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Tomorrow is the 25th birthday of the Perodua Kancil. The first Malaysian car that didn’t wear a moon and star crest, the first Perodua was unveiled by prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on August 29, 1994. Priced from under RM25k, the Kancil became Malaysia’s most affordable new car, and an instant success.

At Perodua’s corporate headquarters in Sg Choh, north of Rawang, two clean examples of the Kancil sit in the lobby. Nothing serves better as a reminder of “how far you’ve come” (or alternatively, “never forget your roots”) than your first ever product, right?

Based on the L200 Daihatsu Mira, the Kancil introduced the kei-car to Malaysia; it – and subsequent models like the Kembara, Kelisa and Kenari – got us accustomed to the tiny footprint of these Japanese specials. The Kancil also got many of us accustomed to the act of driving itself, as it replaced the Nissan Sunny at driving schools nationwide – remember the time?

The little car travelled far too, as far as the UK, where it was called the Perodua Nippa. Launched in 1997 and priced at £5,000, it was the cheapest new car on sale there (Ford’s Fiesta was the default small car, priced from £7,475 to £13,165). For scale, a UK punter could have a (then fresh) first-generation 986 Porsche Boxster or seven Nippas to last him 200 years.

The red Kancil you see here is the first ever car to roll off the company’s assembly line. Never mind things like airbags or even rear seat belts, this 660 cc box didn’t even come with power windows, power steering, central locking, a tachometer, a radio or even a clock. Thankfully, air con wasn’t an option. It was as basic as cars come, but the Kancil served a purpose – to provide mobility to Malaysians at the lowest possible cost.

Perodua’s core model went through two minor facelifts in 1997 and 2000 – the latter giving it a two-part chrome grille and two-tone bodywork. But it wasn’t until 2002 that the model received an extensive makeover that resulted in the blue car you see here, the 500,000th Kancil made – D.O.B. April 11, 2003.

The “new Kancil” had round headlamps, redesigned front and rear ends (rear number plate moved from bumper to tailgate) and reshaped tail lamps. The dashboard was completely new, now with a centre-mounted instrument cluster. Of course, various creature comforts made its way into the Kancil over the years.

In 2007, Perodua introduced the Viva as the Kancil’s successor, although the bug-eyed fellow continued to be sold as a cheaper, more basic option. This coexistence lasted until July 20, 2009, when the last Kancil – unit number 722,223 – rolled off the line.

Based on the newer L250 Daihatsu Mira, the Perodua Viva introduced 1.0 litre engines (the Kancil topped out at 850 cc) and safety kit such as dual airbags and front seat belt pretensioners to the series (the Myvi was by now racking up serious sales, but that’s a separate story). On the kosong end of the scale, the Viva 660 BX, introduced in July 2009 as a replacement for the base Kancil, was priced at RM25k. The “driving school spec” Viva had its price cut to RM22k in 2014 to create room for the Axia.

The Viva you see above is a 2013 1.0 litre S in Ozzy Orange (such a funky name for Perodua), which retailed at RM35,200 (reduced to RM29,900 in June 2014). It had a four-speed automatic transmission, power steering, a driver’s side seat height adjuster and an MP3 head unit, among other things.

A new chapter started in September 2014 with the launch of the Perodua Axia. Much bigger and much more modern than the Viva, the Axia came solely with a 1.0 litre engine. The range started from RM24,600 for the base 1.0 E with a manual gearbox.

This time around, Malaysia’s cheapest car no longer had black bumpers and door handles as tell-tale signs, only the steel wheels. Like the Myvi of its time, the Axia was launched with two faces – a regular look worn as by the Lemongrass Green Standard G below, and a sportier one for the SE and Advance trim levels.

In early 2017, Malaysia’s best selling car received a facelift that also included VVT-i variable valve timing for the 1.0L three-cylinder 1KR engine. No big jump in output (just 1 hp and 1 Nm more) but claimed fuel economy figures improved to 22.5 km/l with the manual, up from 21.6 km/l.

Today’s top-trim Axia comes with equipment that Kancil buyers 25 years ago never dreamt of, only because it never existed then. The Advance includes goodies such as keyless entry and push start (there’s a RM330k Mercedes-Benz currently on sale without this feature), front parking sensors, leather seats and smartphone-linked navigation, among other things. On the safety front, it’s ABS, two airbags and four stars from ASEAN NCAP.

The Axia is set for another update, and the 2019 Perodua Axia will be launched next month. The order books opened last week, and along with that came news that the model will get a big safety boost – Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and the Advanced Safety Assist (ASA) 2.0 driver assistance tech pack will make their debut in the Axia.

Also, there will be an all-new variant that hasn’t been done before on any of Perodua’s model lines. The new Axia Style gets SUV-inspired looks, much like the Volkswagen CrossPolo, Hyundai i20 Active and Honda WR-V in global markets. There’s a slightly altered front end, black body cladding around the car’s lower edges (with “skid plates” of course), faux roof rails and bigger wheels. Full story on the 2019 Axia here.

The 2019 Axia’s estimated price range is from RM24,090 for the Standard E to RM43,190 for the Advance. That base price means that while much has changed in a quarter of a century, some things stay the same – Mahathir is still the PM today, and the most affordable car in Malaysia is still priced at a touch below RM25k. Imagine going back in time to 1994 and telling someone this!

First Perodua Kancil

500,000th Perodua Kancil

Perodua Viva S-Series

Pre-facelift Perodua Axia Standard G

2017 Perodua Axia SE facelift