LED bars, Korean-style, which is a step up from the dotted LEDs P2 has been using since the original Myvi. No projector headlamps, though.

Tiny fins on the A pillars and edge of the tail lamps help improve aerodynamics, which at 0.286 Cd (P2’s most slippery car ever), is a main contributor to the Bezza’s outstanding fuel efficiency. Unseen is a flat floor, which smoothens air flow, a P2 first. Also new for Perodua are the badges on the bootlid, which hint at the new tech within. How about “Dual VVT-i” and “Eco Idle” auto start stop?

The sedan sits on the Axia’s platform, which means that early speculation of a “Myvi Sedan” were off the mark. The Axia’s 2,455 mm wheelbase has been retained, but the longer front overhang and addition of a boot means the sedan is 510 mm longer than the hatch. Same 1,620 mm width and 1,500 mm height, but there are no shared body panels with the Axia.

“How does it compare to the Proton Saga?” will be the common question. The Perodua’s footprint is quite a bit smaller than the Proton’s. It’s 128 mm shorter, 60 mm slimmer and 20 mm less tall, with a wheelbase that’s 10 mm less.

But one can counter dimensions with better packaging, and that’s what Perodua has done. Despite the length and wheelbase deficit, the D63D has 32 mm better tandem distance (the distance between the front and rear passengers) than the Saga. P2’s measuring tapes also put the Bezza’s TD higher than the Vios’ by 3 mm. Rear headroom is the same as the Axia, which means it while it should be adequate for most, there’s no Myvi-style abundant headroom here.

Choosing this over an Axia or Myvi will most likely mean that one has a family, so a big boot is one of the main selling points. At 508 litres, the Perodua sedan’s boot is almost 100 litres bigger than the Saga’s (413 litres), and that’s with a full-size spare wheel. 508L is also two litres more than the the Bezza’s abang, the Toyota Vios.

Another benefit here is the 60:40 split folding rear seats, which is not a given feature for sedans. Although the seat backs don’t fold fully flat, there’s a trunk through function and the front passenger seat back can be fully reclined to accommodate very long items. The driver’s seat can do this too, in the “Relax Mode”. While it’s not a Honda Jazz with flip-up rear bench, the Bezza is very flexible in this department for a sedan.

Space and packaging will be a big unique selling point for the Bezza, but showroom appeal is very high too, thanks to some features that one simply does not expect from a Perodua. Keyless entry with a push start button is a first for the brand, as is Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Hill Start Assist, all available in the top 1.3 Advance variant.

Also available is a touchscreen double-DIN head unit with Mirror Link, or “Smart Link” as Perodua calls it. Link the HU to your smartphone and apps such as Waze and Google Maps will be displayed on the screen. Bluetooth music streaming is available alongside call functions. Kids are loaded with gadgets these days, and a USB port (5V/2A) located for at the tail end of the centre console would be useful for those at the back.

For those more interested in the oily bits, there’s also good news under the hood. Bezza buyers will get to choose from two engines – a 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine and a 1.3 litre four-cylinder unit.

Both are new to the brand; even the 1KR-VE 1.0L motor here isn’t identical to the 1KR-DE2 in the Axia. The sedan’s KR engine gets VVT-i variable valve timing (previously branded as DVVT), a higher compression ratio, reduced friction and improved combustion – all measures to improve fuel consumption over the already thrifty Axia. Figures are up slightly too – 67 hp at 6,000 rpm and 91 Nm at 4,400 rpm vs the Axia’s 66 hp at 6,000 rpm and 90 Nm at 3,600 rpm.

Perodua claims 21.3 km/l for the 1.0L sedan, compared to 20.1 km/l for the Axia, both with four-speed automatics and measured in the ECE mode. The five-speed manual variant tops that with 22.8 km/l.

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Now, no one buys a car and truly expects to achieve manufacturer FC claims, but it’s a good yardstick – minus a few km/l from the score for daily driving and the real world FC would still be rather impressive. The Axia is a good case in point.

The 1.3 litre engine is a new one in the Toyota family and not a carryover from the Myvi (K3-VE, 90 hp, 117 Nm). The 1NR-VE made its ASEAN debut in the facelifted Toyota Avanza/Daihatsu Xenia in Indonesia last year, and pushes out 94 hp at 6,000 rpm and 121 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm in the Bezza. The 1,329 cc motor is made in Sendayan, Negeri Sembilan, for local consumption.

The NR engine family (there’s also a 1.5L version in the Avanza) comes with intake and exhaust Dual VVT-i, teflon coating for the pistons (to reduce friction and improve durability), larger water jackets (better cooling, improved combustion, lower noise), roller rocker arm (reduces friction between rocker arm and camshaft) and iridium spark plugs (the 1.0L KR in the Bezza and Axia also uses the latter).

The 1.3L sedan is rated at 21.7 km/l for the MT and 22.0 km/l for the four-speed AT. The reason the AT is more frugal is because it comes with Eco Idle, the first Malaysian car to feature auto start-stop. The Bezza joins the Mazda 2 as the only cars below RM100k to feature idle stop, once a preserve of hybrids and premium Continental cars. With this, one will get one extra kilometre from every litre of petrol, Perodua says.

In addition to Eco Idle,the 1.3 Advance gets regenerative braking. During deceleration and braking, energy is used to charge the car’s battery, which means that during acceleration and cruising, the load on the alternator and engine is reduced.

The use of more high tensile steel also means that body weight was reduced without sacrificing rigidity. Speaking of which, the Bezza is a flyweight and tips the scales at just 865 kg for the base 1.0 MT to 930 kg for the top 1.3 Advance with all the above-mentioned features. Less weight = better fuel consumption.

Perodua also worked with Bridgestone and Silverstone to develop unique variants of existing tyre models, with an emphasis on reducing rolling resistance. Both cars ride on 175/65 R14 rubber (BS Ecopia for the 1.3, Silverstone Kruizer for the 1.0) that have 10% less rolling resistance compared to the Axia’s black donuts. All these, plus the aero enhancements mentioned earlier, contribute to the Bezza’s stellar fuel economy. Needless to say, the new sedan is an Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV).

Perodua, rightly or wrongly, has not been known to be the biggest proponent of safety, but this new model will put any doubts to rest. Already crash tested, the Bezza scored the maximum five stars awarded by ASEAN NCAP for the 1.3L Advance, which has VSC as standard. The other variants are four-star rated, the max score for a car without VSC.

All variants get dual-airbags, ABS and Isofix child seat mounts. Hill Start Assist, which holds the car for two seconds on an incline after you lift your foot off the brake pedal, is available in the 1.3 Advance. P2 will also be selling child seats under its GearUp accessories brand. Like the car, the seats be affordably priced, and the cost be included in the hire purchase loan.

There’s also a front passenger seat belt reminder, plus various other buzzer reminders for the key/smart key, parking brake and lights. The lock/unlock button on the centre stack is also a big convenience, as the front passenger can easily reach it without stretching over to the driver’s door. The Axia’s “handbag hook”, a practical feature loved by the ladies, is carried over, along with a “tapau” hook on the seat back. The glove box is pretty small, though.

I had the opportunity to sample three Bezza variants – the base Standard G 1.0L MT, the Standard G 1.0L AT and the range topping Advance 1.3L AT – all still in camouflage. Between the Standard G 1.0L and auto-only Advance lies the Premium X 1.3L MT and AT, which gets the Dual-VVT-i motor and some of the Advance’s kit. There are five variants in total.

  • Standard G 1.0L MT
  • Standard G 1.0L AT
  • Premium X 1.3L MT
  • Premium X 1.3L AT
  • Advance 1.3L AT

The high dashboard – while unadventurous in design – is inoffensive, neatly arranged and user friendly. Compared to the cockpits of the Axia and Myvi, this one has a more straight-cut look and serious feel to it, which I think will age well over the years.

I wouldn’t have been too surprised if Perodua ended up overdesigning elements in the interior (some of the meter graphics in the past were too fancy, affecting legibility, for instance), but this is a restrained, matured effort. Fits the sedan’s brief, I reckon.

The car you see here is the top-spec Advance, and it comes with plenty of feel-good touches. Leather-wrapped steering with thick contrast stitching (repeated on the gear lever boot), leather seats with quilted pattern, gloss black trim across the dashboard with silver accents and red illumination cradling the two dials, all combine to make it feel more upmarket than the entry Vios.

With a push start button, VSC off and Eco Idle off buttons on the right of the steering, there’s not even one blank switch to be found. Ditto the row of buttons sandwiched by the head unit and air con dials. A chunky gear knob rounds off the good impression. At this level, plastics are of course hard, but it’s not unpleasant to the touch. A nice new design key fob with remote boot release tops it off.

Bear in mind though that the dashboard of the base Standard G is significantly more spartan in trim (no piano black and silver bits) and features (blank buttons) compared to this – a rather huge gulf in ambience.

The driving position is high and visibility out is good, which is expected, and the way it should be in a car like this. Used to the full range of steering and seat adjustability, I’m never 100% comfortable in the Axia’s driver’s seat because of the fixed steering, and it’s the same here, although this won’t be an issue to many.

Strapped in, we started off with the 1.0L manual. The entry-level Bezza feels lively at the get-go, and that’s because we’re able to command every horse to action manually via the stick. Wringing the 998 cc motor isn’t an arduous task as it’s a willing little engine.

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The shift action is a long way from sporty Japanese benchmark sticks from Honda and the Suzuki Swift Sport, but no worse than the regular manual budget car. It’s more precise than what I remember, but it has been a long time since I drove a manual Perodua. Light and easy is the name of the game.

The impression of lightness is there from the first turn, and is present throughout our drive. Having said that, the 1.0L AT’s response from take off is sluggish compared to the MT, and the difference is immediately felt. Without control over gear selection, I was a passenger when the four-speeder hunted for gears on inclines, emphasising the lack of torque that wasn’t so much of an issue in the MT.

Also with a four-speed auto gearbox, the 1.3L was much better. The extra oomph provided by the Dual VVT-i engine is apparent when going up the hill and the overall experience is a lot calmer, the gearbox less frantic. The latter perhaps edges extra power as the bigger plus point, for me at least. On the long straight, I nudged past 150 km/h before braking, compared to around 140 km/h for the 1.0L.

We didn’t put high expectations on the Bezza’s dynamics – it is after all a tall and narrow sedan on skinny eco tyres – but Perodua’s latest model hung on well on the high speed fast sweepers of the test track’s hill section (dry conditions, fast sweepers were the only corners on the track). As mentioned, the Bezza feels light on its feet, in contrast to the more substantial feel and controls one gets in a Saga, but the high perch doesn’t encourage one to chuck it around. The Bezza is not that kind of car, but is competent enough.

The steering is a little slow, but the tight 4.5m turning circle should be more valuable in the city than a fast rack. A note on the Eco Idle system. It’s less intrusive on start up than the judder you get in some European cars, although it’s slower to fire up compared to Japanese hybrid cars, and you hear more of the starter sound here.

Wrapping up, we’ll attempt to answer a few pertinent questions. The Bezza is at its best with the 1.3L engine, which is more effortless than the 1.0L on the move. The top-spec Advance loses nothing in equipment compared to the lower end of the Japanese B-segment, and you should check the Perodua out if you’re in the market for a base City or Vios.

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It could even be viewed as a good entry “Toyota sedan”, and with price taken into account (it will be between the Axia and the Myvi), the Bezza could possibly be a better proposition than a Vios. Is the Vios TRD Sportivo, which at RM98k is around twice the price of a Bezza, two times the car? No.

The 1.0L variant has its place in the line-up, though. Think of it as an Axia alternative for those who are attracted to Malaysia’s cheapest and most popular car, but need more space for a growing family. An extra few thousand ringgit over seven years buys one a huge boot, an improved engine and better fuel consumption – that would be strong value for some, we can imagine.

Those opting for the Bezza over P2’s hatchbacks are likely to have a family (or preparing for one) and safety should rightly be a main concern. The proof is in the crash testing, and five ASEAN NCAP stars for the Advance, which has VSC, and four stars for the rest is a good result. A safe car need not be a heavy car.

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The Perodua Bezza is making its debut in interesting times, with Proton readying not one, but two compact sedans in the form of the revised Saga and Iriz-based Persona. Forget about the Perdana vanity project, the upcoming two sedans are the do-or-die models that will determine Proton’s future, and if the market votes for the Bezza…

Its cars are not perfect, but no one knows what Malaysians want in a car more than Perodua. With the impressive new Bezza, it’s entering the budget sedan segment that Proton has so far enjoyed to itself, unchallenged. This car will sell in huge numbers, this car will alter the status quo, this car is a true game changer.


GALLERY: Perodua Bezza 1.3 Advance in full

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