It may not be the most exciting thing to look at, but there’s no denying that Perodua’s first ever sedan model, the Bezza, has been a commercial success. Since its debut in 2016, over 185,000 units of the Bezza has been sold in Malaysia.

Hoping to continue that run, the automaker has given the Bezza a significant facelift for 2020, with an upgrade in specs, safety, comfort and even handling, so let’s see if this is still the entry-level sedan that you should all buy.

We’ll take a look at what’s good, what’s bad, what’s new, what’s old and, most importantly, how it compares against its primary rival, the Proton Saga. Also, which of the two engine variants you should go for if you’re shopping for one.

The Bezza facelift range starts from RM34.5k for the 1.0G manual and RM36.5k for the 1.0G Auto. These base models get a silver grille instead of chrome, no front foglamps and smaller 14-inch wheels from the Myvi 1.3. The good thing is they now get wing-mirror mounted signal indicators as standard, so out go the ugly bulbs on the front fenders. What’s not so good are these body-coloured B-pillars, which is a clear downgrade from the old cars and makes it look cheap.

The lack of extra safety features, beyond the standard two airbags and ABS, unfortunately hasn’t been addressed. There’s still no electronic stability control, which we’ve been stressing for years now as being a must-have in all modern cars.

In the Axia range, there’s the 1.0L Gxtra variant that adds on ESP for about RM1,500, so the question must be why ESP wasn’t added on – even at RM38,000, that would still make it cheaper than the only Proton Saga with ESP, the Premium at RM40,000.

Thankfully, ESP is now fitted to both 1.3 litre models as standard instead of just the AV like before, so that’s definitely good. Not so good news is the deletion of a 1.3 litre manual variant, which Perodua says had such a low demand it didn’t make sense to continue making it.

So what we have presently is the 1.3X for RM44k and the range-topping 1.3AV for RM50k. On top of the bigger engine, you also get back the chrome grille, foglamps, front corner sensors, brand new 15-inch wheels (which makes the 1.3 litre model sit 15 mm taller than before), keyless entry and blacked out B-pillars. Even more important is the inclusion of solar and security window tinting, which is not el cheapo film, but quality stuff.

The extra RM6k for the 1.3AV adds on a leather-wrapped steering wheel and seats, a touchscreen head unit with a reverse camera and the most significant update of all, in this case Perodua’s latest active safety suite, Advanced Safety Assist or ASA 2.0.

The system, which includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, can now warn you of objects ahead at up to 100 km/h, autonomously brake for you at up to 80 km/h, and even detect pedestrians at up to 50 km/h. It’s fantastic that it’s available on an entry level car like the Bezza.

It’s by far the cheapest sedan to have this feature, and in fact, plenty of much more expensive cars in Malaysia don’t have it. We’re talking about BMWs, MINIs, Audis, Jaguars, Land Rovers, even Porsches that cost more than 10 times this price, so, well done, Perodua. Credit where it’s due.

On the other hand, RM50k is still a lot of money for an entry-level car, no matter how you look at it. Its closest rival, the Proton Saga, only tops out at RM40k, and yes, I know, this has better fuel consumption. But you know how much fuel you can buy with RM10k? At today’s prices, over 4,800 litres. Assuming you refuel every week, that around three whole years worth of fuel.

Also, at RM50k, you can buy the bigger Proton Persona with a more powerful 1.6 litre engine. So yeah, for all intents and purposes, the Bezza is an affordable car, but let’s not call it cheap, shall we? Because it’s not.

What else is new on the 2020 facelift? Well, at the front, the old Bezza’s big and ugly reflector headlamps have been banished, replaced by slim LED units. These look a lot closer to the original Bezza Concept from 10 years ago, and to me it completely transforms the look of the Bezza. While the old one looked a bit too smiley and boring, this new one looks angry and sporty.

Remember, the latest Saga still runs reflector halogen lights, so this is technically 2/3 steps ahead in terms of technology. But having said that, this still doesn’t have LED DRLs, which the Saga now has, so yeah, tit for tat, I guess. It also gets new bumpers all around, which I think do look good, but perhaps a little bit too aggressive and too sporty for what is supposed to be a family car or a Grab vehicle, no?

Whatever the view, the front end makeover is much more successful than the rear half. The facelift slaps on a huge rear bumper in an attempt to hide the original Bezza’s infamous tonggek looks, and, I’m not quite sure if it has worked. To me it makes the rear look too bulky, too tall and too narrow. I still think the old car has a cleaner looking rear end.

The rear bumper adds on 20 mm to the overall length, but this does little to alter the Bezza’s awkward proportions. It’s just a weird looking sedan – in comparison, the Saga has a much more traditional sedan shape. There are two factors for this; one, this is Perodua’s first sedan design, and I guess it kind of shows. Number two, this car is based on the Axia hatchback, which is short and narrow, not an ideal starting point for a sedan.

Now, before you say that Perodua designers are just not very good, remember again we’ve seen plenty of weirdly shaped sedans that were based on hatchbacks, from all sorts of car brands. The Proton Persona first comes to mind, but let’s not forget the Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Nissan Almera, Peugeot 207, and so on.

It’s not all bad, of course, and I do like the new two-tone look for the rear garnish and side skirts, and the new Garnet Red colour for the 1.3L models does look pretty sweet.

Inside, the revisions are a lot less apparent. The biggest change is a new centre panel with silver trim, replacing the full gloss black piece from before. In a way, it looks a little bit less classy, but it does add some layering to the overall design, and the side vents now look less tacky without the big contrast rings. Plus, it’s a lot less reflective now and it won’t collect as much dust, fingerprint or scratches as before.

The good news is that Perodua has made this standard across the range, so even if you buy the base model, your dashboard won’t look so cheap. In the old Bezza, the basic all-grey dash was nasty.

Another thing that has been updated is the instrument cluster, which now have more intricate, white crystal rings. It’s a pity that the fancy orange rings around the meters have been omitted – I thought they were cool, though some people found them to be distracting. The car also gets a new gear-lever design taken from the latest Myvi, which has a soft plastic padding at the top and less sharp edges than the old one.

The range, with the exception of the AV, comes with a standard head unit, and this looks and works just fine. Like before, Bluetooth is fitted on all models, unlike on the Axia, which is great. The touchscreen head unit for the AV variant is new, and now has less buttons around the sides, the same as the latest Axia.

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the unit, because the interface doesn’t look very good, the touchscreen itself is not that responsive, there are no physical volume buttons, the reverse camera feed is blurry, and the language is a bit off. But the screen is not as distracting and reflective like on the Saga, so there’s that.

The rest of the cabin is pretty much the same as before, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s still a spacious interior that’s put together rather decently. Fit and finish is all ok, considering this is an entry-level car. There are no misaligned panels, no sharp edges, the knobs work cleanly enough, and I’m sure we’ve all been in enough Bezza Grab cars to notice that it all holds up pretty well over the years.

One major complaint people have voiced out about the Bezza has been the lack of steering adjustment, but that didn’t surface as a problem for me – the steering position is comfortable enough, and I can see the meters perfectly fine. Comparatively, the Saga may have an adjustable steering, but even at its highest position it’s still too low for my liking, and it blocks my view of the meters a little bit. Personally, I rather have the fixed steering here rather than an adjustable one with a worse driving position, like in the Saga.

The front seats are a little on the small side, but the semi-bucket units on the 1.3 litre models are far more supportive and comfortable than the flat seats in the 1.0G models. Neatly, the automaker has addressed a big complaint about the rear seats being too upright and being uncomfortable for long journeys, and has adjusted the angle of the backrest from 23 to 27 degrees. This doesn’t sound like much, but the effect is actually quite remarkable, making for a big improvement.

This has been done by moving the seat base forward a tiny bit, allowing the back rest to be angled more. The good news is that the change has minimal effect on rear legroom – Perodua says the facelift has just 20 mm less rear legroom compared to before.

So the Bezza still has a super spacious rear cabin for the class, miles better than the Saga in terms of outright space. Headroom is alright, legroom is fantastic for a car this small on the outside. Having said that, I still think the Saga has more comfortable rear seats. The cushion just feels nicer than this Bezza, and is better shaped as well.

Elsewhere, you’ll find two sets of Isofix mounts as well as the standard teh tarik hooks and anti-snatch handbag hook. One thing I wish this car would have though is the Myvi’s SmartTag toll reader. Now that, I think, would have been a great addition.

Next, the Bezza’s party piece, which is its humongous boot. At 508 litres, it’s over 20% bigger than what the Saga offers, and it’s more than big enough for your family balik kampung trips. There’s even a hidden underfloor storage to keep smaller items, plus a full-sized spare tyre.

That’s all on the standard car. If you want, you can dress it up with optional GearUp accessories. The catalogue of optional parts is comprehensive, and includes stuff like a complete bodykit package that looks super aggressive to items such as leather seat covers, a centre armrest, LED scuff plates and floor lighting, among other things. If you were to get everything on it, you’d add on more than RM5,000 to your sticker price, so there’s every reason to choose wisely.

What you absolutely should not do, however, is buy the base model and add on thousands and thousands worth of options. Remember, you can always add on a bodykit and accessories later on, but you can’t retrofit safety features. You can’t drive up to an accessories shop and order ESP, or ASA. So always buy the best version you can afford, before you even look at accessories.

The review starts off with the 1.0L version of the sedan. The three-cylinder, 1.0 litre engine with VVT-i, the same one used in the Axia, makes 67 hp and 91 Nm or torque, all sent to the front wheels pulling just under 900 kg of weight.

Despite its low output, the performance is decent. It doesn’t feel as slow or underpowered as you may think, and on the highways the Bezza can quite comfortably accelerate to beyond the national speed limit without breaking a sweat. I mean it’s not fast by any means, but as a city car it’s more than adequate. Even going uphill, it pulls strongly enough. It’s just not underpowered, full stop.

Strictly speaking, purely on performance, the 1.0L is enough, and you don’t necessarily need the 1.3L. But, you’d definitely want the bigger engine, not so much for more power, but to avoid the loud, rough and rattly three-cylinder engine. With the 1.0 litre, as soon as you put this car into gear, you start to feel the vibrations of the engine coming through the car, from the pedals, the steering and the seats.

There’s nothing wrong with mill – this is something to be expected from a three-pot engine, because by having just three cylinders, the engine is inherently unbalanced, and so it’s going to vibrate. It’s simple physics, and in the case of the engine, it is what it is.

The only reason you’d want this engine is for its fuel economy. Perodua says it can do over 20 km per litre, but in the real world you’re likely to see around 15 to 17 km per litre, depending on your driving style. The Bezza 1.3 will give you a little bit less, around 14-15 km per litre, while the Proton Saga is a little thirstier still, at around 12-13 km per litre.

I think if you’re really limited to this price range, around RM35k, you’re better off getting the Saga. Even if you’re okay with the vibration, then I’d recommend you to get the Axia Gxtra, for the same price you get ESP as standard. Or, how about saving up a bit more until you can afford the Bezza 1.3, because that is a much, much better car.

The Bezza 1.3 gets a proper four-cylinder engine with Dual VVT-i, making 94 hp and 121 Nm of torque. The 30 extra hp and Nm isn’t all that apparent, to be honest, because it’s just a little bit faster, but you’ll appreciate the extra refinement. The engine now revs smoother, sounds quieter, and there’s barely any vibrations to be felt. It’s a night and day difference, trust me.

The transmission here is a simple 4-speed automatic, which Perodua has been using for what seems like forever now. The gearshifts aren’t the smoothest around, and you definitely feel the shift shock even when you’re just accelerating gently.

I think the Saga’s new 4AT feels smoother and more refined than this, but having said that, this gearbox isn’t that bad. It’s smart enough and reacts quickly enough to your inputs, like dropping a gear or two for an overtake, and it’s definitely more responsive than Proton’s older CVTs.

I’d say it’s competent enough for most people. I say most, because there will always be a few people complaining that there isn’t a Sport mode for a more engaging drive, and well, if that’s what you’re after, I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree, buddy. This is not the car you’re looking for.

This is because as much as Perodua has tried to improve the dynamics of the Bezza by tweaking the suspension, it’s still well short of the Proton Saga. The steering still feels too light, too twitchy at times, especially on highways. There’s a constant need to correct the steering angle, even on a straight road, because of the floaty feel of the drive.

Worse still is when there’s a faster car or, God forbid, a big truck passing you, because the steering pulls the car towards them due to the wind and pressure. In time, you’ll learn to hold the steering a little bit tighter to avoid drifting off line. Over a long drive, that can get tiring really quickly though.

Stability has been improved slightly compared to the old car, so you’ll feel more confident behind the wheel, more assured that this car will stick to the road. Drive this and the old car back to back and you’ll find that there’s quite a significant difference in terms of highway stability. It’s not quite there yet, but at least Perodua is heading in the right direction.

As for handling, the Bezza is very dependable. The steering is actually better through corners than it is on the straights, because it does load nicely when you turn in. There’s enough heft and feel through the corners to give you back some of that confidence you’ve lost on the straights. It also helps that ESP is standard on both the 1.3 models.

The change to bigger wheels and lower profile tyres have also played a role in the improvements – the car definitely feels more planted now than before. The 15-inch wheels do have an impact on the car’s turning circle – it’s now a little bit wider compared to the Bezza 1.0 and its 14-inch wheels. The difference isn’t that big though, because the 1.3 is still very easily manoeuvrable through tight spots.

Where the Bezza has a clear edge over the Saga is in its braking feel. The brake pedal is more linear, so it’s easy to modulate, whereas in the Saga you have to go through a long way of dead travel before the brakes actually engage.

Lastly, ride comfort and refinement. Here, the Bezza is just about average. The ride is decent enough, avoiding the nasty brittle and underdamped ride characteristics usually associated with cheap cars. The damping is pretty good at absorbing small bumps, although the car’s relatively short wheelbase and narrow tracks mean that it doesn’t handle bigger bumps all that well.

As for refinement, the Bezza isn’t all that quiet, with engine noise, tyre roar and wind noise being quite evident, and it gets worse in the rain, as you can hear the water splashes from the tyres. In both ride and refinement, it’s the Saga again that has the upper hand.

Actually, even within Perodua’s own range, the Myvi feels significantly more modern and sophisticated compared to the Bezza. I think the Myvi has made such a big leap forward in terms of ride and handling that it has opened quite a big gap between it and the Bezza.

Everything considered, it’s clear that for this facelift, Perodua has put more focus on things that existing customers have complained about, like the car’s looks and the rear seat. I guess not many of them had issues with the handling, which again, isn’t really that surprising.

After all, I think it’s safe to assume that Bezza customers are mostly regular commuters and, more recently, Grab drivers, and not driving enthusiasts. Look at it that way, and I think Perodua made the right choices here.

Overall, the 2020 Perodua Bezza is a mixed bag. Its showroom appeal is fantastic, I’ll give it that, and the upgrades for this facelift bring about tangible improvements in looks, safety and even handling. But ultimately, the car remains very much a compromised experience from a driving perspective, with a few flaws left unfixed.

It’s far from perfect, but then again, no car is. Actually, to make a perfect car in this segment, you’d want a combination of the Bezza’s sporty looks, practical interior, fuel economy and safety, allied to the Saga’s price, more balanced proportions, ride and handling and refinement. There’s no such car, obviously.

So choosing between the Perodua Bezza and the Proton Saga depends very much on your priorities and preferences. If you just want a car to get you from point A to point B, or if you want to use it for Grab, I’d fully recommend the Bezza – the 1.3 that is, not the 1.0.

However, if your budget is a little bit tighter and you’re a little bit more particular about how your car should feel dynamically, then perhaps you should give the Saga a look first. Or, if you don’t really need a boot, perhaps a Myvi?

GALLERY: 2020 Perodua Bezza 1.0G facelift

GALLERY: 2020 Perodua Bezza 1.3AV facelift