One of the privileges in our line of work is to see new models before they are launched, and in some instances, even drive them. It’s a privilege that’s appreciated and in return, we have to agree to some conditions which are usually that no pictures/video can be taken and we can’t publish anything until given the go-ahead by the company.
Sometimes, we’re even offered a chance see and try prototype models but not to write about them, the reason being that the company wants some early feedback. There may be some aspects they missed or simple didn’t think of and as the first ‘outsiders’ to try their new model, we can offer feedback that might alert them to potential issues so they can take corrective action. Sometimes, there may also be suggestions which they like but cannot adopt right away since production has started but which can be considered for facelifts a couple of years down the road.
Perodua is one of the companies which has engaged the motoring media in such a manner for many years. Though having a culture of ultra-secrecy, they nevertheless can be open with media whom they trust; there are some they have lost trust in because they didn’t respect requests not to publish information before a certain date so those people are usually left out of the exclusive events.
Tight security during special previews
On some occasions, like the preview of the Viva in 2007, we were taken to a location way down south but in for the recent models, the sessions have been held within the Perodua factory complex where there is a test track that provides a variety of testing conditions. The test track is fairly new, having been constructed only a few years ago. It enables the engineers to carry out many types of tests and according to the R&D boss, Albert Ngu, there is much less need to send prototypes out on public roads, reducing the risk of having them photographed.
Ans so it was with the new Aruz, as we now know the new SUV will be called, where we were invited to try it last month. Security was tight, as usual, and ‘forbidden’ items had to be kept in lockers and these included mobilephones and even watches, the latter because there are some watches now which have cameras in them. Entering the holding area is not unlike going through a security check at the airport!
One thing about using the test track is that it does mean other activities have to be suspended for a few hours. Prototypes have to be hidden away or covered up and safety measures set up, such as cones on the track to ensure that the correct lanes are used. But some areas can’t be completely covered and one of them is the carpark where there are competitors’ models. Each time we pass by, we look out for non-Perodua models and on this last session, an MPV with three diamonds on its grille was spotted.
For the Aruz, all the vehicles were covered in the usual camouflage which is meant to hide the actual shape. Some portions were deliberately covered up to disguise the shapes of the windows but then again, it is already known that this new Perodua has a shared design with the latest Toyota Rush. In fact, the Toyota SUV is also made at the same factory under contract for UMW Toyota Motor. So unlike the Bezza, we already knew what the Aruz was like.
Some pictures have already been released/leaked so you would already have an idea of what the Aruz looks like. It’s the largest model ever produced by Perodua; at 4432 mm, it is longer than even the old Rusa van and certainly longer than the Kembara, its first SUV which was 3890 mm long. Perodua did sell what was supposed to be a successor to the Kembara, a model called the Nautica, but that was stopped after a short while. The Aruz is also longer than the Nautica by about 110 mm.
Because it is a shared model, the openings in the bodyshell are pretty much fixed. This means that differentiation is only in how things like the grille, lights and bumpers are styled. In the case of the Aruz, the styling is less bold than the Rush and the different direction taken by the Toyota is probably in accordance with the aim of Akio Toyoda (Toyota’s President) to bring back excitement to the company’s products. Perodua also has a design direction although there is still no common ‘face’ being adopted unlike Toyota which has a design direction that can be traced back to the Furia concept of 2013.
Still, when you look more closely at the simpler appearance of the Aruz, the detailing is commendable. Perhaps times have changed but the attention to detail is not something expected of an entry-level brand’s products. However, with the Aruz, Perodua is also going to try to get people to revise the value proposition of a Perodua. The pricing was something they thought long and hard about and clearly, it costs more to make than a Myvi or Alza. Yet, being a Malaysian company, Perodua is expected to keep prices low.
As you already know, the prices start at RM72,700 and in order to make this higher price level acceptable, Perodua has put in a lot of stuff as standard. LED headlights, keyless entry with a start/stop button, digital video recorder, 6 airbags – in short, just about everything that a non-Malaysian model would have in the same price range.
High qualtiy interior
The quality of the interior is also of a high level and no longer are gaps big (which were okay at one time for the K-car based models like the Kancil and Kenari). Fit and finish is right up there with the Japanese models and the extra RM5,000 for the AV variant gets you leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel as well.
Seating in the three rows is comfortable enough and even the third row (for 2 persons) doesn’t feel too cramped. The only thing that might be a bit irritating is the seatbelt for the middle person in the second row which has its anchorage point on the ceiling. It’s a challenge to provide 3-point harnessing for the middle passenger and the only way is to put one end on the ceiling.
Getting behind the wheel, the high seating position is evident as you can see ahead of the bonnet easily. The high seating position was one of the strong selling points of the Kembara, surveys found, and was especially appreciated by women. The higher position comes from having the platform set higher which gives 220 mm of ground clearance and that’s useful for crossing flooded stretches (up to 600 mm deep) or bad roads.
The Aruz is available only with one engine choice and that’s a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder Dual VVT-i unit (no more DVVTI) producing 105 ps/136 Nm, and only a 4-speed electronic automatic transmission is available. Perodua thinks that demand for a manual transmission will be low and therefore not worth making a variant.
Driving the Aruz
Sometimes when we test new models fresh from the factory, the engines are still tight and that can give a poor initial impression of the performance. However, the Perodua people put in some effort to run the engines for at least 1,000 kms so they would loosen up and run more freely. Thus the engine felt free-revving, going up and down through the gears smoothly.
The test track has one section with an uphill and the Aruz surged up easily without losing speed. Another part of the track has a steep incline (making it unnecessary for the testers to go to Genting Highlands anymore) and on this slope, the Hillstart Assist proved to work as advertised. The brakes remain on for a few seconds after releasing the pedal so that the vehicle doesn’t roll backwards and, in that time, you can start accelerating forward.
During the session, we were often asked about the noise levels as a lot of effort went into reducing this aspect. In lower gears (using manual selection), some harshness is evident at very high revs but most motorists are unlikely to notice this because they would drive in automatic mode most of the time. In such conditions, the shifts would not occur right at the end of the rev range and at cruising speeds in top gear, the noise levels are fairly low. Certainly, the cabin is much quieter than it was in the Kembara but then again, that model was in another era.
We couldn’t do any handling tests so we won’t talk about that part but there was an opportunity to see the Advanced Safety Assist or A.S.A. in action again. This time, the software has been upgraded and can detect pedestrians in front as well. The first version, which is in the Myvi, was only able to recognised vehicles ahead. The 2.0 version also works at a higher speed – 4 – 100 km/h for vehicles, and within 4 – 50 km/h for pedestrians. If the driver doesn’t press the brake pedal, Pre-collision Braking activates. Depending on conditions, a collision might be avoided but even if not, the fact that braking was initiated earlier can reduce the damage and subsequent repair costs.
From what we were told, the additional capability (pedestrian detection) is just a ‘software thing‘ and in theory, the 1.0 version should be upgradeable. However, the engineers say that it is not that straightforward and Perodua will not do it for existing cars. Since it is a better system, it will of course be used in future production.
Aruz or Alza?
Should you buy this new SUV or an Alza? Perodua believes that there will be people who prefer the size and character of the Alza and may not appreciate the tall stance of the Aruz. It’s counting on the Aruz to change perceptions of the brand as ‘low-priced’ and going by what we saw and experienced, there’s no reason why Malaysians should expect it to be sold at a lower price.