The new Ativa is Perodua’s most important new model launched in quite some time, both to capitalise on the appeal of urbanised SUVs and for its introduction of a new powertrain package that blends a turbocharged engine and a CVT gearbox - both firsts for the company.
It’s no secret that the country’s second national automaker has had an oversized presence on both the sales charts and our roads with Proton only starting to catch up with fruits of its Geely tie-up a few years ago.
They’ve been riding waves of iterative new car launches, one after the next, with the Myvi being widely accepted as Malaysia’s unofficial default hatchback and the Bezza being a darling of the ride hailing industry.
The Ativa - launched in early March 2021 with a starting price of just RM61,500 - is set to be just as popular as their other vehicles, perhaps even more so when considering the added practicality, its punchy engine, fuel efficiency, standard active safety features with AEB up to 120km/h - the sheer value here is undeniably strong.
Being a contender in the B-segment, it slides into competition against the newest from Proton as well, the X50. Though the Perodua is a notch or two smaller, it offers comparable levels of versatility, and even manages to outdo more expensive rivals in other areas.
The car we’re testing here is the 1.0H. At RM66,100 with an additional RM4,000 or so in Gear Up optional cosmetic extras, sits midway up the Ativa hierarchy, sandwiched between the entry-level X variant and the range-topping AV, but does it hit that ‘sweet spot’?
In my opinion, the Ativa looks “just right”, mixing a certain utilitarian charm with compact dimensions and some softer lines, but of course, all that praise doesn’t really belong to Perodua since it is pretty much a badge-engineered Malaysian-made version of the existing Daihatsu Rocky (A200), built on the same DNGA platform. Still, she’s a cutie.
There’s no resemblance or easter eggs to remind us of Perodua’s previous forays into this vehicle category, both based on the Daihatsu Terios. Of course, this began with the Kembara and its legitimate off-road credentials via a part-time 4x4 system. Later on, Malaysians would also be offered the short-lived Nautica, which was simultaneously sold locally as the Toyota Rush. Awkward.
Really, very little has actually changed in terms of its design, and that’s probably for the best. Like this white test unit I’ve been driving, you could spruce up the exterior via the GearUp accessories, specifically the ‘Blaze Bodykit’ that adds a front apron, side skirts, and some rear faux diffuser thing among others. For that, you’ll have to part with RM2,500.
Standard on each Ativa are LED headlamps and, with exception of the entry-level 1.0X, LED fog lamps. However, variant 1.0H and up receive 17-inch wheels with a premium set of Bridgestone Turanza T005A tyres, a pleasant surprise. Around it are adequate amounts grey cladding around the wheel arches.
Amusingly, to achieve this sort of ‘floating roof’ effect where the glasshouse is coloured differently than the body, Perodua stuck a matte black sticker on the A-pillar instead of having it painted separately. Still effective, though.
Someone remarked to me that it has a certain MINI Countryman-like quality, to which I chuckled at first. But now I’m coming around to agreeing.
Exact opposite of the covered plastics under the X50's bonnet.
Under that bonnet lives the first turbocharged engine ever offered by Perodua, mated to the their first-ever CVT. Again, they’re both lifted from the Rocky, but even without the burden of engineering it, localising its manufacture and supporting it over the long term requires some serious technical investment.
It seems to have paid off as the 1.0-litre 1KR-VET turbocharged 3-cylinder petrol, producing 98PS and 140Nm, is a gem of a little workhorse. You could easily write it off as a glorified Axia engine, sure, and that fact isn’t being hidden or obscured.
Fire it up and it even sounds and vibrates like its un-turbocharged cousin, but who cares. Those power and torque outputs might sound underwhelming, but in normal driving the Ativa has more than enough pace to keep up. It gets to speed quicker than you might expect and can easily maintain a highway cruise and then some.
It’s decently refined too with its characteristic 3-cylinder shudders and clatters reduced to a very slight and non-intrusive bit of auditory stimuli just enough to remind you there’s an engine up front. This is thanks largely to the commendable measures taken to noise-isolate the cabin.
The D-CVT gearbox is another great addition to the Perodua arsenal. While I do have genuine reservations about its implementation in the Myvi, it makes a great pairing with the tiny turbo-petrol in the Ativa, able to ride that wave of peak torque between 2,400-4,000rpm to deliver pretty impressive pace with seemingly little strain.
Were this engine mated to conventional automatic, the effect wouldn’t have been as pronounced. As a package, it gives the Ativa superb around-town pace and is brisk enough to find yourself having snuck up and beyond the speed limit without realising. If you thought keeping up with a Myvi was hard, wait until this thing starts tailgating you.
We also tested real-world fuel economy as part of a 4-way B-segment SUV shootout, to which the Ativa took an easy win in this category, consuming about half the amount of petrol as the its three class rivals, Proton X50, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona N-Line (over a mixed 100km journey of highway, countryside road, and city driving.
The ease of a soft-SUV is its higher H-point, allowing you to open the door and just slide into the seats without needing to bend down or climb up, and the Ativa excels here as expected. Ground clearance isn’t anything special, though it would out-wade a Myvi by a few centimetres in a flash flood, but crucially the seats are elevated to meet the typical Asian at hip level.
Getting inside is also made easier via keyless entry, a nice touch at this price point, and you’re greeted to a noticeably spacious cabin from the outset. The 1.0H tester here had the Blaze two-tone leatherette seat covers (an RM800 extra) to mimic the red on black motif in the AV. I didn’t even mind the manual adjustment or the lack of ‘tapau hooks’, but really wished the steering wheel position could be adjusted telescopically.
Being a fan of fabric seats, I personally would have preferred the seats be kept standard from factory. This aside, the interior is nicely laid out and easy to intuit with build quality and ergonomics being the best I’ve seen from Perodua - above expectations.
Is there a lot of hard plastics? Yes, but that’s completely forgivable, and doesn’t make the Ativa seem chintzy or cheap. There’s plenty of space in the back, too, with headroom being particularly ample. The 60:40 split rear seat backs don’t fold entirely flat, I’m afraid, but even with them upright the 369-litre boot is clearly more commodious than the Proton X50’s, and all that while having a full size spare wheel under there.
It handles fine. The end.
As mentioned, all-round visibility is a strong point, making narrow manoeuvring especially easy even in contrast to its segment peers. Perodua has perhaps made a very calculated move in fitting that set of Bridegstone Turanza T005As here.
Though classified as a comfort-oriented touring tyre, it does offer a generous helping of performance characteristics taken from the company’s Potenza line, which might have managed to inflate the Ativa’s road-holding ability.
Steering is light enough to make quick inputs from centre, showing off its agility, but weights up for longer lock-to-lock turns for some reason. Regardless, the Ativa’s ride and handling balance is nicely judged, giving more than adequate grip in all but extreme situations while rarely ever compromising comfort and pliancy, something the huge majority of buyers will prefer.
Once behind the wheel, you’re never really reminded too often that you’re in an SUV (at least I wasn’t) with the Ativa. Because of how nimble it is and how much space it occupies on the road, it really does feels like a taller Myvi, but one with a better resolved interior and less dated looking instruments.
The impact of that turbo-CVT pairing can’t be overstated. Like it manages to enhance the ‘boost’ characteristic of the Honda Civic’s 1.5-litre unit, the Ativa feels nearly immediately responsive at speed and quick off the line. Pushing lever to the right engages the transmission’s S (Sport?) mode that maintains higher RPMs and allows for manual ratio override through 7 virtual ‘speeds’.
Really, in my time driving the Ativa, which was about 5 days, never was there a situation where taking the gearbox out of D (Drive) was ever useful. Human intervention/override always made for a worse experience, but maybe it just doesn’t like me.
On the flip side, I really don’t like the automatic start/stop system here. Perodua calls it Eco Idle, which cuts the engine when you come to a stop to save fuel; restarting it when you want to get moving again. It’s useful for being stationary at a red light, sure, but its way too quick to engage.
The engine will turn off even when coming to a complete stop for 1 or 2 seconds to tap a Touch n’ Go card at a toll booth. No chill. I couldn’t stand it. Disabled.
Yes, there’s a ‘power’ button (labelled PWR), but this is also kind of a gimmick. It essentially makes the throttle more sensitive, so a small actuation of the pedal would deliver you a bigger dose of acceleration than you have expected. It's an illusion and doesn’t actually unlock any more power from the engine. Just keep that mode off and be heavier with your right foot. Same thing, but simpler.
The first bit of sci-fi that the Ativa brings to your attention is the digital instrument cluster, giving the driver 2 screens to look at along with the 9-inch infotainment unit, both also firsts for Perodua. Within the binnacle, the LCD takes up the most real estate while a digital speedometer sits in the right corner.
Perched atop the centre stack, that touchscreen is bright enough in most situations but can be drowned out by harsh sunlight. The interface is alright but shows no indication being linked to the instrument cluster in any way. Again, it’s a pretty impressive combo at this price point nonetheless with smooth animations and decent customisability.
Perodua seemed to want to make a real statement with the Ativa’s safety package here as each variant, even the baseline X, receives their ASA 3.0 active safety features - now grouped under the Perodua Safety Drive Assist (PSDA) umbrella - which includes Autonomous Emergency Braking (Pre-Collision Warning, Pre-Collision Braking), Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Departure Prevention.
However, more convenience-oriented driver aid features such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Automatic High Beam are reserved for the highest-spec AV…..along with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Honestly, the level of once-premium tech features here really does show the way forward, and because it’s a foregone conclusion that plenty of Malaysians will continue to buy Perodua vehicles, leading to the general level of vehicle safety on our roads increasing, more manufacturers will need to step up as customer expectations rise.
Of course, having no experience crashing (or nearly crashing) an Ativa, I’ve no idea how effective they are in mitigating disaster, but having them onboard certainly brings greater peace of mind in a very tangible way. Lane Keep Assist, though, still continues to be a real bother considering how narrow lanes can get on Malaysian roads. Having it constantly chirp at me for grazing its edges was insufferable. Disabled.
On value alone, there’s really no beating the Ativa on its home turf. Perodua has taken the Daihatsu Rocky, which already had good bones, and left most of it intact to offer to the Malaysian public. It seems to tick all the practicality boxes I would expect for a budget-oriented compact SUV, while equipped with features that elevate it over some much more expensive cars.
On the road it’s even more impressive as a point-to-point conveyance, that 1.0-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder petrol motor seemingly, thanks to its D-CVT gearbox, being able to sip fuel incredibly frugally no matter the condition while being brisk and urgent when the need arises or quiet and settled if unhurried.
Besides its on-paper appeal, the Ativa does have a certain indefinable charm that endears me to it. It seems to fit the ‘Utility’ mould of that SUV acronym a lot more than its rivals...or even 90% of the new cars sold here. It doesn’t seem to want to be ‘looked at’ or ‘looked after’, but rather to be used and to be useful. That’s a brilliant sense for a car - especially of this type - to elicit.
I’m completely convinced that it outclasses the Myvi as Perodua’s most versatile 5-door, 5-seater vehicle. As a ‘do-everything car' with the best bang for your buck, this is the new King.
Get the AV, turn off Lane Keep Assist (or LKC, as the automaker calls it), turn off Eco Idle, and let the Ativa work for you. Maybe also wait until all the teething issues surrounding the powertrain’s localisation has been ironed out.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.