It’s another case of new meets old, as we bring Perodua’s latest SUV, the Ativa, to greet the company’s first-ever SUV, the Kembara. Both models caused quite a stir when they were launched, so we thought it’d be nice to place them side by side so you can get your daily dose of nostalgia.

By now, everyone has probably heard of the Ativa, which is Perodua’s latest compact SUV and the first to get a turbocharged engine, a D-CVT and a host of advanced safety and driver assistance systems.

These features are certainly disruptive to the “A-segment to small B-segment SUV” market, and the company is expecting the Ativa to be a popular choice among car buyers. Based on the number of bookings recorded so far, it seems that the plan is coming along nicely.

However, things were different for the Kembara. First launched in August 1998, it was Perodua’s first foray into the SUV segment, which wasn’t as booming as it is today. It was uncharted territory, and with the financial crisis and a minor 4×4 segment, it was always uncertain that the model would be well received. As a fun fact, the Kembara is the first to get the company’s new logo at the time, instead of the animal logos that were used for the company’s first two models, the Kancil and Rusa.

Based on the Daihatsu Terios, the unibody SUV started out with a 1.3 litre SOHC four-cylinder petrol engine that made 83 hp and 105 Nm of torque, but this would later be replaced with a more modern DVVT (Dynamic Valve Variable Timing) unit in 2003, with 86 hp and 120 Nm.

Available with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, the Kembara’s party trick was its full-time four-wheel drive system, which was quite a big deal, as most 4×4 cars back then had ladder frames. The system came with a switch-operated centre locking differential, making it viable for off-roading.

These niche features and a unique bodystyle proved to be a receipe for success, as sales of the Kembara steadily crept upwards, helping to reinvigorate the 4×4 segment significantly. The company even took the rugged-looking SUV on the Trans Borneo Kembara Expedition in 1998 to prove its credentials.

The Kembara made itself right for its time, but with new technologies, trends and customer demands, it couldn’t go on forever, with production ending in 2007. It’s successor, the Nautica, didn’t replicate the Kembara’s success, despite being larger, more powerful and still specified with 4WD.

Being a CBU car, it was nearly double the price of its predecessor, and was in fact, the costliest model Perodua sold then at RM89,000. This was bad news in the year it was launched – 2008 – when another financial crisis occurred, and the model faded away after slightly less than a year of being on sale.

Like the company’s first two SUVs, the Ativa was also born into a world in crisis – a health-related one this time – but Perodua believes it’s the right car for the moment, especially when compact SUVs are all the rage. With that in mind, let’s take a not so serious look at both and see how the new kid on the block stacks up against its much older sibling.

In terms of size, it’s obvious that the Ativa is the larger car, measuring 4,065 mm long, 1,710 mm wide, 1,635 mm tall and with a wheelbase that spans 2,525 mm. By comparison, the Kembara is 3,890 mm long, 1,555 mm wide, 1,715 mm tall and has a wheelbase spanning 2,420 mm. The high-riding and subdued look of the latter is also a big contrast to the edgier design of the latest Perodua SUV (just look at the wheel size difference).

Given the larger dimensions, the Ativa has a lot more interior space, but it isn’t that much heavier thanks to its more advanced DNGA platform, weighing in at a maximum of 1,035 kg compared to the Kembara that is around 1.1 tonnes. This is despite the modern SUV having to carry a lot more safety and comfort features compared to the older one.

The Ativa also benefits from downsized engine development over the years, with its smaller 1.0 litre turbocharged three-cylinder unit rated higher at 97 hp and 140 Nm. Thanks to a D-CVT and a lack of a four-wheel drive system, it’s also a lot more economical than the Kembara, which had a reputation for having a high fuel consumption, even with the newer DVVT engine.

Inside, it’s night and day between the two cars, with the Ativa sporting a modern design that includes a touch panel for the air-conditioning system, a touchscreen infotainment system, a digital instrument cluster and steering wheel controls.

The Kembara only had what we would call bare necessities (AC and stereo) today, but it trumps the Ativa by having the all-important centre locking differential switch on the right of the dashboard. Sadly, Perodua has said that the Ativa will only be front-wheel drive, so it won’t be a favourite among oil palm plantations like the Kembara was.

The airbag-less steering wheel is a sign of just how basic safety requirements were back then (dual airbags came later), but the Ativa is a major leap forward, with six airbags being standard, along with various passive (stability control, ABS, EBD) and active (AEB, lane departure assist) systems.

The time gap between the initial launches of the Ativa and Kembara is just over two decades, and it’s certainly impressive to see just how much cars have evolved to what they are today. With more tech, features and the effects of inflation, it’s only natural to think that car prices will increase as time goes by. It’s not always the true picture, but here’s a take on it based on a little experiment we tried.

Referring to a Bernama report filed by the Perdana Leadership Foundation, when then prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad launched the Kembara on August 24, 1998, the SUV was offered in three variants – EX, GX and EZ – with on-the-road prices ranging from RM45,898 to RM52,276, making it one of the cheapest 4WD cars around then.

Running those figures through an inflation calculator (until January 2021) on the Department of Statistics Malaysia website, you end up with a range of RM72,405 to RM82,466. The Ativa is currently going for RM61,500 to RM72,000, so it seems like you do get more for less.

The Kembera was an important model as it proved that there was demand for a Perodua SUV, although after a misstep with the Nautica, the company would shy away from the segment for nearly a decade, only returning in 2019 with the Aruz. The Ativa marks the first time there are two SUVs in the company’s line-up at the same time, and learning from its past, Perodua is keeping to tradition and its core values – affordability and an attractive product – all while causing a stir if possible.

Enjoy this blast from the past and share with us the fondest memories you have of the Kembara in the comments below.

GALLERY: Perodua Ativa

GALLERY: Perodua Kembara