2021 Perodua Ativa (D55L) First Drive Impressions – Comfort, Safety…and Power


2021 Perodua Ativa (D55L) First Drive Impressions – Comfort, Safety…and Power

One soon to be launched national car model will be on the lips of almost every car buyer for the next few days – the Perodua Ativa. Our nation’s most successful carmaker is betting big on its little SUV to appeal to everyone from first-time car buyers, executives, small family buyers and everyone in between.

Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on the shoulders of this little SUV, that will be priced at just above RM62k and dip just under RM74k for its most expensive (dual-tone) coloured variant, of which there are three – the Ativa X, H, and AV.

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive Brochure

The Ativa will debut Perodua’s first-ever turbocharged engine and CVT gearbox, and for the first time will sit on a modular platform – dubbed the DNGA – which was co-developed by Daihatsu and Perodua.

However, gone are the days where a turbocharged engine is the highlight of a new car; the Ativa's unique selling proposition revolves around a staggering increase in safety levels – which start with a high rigidity body courtesy of stronger high tensile metals for better crash refinement and crash protection. As well as a full suite, we say that again, a full suite of active safety technologies which provide up to SAE Level 2 driving automation.

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive

In short, this is the safest and most technologically advanced Perodua ever!

But, if the proof is in the pudding, how does it feel, how does it drive, and how does it go, in a rare opportunity, selected members of the media were allowed to get up close with the Ativa, and here’s what we found out. Full disclosure, however, we weren’t allowed any devices during the media preview session, therefore we will be using images of the Daihatsu Rocky, the Ativa’s closest sibling for illustration.

How does it look like on the outside…

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive front

  • Boxy, but it looks somewhat refreshing in a sea of curvy cars
  • The Ativa looks slightly bigger in the flesh than in pictures
  • Don’t compare the Ativa to the X50, they’re two different classes of SUV

When stepping up to the Ativa, the first impressions are that this car looks bigger in person than in the pictures. It’s boxy but in a sea of curvy cars with accent lines and convex panel shapes, the Ativa is a breath of fresh air. Plus boxy, simple lines work well for an SUV, the Suzuki Jimny is boxy, the Jeep Wrangler is boxy (and we still love them) – but it definitely looks better in the flesh than in the pictures you might have seen so far. 

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive driving

The dual-tone body colour offered on the highest spec trim gives the Ativa a stronger sense of premium-ness, however, even the single paint colours look good up close. 

Let’s get in…

  • Very roomy on the inside, considering its compact size
  • Great visibility of the outside
  • Fit and finish is up to par, ample storage place for day-to-day 

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive interior

We had roughly 20 mins seated in the Ativa which unfortunately isn’t much to get to grips with all of the interior. With that said, once you’re in the Ativa, you instantly get a sense of roominess given the large glasshouse area, there’s impressive visibility of the outside which makes it easier to judge the front and sides of the car.

The seating position is similar to the likes of the Myvi and Aruz however a decent amount of fore and aft movement on the front seats means it's easy to get into a comfortable driving position once in the Ativa. I especially appreciate that the side-view mirrors which are tall and wide, to give the driver a commanding view of what's behind the car as well.

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive seats

Round the back, the Ativa only feels marginally larger than the Myvi in my opinion (but then again, the Myvi is already excellent in the respect) – with that said, there is adequate back, hip, and thigh support in the front and back of the Ativa, making it a very competent car for four adults or a small family. It remains to be seen how comfortable the Ativa is over longer journeys, this will be possible once we get our eager hands on a proper review unit.

Elsewhere, the fit and finish are as we’ve come to love in most modern Peroduas; fit and finish is precise, the fitment of panels are on point and for the most part, at least in the AV variant, feels very plush and stylish for its price point. The dashboard too seems very well designed, and there’s ample cubby space for your barang at the front.

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive dashboard

On the downside, I would love to have telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel, which would make the driving position considerably better for a taller person such as myself, but alas, this feature is not offered on the Ativa.

What the new DNGA platform has brought to the table…

  • Strong bones for a strong rigid chassis
  • Feels reassuringly planted on the road
  • DNGA offers good bump absorption and contributes to good NVH levels

The Daihatsu and Perodua jointly developed DNGA platform has provided a strong set of bones for Perodua to build the Ativa. The elevated ride height is adequate for most drivers (and the Ativa’s SUV promise), and despite this, handles much like a hatchback. The increased rigidity of the cars body and shell offers a nice reassuring feeling that this is a properly built car and the Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels are impressive.

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive boot

A lot of this is down to the rigid body which allows the suspension to soak up the bumps and road imperfections. During the drive, we were allowed to drive over a test zone of bumpy tarmac and the Ativa handles the bumps and ruts with adequate poise, the interior also seems better insulated than the Myvi but the Aruz feels marginally quieter on the inside than the Ativa.

How does it drive…

  • The engine feels powerful and very well calibrated for Malaysian roads, good low-and mid-range performance
  • Steering is light and manoeuvrable
  • CVT-type transmission enhances drivability

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive engine

The Ativa is powered by Daihatsu’s 1KR-VET 1.0-litre turbocharged transverse-mounted three-cylinder petrol engine which produces 98PS and peak torque of 140Nm between 2,400rpm and 4,000rpm. While we will have to wait for the launch for the exact power numbers, it doesn’t take very long to realise the Ativa’s engine is very punchy. 

Our test drive was divided into three main parts, a hill climb, a longer straight (where we could see what it could do), and a flowing corner and slalom section to see how the Ativa handles the bends.

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive DNGA

  • The hill climb section demonstrated the Ativa's low-end torque and smoothness. It accelerates with ease up to 30-40km/h which should make going up carpark ramps very easy, The CVT transmission also exhibited immediacy in getting the car up to speed, and it also proved effortless up a second (steeper) section. The engine feels substantially more torquey than the 1.5-litre 2NR-VE found in the Myvi, proving there is no deficit with the smaller engine.
  • A long straight section allowed me to get the Ativa up to highway speeds, which is where I found the new drivetrain at its best. For its small size, the Ativa’s engine and transmission combo are simply superb between the speeds of 50-120km/h. It accelerates with so much immediacy you would think there’s a 1.8-litre engine under the hood. The transmission is very reactive to throttle inputs and will increase the revs almost instantly if more acceleration is needed. The usable power should make the daily commutes and long journeys on the highway a breeze. Even at 120 km/h, the Ativa feels like it’s still got power in reserve. Some media members even got the car up to 150km/h without much fuss.

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive driving

  • The long flowing corner allowed us to feel just how planted the Ativa is. There’s very little body roll, and the suspension setup feels nicely calibrated to handle road imperfections without being too stiff in the bends. As for the slalom section, the Ativa again exhibited good body control and manoeuvrability, the steering feels nice and responsive (though slightly heavier than in the Myvi) and the car responds well to small steering and brake inputs. This proves the Ativa should be an easy and fun car to drive around town and on those long balik kampung trips.

Why should I get one?

2021 Perodua Ativa First Drive brochure

I can't stress enough what a comprehensive package the Ativa is for younger generation buyers and small families alike. I also feel it would be a good choice for elderly drivers given the ease of entry and egress, even when compared to the Myvi. It’s a practical SUV, built to be robust and dependable, and it offers great performance even for its relatively small drivetrain package.

From a value proposition – it is pretty much unmatched in the market. The closest being the Myvi, Saga, and Persona giving you this much bang for your buck. And even then, no other car will give this many safety features for the price. As you probably already know by now, the Ativa will be launched in a matter of days, so you wouldn’t have to wait very long to get behind the wheel of the Ativa.


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Arvind describes a car in the same way he would describe a woman; this is not very healthy. Unlike the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, soulful naturally-aspirated soundtracks and trigger quick (self-applied) gearshifts are all that fill the darkest recesses of his mind. Arvind is still trying to understand women...

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