We’re continuing our look back at the year that was, as we come to the end of 2019. While the past twelve months have been great for our two national carmakers, the Japanese brands have not been faring so well, as a combination of factors – including continuously rising prices – have hindered the leading players.

Still, a long list of new car launches, timely facelifts and welcome product updates have managed to salvage the situation somewhat. Well, at least for some of them…

HR-V facelift is Honda’s sole new product launch, Civic facelift open for booking

No such luck for Honda, which had its line of new products held back. The leading non-national brand was on track to launch the facelifted Civic late this year, having previewed the car (and opened the order books) as far back as September; three months later, however, there’s still no sign of it. A similar delay afflicted the facelifted HR-V last year – the SUV was eventually launched in January with new RS and Hybrid variants, the latter making Malaysia the first to get the car outside of Japan. Watch our review of the Hybrid here.

The facelift’s delayed launch wasn’t the only issue faced by the Civic this year – production of the current model was inexplicably stopped for a few months, the car finally going back on sale towards the end of April. The City and Jazz Hybrid models were also recently hit with a price hike of up to RM8,000.

All these factors have conspired to take the wind out of Honda Malaysia’s sails (and sales), and the perennial second-placed carmaker was overhauled by a resurgent Proton in July; it is now expected to finish the year a distant third in the standings. It should recover some lost ground next year as the facelifted Civic finally gets to go on sale and, hopefully, the new Accord as well.

Other new models expected for 2020 include the facelifted BR-V and CR-V, along with the new Jazz and the hotly-anticipated new City, the latter having gone on sale in Thailand with a new 1.0 litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine (though we’re not sure if we’ll be getting it, given that the mill was added specifically to meet the country’s Eco Car Phase 2 regulations). Let’s just hope there are no more delays.

Toyota introduces new Vios, Yaris, GR Supra, Corolla

In contrast to Honda’s barren year, UMW Toyota Motor had its hands full with a barrage of new model launches. It kicked off the new year with the introduction of the new Vios (written review here) and Yaris, both receiving a bold new look and increased safety kit as standard, with seven airbags on all models. Crucially, both models are still priced well within the highly-competitive RM70,000 to RM90,000 segment.

Soon after, the Avanza was given a comprehensive facelift and a number of new features, including blind spot monitoring. But the biggest news for enthusiasts came in September, when the company launched the GR Supra to great fanfare. Based on the latest G29 BMW Z4 and powered by Munich’s 340 PS 3.0 litre turbo straight-six, it is priced from a cool RM568,000; you can watch our video review of the sports car here.

The following month, with the facelifted Civic still nowhere to be found, the new Corolla filled the void left by its fiercest rival. Soldiering on with a carryover 1.8 litre engine, the car nevertheless features a renewed design inside and out and the latest Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, and it’s also available with the full Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assists.

With a fairly up-to-date lineup, 2020 should be a quieter year for Toyota, though we can speculate a few product revisions in the pipeline. The Sienta should receive a facelift already introduced in Thailand, as will perhaps the Hilux, Fortuner and Innova siblings. We can also expect the RAV4 to finally arrive in Malaysia to give the SUV range a much-needed boost, and maybe even the new European-market Yaris – the upcoming all-wheel drive GR model would make a tasty accompaniment to the Supra in the GR Garage…

Nissan electrifies lineup with X-Trail Hybrid, Leaf

Having endured two years without any new car launches, Nissan distributor Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) finally ended the drought with the introduction of the new Serena last year, and continued the momentum into 2019 with two high-profile launches.

Banishing memories of ETCM’s traditionally long lead times, the facelifted X-Trail arrived in Malaysia just two months after it was launched in Thailand, with the addition of a new Hybrid model. Safety kit was also given a massive boost, from just two airbags before to a minimum of four, with six available on higher-end models; range-topping variants also received the full Nissan Intelligent Mobility driver assistance suite, including autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Watch and read our reviews here.

This was followed by the introduction of the new Nissan Leaf, previewed at the Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show (KLIMS) last year. The company was a pioneer of the local electric vehicle market with the original, and this latest model boasts a more powerful motor, a considerably longer 270 km range and AEB, wrapped in a much more attractive design. You can watch our review of the car here.

A subscription service for the Leaf was also introduced and was later extended to the X-Trail Hybrid, although the rates for the latter were slashed soon after. There are even bigger launches expected in 2020, as the new Almera has already been spied over here. After that, the Kicks should finally enable Nissan to compete with the HR-V, while the new Sylphy and facelifted Serena and Navara could also be on the cards.

New Mazda 3 and CX-8 headline updated lineup

Like Toyota and Nissan, Mazda had a busy year in Malaysia as it introduced two key new models and brought updates to several more. In July, its distributor Bermaz finally launched the new Mazda 3, though not without a severe price hike – the cheapest 1.5 litre model retails just a smidgeon under RM140,000, while the most expensive 2.0 litre variant is now knocking on the door of RM160,000.

However, the C-segment sedan and hatch feature stylish new designs, a more upmarket interior and markedly improved refinement to convince customers they are worth the extra outlay, and you can watch our review here. A month later, the MX-5 RF was updated with a more powerful 184 hp engine, which also brought a sizeable premium of up to RM37,000, the targa-top roadster now priced at around RM260,000.

September saw the Mazda 6 getting a far milder update, only adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support and the revised G-Vectoring Control Plus system, and with that came a jump of nearly RM20,000; pricing now ranges from RM174,000 to a whopping RM220,000. The CX-5, on the other hand, received a new 2.5 litre turbo engine from the CX-9, priced around RM179,000. You can watch our review here.

More recently, Mazda has finally added a more affordable seven-seater SUV option with the CX-8, which is essentially a stretched version of the CX-5. Affordable is relative, of course, as it’s priced from RM180,000 to RM218,000,and you can watch our video review here to find out our thoughts. The coming year should bring some more fresh product, including the CX-30, the facelifted Mazda 2 and possibly a locally-assembled version of the Mazda 3 to bring down the price a little bit.

Read Part 1 of our 2019 year in review series here, where we took a look at the national players – including Perodua, Proton, the upcoming new national car and even the infamous flying car. Next, we’ll be looking at premium brands, so stay tuned.

This post is one of several in our multi-part “2019 year in review and what’s to come in 2020” series, which covers a variety of major brands, albeit in different groupings. You can check out our earlier posts focusing on other brands as listed below: