This is it, this is the big one.
As opposed to the regular dosage of high-powered shootout drama common to these pages, few could argue the importance of A-segment cars, and the market shares the nominees here dominate over a fiscal year. Never before has the outcome of a shootout had to answer so many burning questions, or lay to rest – intense preconceptions about a particular brand and the products they offer.
In terms of relevance, circa 180,000 new car owners this year will either have the name Myvi, Iriz or Picanto etched on their chosen vehicle’s trunk-lids, perhaps making these next eight pages and the findings of our experiments among the most significant to be ever featured. If the shenanigans here were broadcasted in a social media sphere, it’s one of those where misplaced assessments will undoubtedly kick-up a storm of keyboard induced rage and verbal diarrhoea on the comments board.
With over 840-thousand units sold, the Myvi is undefeated sales champion of the group. Now in its tenth year of production - tactful aesthetic updates and ownership cost rationalisations have further reinforced the face lifted model’s market standing as the most prominent form of entry into car-dom.
The Iriz is the newcomer, and arguably with the most to prove here. Proton has neglected the small car sphere since 2011 with the infinitesimal departure of the Proton Savvy. Some four-years of R&D, extensive testing and benchmarking exercises, done at the cost of some RM500-million endorse just how serious Proton are at biting a piece of that A-segment pie again.
The dark horse Kia Picanto is here quite simply because it’s that damn good. If you would like to discover just how far the Korean carmakers have come in such brief time – don’t look at the KIA Optima K5 or even the newly launched Hyundai Genesis, arguably, creating a comprehensive package for an RM150k (or more) budget is way easier that cramming brilliance into a smaller shell at a quarter of the price, and that’s what this car does.
What I’m trying to accomplish today goes beyond kicking the tyres and pinching the seats – a stretch by some measure as well, getting-down-to-brass-tacks with three superminis between undulating washboard-surfaced double-apex corners and leaf-littered, slippery hairpins.
It’s a double-edged sword as well, because at this market level, so much of the buyer’s-rationale is stipulated my popular preconceptions – in essence, it’s the ‘what’s-the-first-thing-that-comes-to-mind’ principle. Even Proton knows buyers are adopting the ‘wait-and-see’ approach when purchasing their new car, while Perodua can now simply leverage off the fact that they are the best at building small cars – and it hasn’t been a bed of roses for the Koreans as well, but they have finally harness substantial interest amongst the buying public.
So, does a well-informed perspective even matter?
It’s even unlikely, even beyond what we stand to find out with this test, good or bad, to even put a minute dent in the Perodua Myvi’s future sales forecast. But the other half of the judgement, and perhaps more importantly at this level is… the price. With all these cars priced in the sub RM60k bracket, representing the most premium forms of their particular models, cross-shopping between the three is inevitable.
Offsetting charming ad-campaigns, this test is above all else, to discern the depth of engineering, value and fun that can be enjoyed below the RM60k threshold. I’m in Bukit Tinggi for this one, normally and affectionately frequented by us in wastegate-swooshing 200bhp hot hatches, not so much with bread-and-butter supermarket superstars.
With the introduction of the 1.5-litre variant, have Perodua, in fact, created a sportier, hyped-up variant for the more discerning of customers (the skinny tyres suggest: no) or merely added more causeway-capability for an otherwise intra-city optimised vehicle? The 1495cc 3SZ-VE isn’t short of go – with 102bhp of power at the tune of 6000rpm and 136Nm of torque coupled to a four-speed slushbox auto. Given the bantamweight 980kg – the Myvi should ace the drag race proceedings then.
First up - the Proton Iriz, despite making the most power here; with 107bhp at 5750rpm and 150Nm pulling free from 4000rpm, it’s also the heaviest with 1185kg in tow. I’m in the Iriz, the air-conditioning is turned off to eek every last ounce of forward motion. Across me in the Myvi is a close friend and ex-amateur rally driver, half-chuckling at what we’re about to do - a third person flags us down.
With foot hard to the floor, the CVT gearbox protests with a sharp whine at first but I’m off. The Myvi spurts forwards with authority and keeps building a small lead up to around 50kph where we’re in a deadlock right up till around 100kph – there’s very little in it besides the initial CVT lag. The Myvi’s fuel cap aligns the edge of the Iriz’s grille as we cross the line, arguably, if the Iriz had more room, its mid-range torque could see the Myvi off once above the 100kph mark – but there’s no denying the Myvi is rapid in this company.
Probably futile then to put the tiny 1.2-litre Picanto against the Myvi in a David vs Goliath final death match. Except whatever happened next was anything but elementary. One thing I find quite dubious about the Picanto’s brochure is the failure to mention kerb weight. What we do know however, is the 1.2-litre Kappa powerplant produces a punchy 120Nm of torque from 4000rpm and winds its way to a total of 86bhp at 6000rpm – not exactly trouser wetting performance. The proverbial flag drops again and in utter amazement, the little tiny terror lunges past the Myvi’s bonnet with verve. First gear… second, third and only now do I reel-in the Lemon Grass silhouette to finish almost squared off on the line.
Coupled to a four-speed auto, the performance in the Picanto isn’t to be scoffed at; it’s punchy and urgent in every sense of the word and the ratios are superbly matched to capitalise on the engine’s powerband which comes alive after 3800rpm. The Myvi’s Akashi Kikai four-speeder is charmingly smooth as well, the power arrives episodically with an initial shove at 2400rpm all the way to circa 4000rpm when the rest is announced – it’s the most urgent off the line as well, making for very exploitable pace on our pothole stricken and traffic laden roads.
The taboo subject here would definitely be found tacked to the Iriz’s flywheel – the CVT unit from Punch. Proton has made recalibrations and the CVT unit does feel more responsive than previous iterations (like the units in the Proton Preve) but essentially, it still remains constrictive of the engine’s efforts when accelerating. On the highway though, it works fair and once the car has gained momentum – the performance is fine. The CVT whine is inescapable so I’d rather not whine about it – pun intended.
The best steer of the lot is found in the Iriz, it flaunts very nice weightage and the feedback is wholesome - while the Kia’s leather wrapped steering wheel is beautifully progressive and in my opinion, the best the company currently offers – none of the step-up ‘Sport’ weightage to meddle with the output, but it could use tad bit more information transfer from the tarmac. While the Myvi’s steering is feelsome and accurate as well, I just find the steering effort hefty when compared to the older generations’ hydraulic rack – the older one was too light at speed, and the new one makes perfect sense at speed - but in the city, it’s a bit boisterous.
Over multiple runs in all cars over these rapidly changing elevation changes, deeply rutted and pockmarked roads - I’d have to say this is some of the most engaging moments I have had behind the wheel in some time. Power may not be everything, so when the roads opened up, it was time to open the taps and really see which car puts fun at your fingertips.
The Myvi’s lack of heft gives it very eager turn-in; mid-corner steering applications are also well administered but given its tallish-bulbous nature, body-roll is imminent. Just as soon as the somewhat-stiff dampers load up the car starts to pendulum between axles - it just feels contrived especially with the skinny tyres that seem all too ready to ride on their sidewalls in an effort to compensate.
The Iriz is better, it attacks the corners with urgency, the rigidity of the body is nicely spreads the load to the underpinnings but there’s no hiding excess mass this car has over the other two. Mid-corner balance is positive, roll almost non-existent but despite the broader rubbers, it feels like it has even less mechanical grip than the Myvi. The Iriz’s Silverstone tyres let the entire package down, while it may have talented limbs, it feels like trying to run a sprint with tap-dancing shoes on.
It isn’t until you get into Picanto where you truly understand the meaning of supermini. This Korean pops with sublime suspension setup, superb body control and copious amounts of grip. No matter who drove the car, we could push the Myvi or the Iriz to their ragged edges with tyres screeching in anger and the Picanto would just stay glued their rear ends without even a whisper from the rubbers. Even on the biggest bumps, ones that would get the Myvi awkwardly scrappy and unsettle the Iriz’s rear end, the Picanto would glide through with the poise and confidence of a car double its size and wheel base.
It’s also the one that inspires the most confidence due to a lovely seating position, with a lower centre of gravity and with the reach and rake of the steering wheel angled effectively towards my palm’s grip. The Iriz is really good too but the seating position is a tad too elevated for me and the Myvi semi-bucket seats could be more supportive at the sides. If you’re looking for a driver’s car - it’s the Picanto… hands down! But the Iriz’s efforts are admirable as well in my opinion.
However, in the massively competitive A-Segment, dynamic ability perhaps has to take a back seat to functionality.
It’s easily understood why the Myvi manages to warm so many hearts right-off the showroom floor, peel open the door and get in, instantly, I wonder how my own E46 3-er is by comparison a chicken-hut in terms of interior space. Kia’s little hero the Picanto has the smallest yet most beautifully appointed cabin. Save some cut-price plastics for the door panels, the dashboard plastics are tactile to the touch and the leather wrapped steering wheel feels good within my palms. The well-contoured seats are great too, replete with spunky fabric designs and feature line of the dash adds a sense of maturity to the cabin space.
Alas, rear legroom is limited, by the time a person of my 6-foot stature finds a cosy configuration up front, rear seat occupants may as well saw their legs off, seating four is possible but it’s a stretch. The innards of the Iriz blend the best of both small-car worlds in my opinion. The cockpit is the most inviting; the proprietary leather seats are supportive, the faux stitches that lines the upper regions of the dash do well to draw attention and the touchscreen Android based 6.2” touchscreen player and air-con vents are well thought out. But why the nicely placed handbrake lever is so wobbly and finicky is beyond me – as things go, Proton has got most things right from where I’m seated.
Lenses out, it’s hard not to get drawn in by the Silver Moon dust hue of the Proton Iriz, it puts-in-mind Lamborghini’s Grigio Telesto paint code for the Gallardo. The smooth lines of the headlamps replete with neat etching of the brand on the ‘lashes’ of the projector headlamps pay attention to detail. The Picanto looks small in comparison, but no less purposeful, the cheery-eyed facial features are matched handsomely by taut lines along the flanks, while the larger-than-life rear LED clusters sign-off on a quirky yet charming design. By comparison, perhaps it’s the familiarity of the Myvi’s appearance that deducts from some of the occasion when looking at it in the flesh. Plaudits are still in order though, the ‘Impreza-impersonation’ blue looks the part and the aggressive angles and creases of the front and rear bumper plays an elegant counterpoint the rounded edges of the roofline and sides of the car.
Intrinsically, the Myvi is the easiest to dismiss, it’s accelerates with verve, it’s spacious, looks good and I just love the blue hue. However, it’s a poignant point, that between the next best Myvi 1.5 Special Edition and the Advance variant we have here which cost some RM5k more – Perodua only add the infotainment system and leather seats. Top-up the same amount, by comparison with the Iriz and Proton will add four-airbags, Android infotainment, leather seats and keyless-go. It makes me wonder if the Myvi really is the best bang-for-your-buck anymore. Plus, it won’t matter if the other two did not offer it, but the Myvi still does without stability control – perhaps something that could be useful given its tall architecture and high centre of gravity.
The Iriz is the best value here. It lives up to the hype and if you can forgive it for the charmless gearbox – it will please you in every other way. The tyres need to be swapped out for some Continentals or Bridgestones but otherwise – the chassis is great, the cockpit is well executed and spacious, it’s the safest proposition and, in my opinion, the best looking car here. It was a heavy-handed decision but by the tiniest of margins has to take the silver-medal.
Which leaves me with the Picanto, I knew I liked the car – but now I would go on to say it’s among the best on sale today. If you absolutely require the space, then perhaps you’d have to look elsewhere, but otherwise it’s simply brilliant. The build quality is great, it’s got the best sound system, looks great and the refinement is appreciable, but driving this car is something else entirely. It claws the road with poise, flattens bumps, tracks at high-speed with confidence, shifts up and down the cogs smoothly - and at some point, after driving the little thing, had to ask “What toyol was actually under that hood?” 1.2-litre naturally aspirated engines shouldn’t be this powerful! If you’re looking for the ultimate drive in this company, the Kia Picanto draws first-blood!
Words: Arvind Kumar
Pictures: Arvind Kumar
KIA PICANTO 1.2 AT
1248cc 16v 4-cyl VVT, 86bhp @ 6000rpm, 120Nm @ 4000rpm
Four-speed Auto, front wheel drive
McPherson Struts front, Torsion beam rear
PERODUA MYVI 1.5 ADVANCE
1495cc 16v 4-cyl VVT, 102bhp @ 6000rpm, 136Nm @ 4400rpm
Four-speed Auto, front wheel drive
McPherson Struts front, Torsion beam rear
PROTON IRIZ 1.6 CVT PREMIUM
1597cc 16v 4-cyl VVT, 107bhp @ 5750rpm, 150Nm @ 4000rpm
CVT Auto, front wheel drive
McPherson Struts front, Torsion beam rear