Perodua can safely be called the biggest success story in the Lankan automotive market of recent times. Our buyers are traditionally very reluctant to accept anything new but with the Viva and then the Axia, the Malaysian company really gave our small car sector two solid products and the market has responded by buying them in truckloads. Now they’ve set their sights higher and are going after the compact sedan market. The Lankan market has always had maintained a preference for the Sedan body style over the hatchback, possibly a hangover from colonial times as hatchbacks always appear to be associated with basic economy cars in the eyes of buyers. As this is something that also holds true in other Asian countries to some extent, Perodua took a good look at the phenomenon and decided to make a car that could capitalize on it.
What you see here is what they’ve come up with, it’s called the Bezza (apparently it means “different” in Malay) and it is built on an extended version of the Axia’s platform. As Perodua’s first ever sedan, it has been welcomed very warmly in it’s home country and has won several awards already, which means our expectations are quite high. So does it live up to them? Read on to find out!
The Bezza is a car that was clearly designed with the goal of achieving the most amount of space possible within a footprint and body shape, as such the exterior styling is not going to win any awards for beauty. It’s a very conventionally styled sedan that is quite tall and narrow, with a look that has more angles than curves. The front end resembles a slightly squashed version of the pre-facelift Toyota Axio 161, while the rear end looks like a combination of elements from the previous generation Honda City and Civic. While that may sound unpleasant when written down, in the metal it works well enough that the Bezza comes across as pleasantly inoffensive which is a good thing for this conservative market segment, even though you may need to stare at it for quite a while to properly remember what it looks like.
Fit and finish outside is very good; the panel gaps are narrow and consistent, paint finish is solid and the exterior trim is solidly attached. The doors feel substantial and open and shut with a satisfyingly heavy sound, doing a lot to convey an impression that this is a solidly built car.
The Bezza does not share it’s dashboard design with the Axia but the basic proportions are pretty much exactly the same so it will seem quite familiar to anyone who has spent time in an Axia. The dashboard is cleanly designed if rather generic looking, with all controls properly labeled and located in sensible places. The instruments are large and very legible, with two main dials for speed and RPM flanking a good sized digital display that shows fuel level, current gear and trip computer information as well.
The driving position is set quite high and you do not get the option of adjusting seat height or steering angle/reach so basically you’re stuck with whatever position perodua has considered the right one. Personally I feel that the seat is too high up and it gives the impression of being perched on the car rather than sitting in it, but admittedly it does place the driver at almost crossover height so it depends on what you prefer. For me it was an annoyance and never really allowed me to get fully comfortable behind the Bezza’s wheel. The driving seat is also a bit too firm and longer drives highlight a lack of lower back support as well.
Build quality inside cannot be faulted, with everything fixed solidly in place, no rattles or other weird noises and nothing loose or uneven whatsoever. Perodua certainly have upped their game in this regard.
The only major interior disappointment in our test car is the fact that basically everything inside other than the seats is made from the same grade of hard plastic, which does make the interior feel a bit cheap. Even the door panels are end to end hard plastic and it surely would not have been that difficult to include some fabric in the middle? Even an Alto now has a bit of fabric in the door panels for heaven’s sake! No, it’s pretty clear that this has been done to remind you that you bought the base model, as the higher end versions seem to come with nicer trim overall.
Under the hood is a new variant of the Axia’s 1.0 Litre 3 Pot motor with higher compression, a different intake and Variable Valve Timing (VVT-i) fitted. Specs indicate that it puts out 67 BHP at 6000 RPM and 91 NM at 4,400 RPM, which is not going to excite anyone but is good enough for an engine smaller than a Coke mega bottle. Drive is sent to the front wheels through the same conventional 4 speed automatic gearbox that is found is the Axia and the combined drivetrain is claimed by Perodua to be “tuned to provide an optimum blend of performance and efficiency”.
However in the real world it appears that the “efficiency” side got most of the attention, with everything else being given a distinctly minor role. The gearbox is really the biggest problem as it simply WILL. NOT. DOWNSHIFT! I’m not even exaggerating here as when you leave it to it’s own devices the four speed autobox seems absolutely determined to shift into the highest gear possible and stay there come hell or high water. Absolutely the only way to get it to kickdown is to stomp the accelerator right into the carpet as if you’re trying to kick it right through the firewall , only then does the box realize that you may actually need a lower gear, at which point it goes down to second (or even first) and the engine starts screaming it’s head off! Thankfully the little 3 pot is a sweet enough motor and has no problems with being revved, which you kind of need to do to make any sort of decent progress. The best way to do this of course is to select the gears manually when you’re doing anything other than sitting in traffic, which definitely makes the car livelier to drive. How many people will actually bother doing this is another matter entirely though.
If you are concerned about the small engine capacity for this size of car, we can report that the Bezza actually doesn’t feel underpowered with the 1.0 Litre, even with four people on board. Admittedly our test was conducted in Colombo and the suburbs, so how it performs fully loaded in the hill country will need to be investigated further but in all other applications the 1.0 Litre is a perfectly adequate engine.
“Perfectly adequate” is a good phrase to describe the rest of the Bezza’s on road characteristics; this is not the sort of car you would pick to go charging up your favourite road after all. This is not to say it will trip over itself at the first sign of a corner, just that it is a narrow and quite tall car with a lot of ground clearance and skinny tyres so expecting it to be a great drive is a bit like expecting a donkey to become a champion racehorse, not going to happen. What can be said is that it is a safe and predictable car handler, with a lot of body roll when you push it and limits that are easy to find. The brakes are very good for this class with great stopping power and progressive feel helped by standard EBD and ABS. Ride quality is on the firm side with really potholed roads being transmitted into the cabin a bit more than you would normally expect. The official explanation for this is that the suspension is firmed up to be durable on bad roads, but that doesn’t hold up as there are cars in the same price bracket that manage a much better ride while being durable.
Living with it
Though the Bezza is slightly disappointing in interior ambiance and lack of appeal to the enthusiastic driver it manages to fight it’s way back by being brilliant at the practical, everyday stuff. You get the sense that this is where Perodua focused the largest amount of development time and money; making it a great choice for real world use. Let’s start with space; Front space is very good and passenger space in the rear is simply enormous for a car of these exterior dimensions – with the driving seat set for my usual driving position, I could comfortably sit in the rear with left over space between my knees and the front seat back, which was truly impressive. Shoulder room is also ample, though the Bezza’s narrowness becomes an issue if three large framed people try to sit in the rear at once, best to stick to two. The boot is also huge at 508 Litres, and the space is very usable , being almost square and quite deep with a good sized opening for loading. Other touches that make life easy are good sized door pockets with space for large water bottles, flip down hooks on the passenger seat to hold shopping bags and plenty of nooks and crannies to store the mountain of stuff we seem to carry around with us these days.
Driving it around town in traffic is extremely easy as the all round visibility is very good and it is very maneuverable with light steering and a small turning circle. You even get rear parking sensors to help with tight spots, which is a nice benefit to have. Though our test car is the base spec you still get a decent amount of equipment as standard – power windows all round, remote controlled central locking, parking sensors at the rear, a USB capable stereo and a trip computer.
Fuel consumption was excellent, with the observed consumption never dropping below 14 KM/L even with some heavy footed driving over the course of the test. More economical sorts should easily achieve 16 KM/L in regular driving.
The Bezza as tested retails at 3,799,000/= Rupees on the road, which makes it the cheapest brand new sedan you can buy in Sri Lanka at the moment (excepting perhaps whatever Chinese car Micro are peddling this week). The body style alone will give it a very strong edge with our buyers and it’s overall abilities are well rounded enough that they will be satisfied that they made the right choice. If you don’t absolutely NEED a sedan there are other options in the general price bracket (such as the Hyundai Grand i10) that put up very strong performances (and even cost a bit less), but if you truly believe that your luggage must travel in a separate compartment then for now, the Bezza is the only horse in the race.
Words: Sajiv Weerakoon
Images: Vihan Herath