It’s 2009 and as promised, Perodua is introducing another significant model two years after the Viva. The product plan to launch a significant new model every two years was set early in the decade when Perodua and Daihatsu strengthened their relationship and began to plan for greater involvement by Malaysians in the development of new models, with the Myvi being the first one.
This time round, the new model is not a Myvi ‘sedan’, as many had expected, but a small MPV on an extended Myvi platform. That Perodua chose not to go for a sedan even though many Malaysians prefer sedans suggests that the company sees the MPV segment as a growing one. In 2008, of the 548,100 new vehicles sold, around 55,000 were MPVs, making it the second largest type of vehicle sold in Malaysia. So it was important that Perodua, as the largest carmaker in Malaysia, also offer such a model and also at an affordable price.
As before, a team of Malaysians went to Japan a few years ago to work alongside their Daihatsu counterparts, developing the Malaysian version which would have an ever greater number of parts made in Malaysia. Though it may seem that Perodua is a ‘cloner’, it actually does more than just put its own badge on a Daihatsu model. A visit to the factory in Rawang, Selangor, earlier this month was eye-opening in may ways – for example, almost the entire engine is made in Malaysia and Perodua even makes aluminium cylinder heads for Proton’s CAMPRO engine. For this new model, the aim was to also add items like the catalytic converter and airbag to the locally-made list which will bring total purchase of locally-made parts by Perodua to about RM3 billion this year.
So that’s the background to the new model which you will now know is called the Alza. The name was selected from submissions by Perodua employees and is said to be derived from a Spanish word which means ‘rise’. Like many new names for cars, it will probably draw all kinds of comments but it’s a fairly ‘neutral’ sort of name and in time will be as accepted as Myvi.
The styling of the Alza has some cues from the Myvi but because it is longer and has an extra row of seats at the rearmost section, the rear quarters have been given more glass area. This ensures those in the back won’t feel claustrophobic and give the cabin a more airy feeling too.
The front end follows the corporate face which Perodua currently uses with special attention paid to the headlights. The detail inside the lighting units is nice and this model is the first model in its segment to have projector-type headlights. These lights provide more focussed illumination rather than depend on the reflector to enhance lighting.
The rear end is clean and simple with distinctive lights on the roof pillars. LEDs are used for the upper section while the lower third is taken up by the large reversing light. Positioning the units high up is good as not only are drivers further back in a queue able to see the brake lights but in a rear-end collision, they are less likely to be broken, reducing repair costs. The premium version also has a spoiler mounted on the trailing edge of the roof for a sporty image.
Under the skin, extra attention has been paid to structural strength. Daihatsu is a specialist in small cars and over many decades, it has found ways to increase the levels of protection for occupants. For the Alza, besides a computer-engineers front structure that effectively absorbs impact energy from a collision, there is extra reinforcement to give better protection against collisions from the sides. The centre pillars have extra reinforcement and two extra transverse beams in the floor to provide extra rigidity. Though Perodua doesn’t do its own testing, Daihatsu has conducted the necessary crash tests and the Alza meets Japanese requirements.
Like most MPVs, there are many seating configurations for the Alza depending on requirements. Perodua shows seven different ones, two of which are only meant to be used when the vehicle is not moving. All the seats can be folded flat to create a floor area that is about 2 metres in length, 1.4 metres wide and 1.3 metres to the ceiling. Loading is also easy as the rear opening is unusually wide at 1.33 metres.
The shift lever for the automatic is mounted on a panel that extends from the middle of the dashboard just below the audio system. This is rather like some European MPVs and is quite convenient to reach.
Drivers in this class may not be familiar with the foot-operated parking brake for the Alza Automatic which liberates space between the front seats. It’s a simple operation – push to activate, push to release – and will probably need getting used to. For the manual version, the conventional handbrake lever is between the front seats.
Air-conditioning is very important in our climate, more so in a MPV with many people on board. The size of the Alza did not permit having a dual blower system so a lot of attention was given to ensuring the airflow would reach all the way to the back. The blower has been made stronger to ‘throw’ cool air further and the ceiling guides the air to the rear.
Storage spaces are plentiful as would be expected and there are lots of cupholders (more in the manual version). In front of the steering wheel, where the instrument panel would normally be, there’s a storage compartment while for the automatic, an extra-large centre armrest between the front seats has a sleeve for a handphone. But it’s disappointing that Perodua left out the teh tarik hook – surely an essential item for our Malaysian lifestyle? Proton has it in the Exora, which was a relief for their MD as I did not ask why it was left out in a Proton again, but Perodua did not escape my well known query!
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At the time of the media preview which was earlier than the launch today, we were informed that the tentative prices for the Alza start at RM55,990 and RM60,990 for the Manual Standard and Premium versions, respectively, while the Automatic versions will be prices at RM58,990 and RM63,990 for the Standard and Premium versions, respectively. This price range takes the Alza near the bottom end of the Avanza and Exora but it is likely that the Toyota will be the one more affected (and ironically, it is assembled at Perodua’s plant).
The need to also limit exposure of the new model prior to the public launch often prevents a company from providing a more extensive driving session during a media preview so it’s understandable that the first impressions of the Alza had to be brief. The course was around the hill in Putrajaya where the palace is and this at least provided a chance to assess the question which people always ask about small MPVs – do they have enough power to cope with a full load?
The answer I would give is the same as that I gave for the Exora: the engineers have ensured that the performance will be acceptable to those who are really going to be owners of the Alza and who accept that a MPV is a family vehicle and you do not drive it like a sportscar. On one of the drives, I had a full load and the car could still make brisk progress up the slopes though dropping a gear gave extra zip. The engine smoothness and also the slick gearchanges were strong points which would be appreciated on long journeys.
It handles well for a small MPV and because the roof is not very high, stability is better in corners. Again, the sort of speeds at which a real owner would drive are unlikely to be very fast and as designed, the handling is fail-safe and also provides a good ride.
Accommodation-wise, the second row is very comfortable and if the seats can be set all the way back, there’s plenty of legroom. However, even when set forward, it’s not too bad and most people will be fine with the space. As for the third row, it is clearly not going to be ideal for large people but in a group of seven, there will surely be people of different sizes so those who are smaller can use the third row.
One thing which I found to be troublesome was getting into the rear seats. The second row can fold forward but the gap is still small and I can imagine an elderly person struggling to get in so maybe it would be better for him or her to be given a space on the second row. Let the young ones who are more nimble and have more supple bodies climb into the back!
Build quality in the test units was as good as we have come to expect of Perodua products. They work very hard on this aspect and during the visit to the plant, it was quite amazing to see the obsession they have with minimizing dust in the assembly areas. I’ve never seen such obsession even in Japanese plants and I feel sure that the same pursuit of high quality will be applied in every step of the production of the Alza.
Initial production is set at 4,100 units a month and at least 3,500 units are expected to be sold every month. From a source in Perodua, it was learnt that 1,800 orders were already received within the first 9 hours of bookings being accepted so the MPV is off to a good start.
Visit www.perodua.com.my for more information and to locate a showroom to get a test-drive
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