It has been a fascinating year for the Malaysian automotive landscape, one we can safely categorise as unprecedented, and on several levels. From national automaker Proton aggressively selling its updated range of cars via an expanding network of new and/or renovated dealerships, to the non-national king introducing just one car this year, and Perodua upping the ante on the safety front, 2019 also saw a new wave of subscription-based car ownership programmes.

There’s no doubt that car manufacturers here haven’t been this fired up in recent years. Yet, amidst all the hoo-ha were surprises in the form of a new national car project (NNCP) and a flying car. Both are still developing stories, but for the purpose of this piece, we’ll focus on some of the other, non-national brands in the country.

Borgward creeps forward, slowly

Borgward, a Chinese-owned German brand represented by Go Bremen Motors in Malaysia, first made its presence here known in April 2018. At the time, it previewed the BX5 and BX7 SUVs, both of which were then left-hand drive display units.

The local assembly process did take a while, but the company held a line-off ceremony of the CKD BX5 in June this year, and the compact five-seater SUV is available in five flavours. Though it’s technically on sale right now, with deliveries scheduled to start sometime soon, the BX5 is not officially launched yet.

Its market introduction has been delayed from the initial target of Q4 2019, but it’s likely that the launch will only take place within the first quarter of 2020. Nevertheless, two engine choices are on offer, starting with the 1.4 litre turbo making 150 PS and 250 Nm, whereas more expensive models get the more potent 2.0 litre four-potter making 224 PS and 300 Nm of torque.

Prices range from RM119k to RM157k, and includes an eight-year unlimited mileage warranty, five years free service (including labour and parts), a Borgward RedBlack Card for two years of free petrol, roadside assistance (with free towing) and RedBlack Premier (cashback for five years). No matter how you spin it, the aftersales package offered here is clearly beyond the industry standard.

Despite the delay, Borgward is slowly planting dealerships across the peninsular. Those in the Klang Valley who ply the roads in and within Glenmarie would notice the new Borgward sales gallery (pictured above) in place of the old Jeep dealership. Slow and steady wins the race, or so the saying goes. Either way, this one is worth keeping an eye out for.

Did someone say Jeep?!

It appears that the iconic American automotive brand, Jeep, is plotting another comeback to the Malaysian market. The last time it made its re-entry here was in November 2014, with sales and distribution carried out by DRB-Hicom’s subsidiary company Edaran Otomobil Nasional (EON).

At the time, EON brought in nearly the whole brigade, from the Wrangler and Compass, to more premium offerings like the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. In fact, the top Grand Cherokee SRT powered by a 6.4 litre V8 HEMI was even introduced as the range-topping model, complete with an eye-watering price tag of RM699k.

Life for Jeep, however, was rather short-lived. After two fleeting years, DRB-Hicom pulled the plug on it, and the Glenmarie showroom was left vacant, that is until Borgward came along and scooped it up. To give credit where it’s due, at least they tried, and even went as far as to bring in the one-off “Batwrangler.”

With pricing and brand awareness being the key factors of its downfall, you’d think the Jeep brand wouldn’t resurface in the foreseeable future. But as it turns out, our sources say that Jeep will indeed make a comeback, and the latest Wrangler will be among the first models to be introduced. Word is the cars will be priced more competitively to entice buyers, so those who are interested, well, time to save up!

It’s a relatively quiet year for the Koreans

Following an unusually exhaustive year in 2018 with multiple product launches and motor show participations, Kia appears to be running low on steam this year. First, Naza Kia Malaysia raised the price of the Stinger by RM25k to RM265k, and the Stinger GT by a staggering RM74k to RM384k.

The company made headlines shortly after that, but for the right reasons. It launched the much anticipated Kia Picanto GT Line, complete with autonomous emergency braking (AEB). For RM58k, the A-segment hatch was praised on accounts of refinement, safety and value. Not long after, the stripped-bare Picanto KX completed Kia’s city car range here in Malaysia with a price of RM45k.

Other than that, there was also the Optima EX, which at RM140k was a full RM30k cheaper than the Optima GT. For that money, the D-segment sedan loses the GT’s 2.0 litre turbo in favour of a naturally-aspirated 2.0 litre engine, making 163 PS and 196 Nm of torque (82 PS and 154 Nm less than the turbo). It also came with smaller 17-inch alloys and black fabric upholstery, although it featured a 360-degree around view monitor for the first time.

Moving forward, the brand should be gearing up for the launch of the all-new Kia Cerato/Forte – a fully camouflaged prototype was spotted recently in Wangsa Maju, but the C-segment sedan had previously been on display at the 2018 Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show (KLIMS). Want an alternative choice as opposed to the usual suspects? Well, expect a launch to take place within the first half of 2020.

Beyond that, Kia also debuted the fifth-generation Optima globally, which sports a significant styling change, as well as a more luxurious cabin, complete with gadgetries like a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display.

Headlining the feature set is the Optima GT’s 2.5 litre T-GDi engine making 290 PS and 422 Nm, though having this option in Malaysia may well push the asking price beyond RM200k. There’s a smaller 1.6 litre turbo mill which outputs 180 PS and 265 Nm of torque, as well as a 2.0 litre NA four-potter. These two are likelier options for our market, we think.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the new global B-segment SUV, Seltos. With more people buying into compact SUVs, this stylish offering is Kia’s answer to the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR. Powered either by a 2.0 litre NA or 1.6 T-GDi four-cylinder mills, we think the Seltos could do considerably well here in Malaysia. Well, unless the upcoming Proton X50 takes the market by storm, that is.

Hyundai coasts under the radar

On the product side of things, Hyundai Sime Darby Malaysia (HSDM) has created quite a buzz this year with the launch of the i30 N. At RM300k, it’s right smack in between direct rivals Fk8 Honda Civic Type R (RM330k) and Renault Megane RS 280 Cup (RM280k). All three are offered with a manual transmission, but the Megane can also be had with a six-speed EDC, which bumps the price up to RM300k.

Okay, onto more mainstream cars. HSDM started the year off with the launch of the Elantra facelift in April. Curiously, the company offered the C-segment sedan in the sole 2.0L Executive variant at RM110k, and did away with the more appealing Elantra Sport. Also joining the 2019 line-up is the Starex facelift – the 11-seat MPV is powered by a 2.5 litre turbodiesel, churning out 170 PS and 441 Nm of torque. A five-speed automatic with manual mode is standard, sending drive to the rear wheels.

Perhaps the most important launch for the company this year was the fourth-generation Santa Fe. The three-row SUV sports a unique look, and the introductory prices ranged from RM170k to RM212k. Two engine options are available – a 2.4 Theta II MPi petrol engine that delivers 172 PS and 225 Nm, as well as a 2.2 litre R CRDi turbodiesel that puts out 193 PS and a stout 440 Nm. Petrol models get a six-speed auto, while diesel models get a new eight-speed box. The latter is the only one that gets Hyundai’s HTRAC variable all-wheel drive system.

For 2020, expect the all-new, eighth-generation Sonata and second-generation Veloster to make their way here. The former will outright replace the outgoing Sonata LF (sold here since 2014; the facelift was never introduced), and it shares the same range of Smartstream engines as the new Optima. Besides the controversial design approach, the fastback sedan is pretty well kitted, and even comes with the Hyundai Digital Key and Bose premium sound system.

Meanwhile, it’s no secret that the new Veloster will start entering the regional market next year, after making a surprise appearance at the Thailand Motor Expo earlier this month. Power comes from three engines, starting with the base 2.0 litre NA engine (147 hp, 179 Nm) and the 1.6 litre T-GDI mill (201 hp, 274 Nm), to the range-topping 2.0 litre Theta T-GDI unit that puts out 275 hp and 353 Nm of torque. This is the same engine powering the i30 N with Performance Package.

Not much from Peugeot in 2019. Better luck next year, maybe?

It’s an all-SUV affair for Peugeot this year. Both the 3008 and 5008 THP Plus are now locally assembled at the Naza Automotive Manufacturing (NAM) facility in Gurun (a JV between Naza Group and PSA Group), and both cars share the same 1.6 litre THP engine producing 165 hp and 240 Nm of torque. The 3008 is also currently being exported to the Philippines, with more plans to enter other ASEAN markets “very soon.”

There’s been strong anticipation for the new 508 since it debuted in February 2018. Sources have said that the handsome sedan will be launched in Q2 2019, but that plan is clearly dead in the water. With that much lead time, a launch in 2020 seems more probable. The only question is, will it come with the hotter 225 hp/300 Nm tune from a 1.6 litre turbo engine?

Two other Peugeot models to look out for in 2020 are the new 208 and 2008. Both the B-segment hatch and subcompact SUV are based on the PSA Group’s new Common Modular Platform (CMP) architecture, which means they can either be had with conventional engines, hybrids, or pure electric variants.

If we were to guess, both models will likely be offered here with the 1.2 litre PureTech three-cylinder engine, making either 100 hp or 130 hp and mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Other markets get a new eight-speed gearbox, though whether we get it remains to be seen. As for the pure electric variants, those are quite unlikely at this point in time.

Renault is bucking a new trend, but will it work?

In rounding up this edition of our 2019 year in review, we take a look at Renault, a relatively niche brand here in Malaysia that has been making all sorts of waves this year. First, it upgraded the Captur to the newer Euro 6 compliant engine, then launched the new Megane RS 280 Cup, and finally introduced the Koleos facelift. But what really made TC Euro Cars (TCEC) stand out this year was the rollout of Renault Subscription.

The company is clearly at the forefront of this emerging trend, and it’s counting on the younger generation to hop on board; those who are less keen on owning cars while being tied down to conventional hire purchase loans. With Renault Subscription, there’s no downpayment involved, and subscribers don’t need to worry about annual road tax as well as insurance and maintenance costs, as these are all factored into a fixed monthly sum.

Granted, the take-up rate for such an “unconventional” car ownership plan will yield little excitement from the market, so TCEC’s way of incentivising subscribers materialises in the form of Switch Plan. To put it simply, this plan nets one a Captur for a year, but gives subscribers access to the Koleos and Megane RS for 14 days. It all sounds like a convenient trial period for TCEC, but Renault Subscription is here to stay.

At the same time, TCEC will continue to serve conventionalists, those who prefer to keep their cars over several years at a time. Whichever cluster you identify yourself with, Renault will continue to launch new cars. Whether you choose to buy the car outright or subscribe to one of the plans, it’s all up to you.

Having said that, Renault may just introduce the new generation Captur next year. It’s far better looking than the outgoing model, and rides on the new CMF-B modular platform. Engine offerings include the new 1.6 litre E-Tech plug-in hybrid engine, which is paired with two electric motors that draw energy from a 9.8 kWh battery pack. That’s good for an all electric driving range of up to 65 km.

On the petrol front, the entry-level engine is the 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine with 100 hp and 160 Nm of torque, and above that is the 1.3 litre TCe with 130 hp and 240 Nm of torque. The latter comes with a seven-speed Efficient Dual-Clutch transmission.

There’s also a hotter 1.3 litre turbo tune, producing 155 hp and 270 Nm of torque. This is paired with the seven-speed EDC transmission as standard. Now, with 1.2 million units sold globally since its launch in 2013, plus having seen for yourself how the new Captur looks, how likely are you to get one? Would you buy it, or would you rather experience Renault Subscription?

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: