KON puts the Alza's credentials as a family carrier to the test....
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|Power from Toyota's 3SZ-VE 1.5-litre DOHC engine|
|Dash is simple and uncluttered. Some controls placed too far from driver. Storage box behind steering wheel very useful.|
Car one moment, MPV the next. A wonderful premise indeed, even it does sound a little cliched. The Alza, Perodua's latest model, is the company's first and eagerly anticipated foray into the MPV market.
The marketing pitch is that, because of its compact dimensions and monocoque chassis, you can drive it around pottering through busy urban traffic like a car. But when your in-laws decide to tag along, the kids can be moved to the rear, and the Alza becomes a 7-seater MPV.
Sounds all good in theory, but we have many examples of things looking all promising on paper only to fail spectacularly in the real world, like cold fusion. Reviewing a car like the Alza involves a process that makes 0-100 timing and top speed testing seem like child's play. No, a proper evaluation of this car involves something a lot more complicated - the family.
It was, therefore, most fortunate that Perodua offered me the Alza for review on a weekend which coincided with a family trip to Muar. Lump in ad hoc runs to Putrajaya and Ipoh in the midst of all that, I returned the Alza having almost doubled the mileage clocked on its odometer. I kid you not, I was only within 700 metres from doing so.
The Test Car
Perodua loaned us the Alza SXi - manual transmission, premium spec. When I collected it, the digital odometer was reading 1,254km, while the digital fuel gauge indicated the 42-litre fuel tank was filled to the brim.
By the time I returned it, the digital tripmeter which I had reset when collecting the car was reading 1253.3km - so you can see that I have clocked quite some miles with the car, most of them admittedly on the North-South Highway. Oh yes, there are two tripmeters, reading to four digits. Even BMWs only have one that reads only three digits.
My journey with the Alza covered a day-trip to Ipoh with two on-board, then followed by a two-day one-night family entourage to Muar with a passenger count of six including myself. Being a family outing, we spent most of our time on the highway or negotiating traffic in Muar town, although a detour was made to Pagoh via the trunk roads.
At the media test drive in November, former Perodua MD Syed Abdull Hafiz was keen to point out that the Alza represents a viable choice for an upgrade from the Myvi. Within Perodua's current portfolio of models, the Myvi continues to be a runaway success, even if it has been around since 2005. In fact, even Perodua themselves are amazed at how the Myvi just never seems to run out of sales. Replicating that success isn't going to be easy.
Key to the Myvi's consistently stellar sales displays has always been how it simplistically meets the motoring needs of average Malaysians. It does not have fancy electronics besides (if you can call these items fancy) ABS, radio, engine control unit, and a trip computer. Its underpinnings are simple and straight forward. Its engine comes from Toyota, which is no different from saying its bulletproof.
Add in space, a comfortable ride, affordable fuel consumption, and a vast availability of parts, we have a car that hits all the right buttons. So what if it didn't have razor sharp handling? For the Alza, the engineers took this same philosophy, added 200 cubes to the engine, and two extra seats.
Perodua is keen to stress that the Alza is not a seven-seater, but a "5+2", emphasizing that the rear two seats are to be used occasionally. Clearly, the ethos behind the interior packaging is that this is to be a car most of the time, and an MPV some of the time.
Perodua is not breaking any technological grounds with the Alza, and neither are they looking to do so. The chassis follows a straight forward MacPherson / torsion-beam suspension setup. Steering is rack and pinion, while stopping force is generated by ventilated discs up front and drums behind.
Powering the Alza is the 1,495cc 3SZ-VE twin cam engine found in the Toyota Avanza and Toyota Rush, reconfigured for front wheel drive propulsion in the Perodua. Presumably because there's no lengthy driveshaft to twist, the Alza's outputs are slightly reduced from that of the Avanza's and Rush's - power: 102hp @ 6,000rpm, torque: 136Nm @ 4,400rpm.
Two transmission options are offered - 5-speed manual and 4-speed auto. Our test car uses the former, but, our recommendation is with the latter, due to stick shift's poor gear change, and weak-biting clutch. Take our word for it, you're much better off living with the convenience of the slushbox.
It was a sweatless process settling into the Alza, thanks to its car-like driving position. The central-mounted instrument panel took some getting used to, but it did free up space for a useful storage box behind the steering wheel for my petrol receipts and parking tickets.
Controls along the centre stack were well laid out. Programming my favourite channels into the radio was easy, but I failed to get the unit's Bluetooth system to work with my phone, which for the record, interfaced well with the Bluetooth set of every test car I've received so equipped. Of course, this could simply be an unfortunate malfunction that just happened to plague my test car.
In the urban setting, the Alza was reasonably easy to drive and was very maneuverable. All-round visibility was excellent, aided by a pair of very-well designed side mirrors which seemed to bend light from impossible angles into your field of vision. Its compact dimensions and neat turning circle also ensures that you would be able to safely negotiate most tight corners and spaces.
However, compared to the Myvi, the Alza's ride is noticeably stiffer. Surface irregularities that the Myvi irons out effectively are filtered only minimally by the Alza. This can neither be blamed nor helped, as I suspect that the engineers have consciously stiffened the Alza's suspension allowing it to take heavier loads than the Myvi would.
Criticism of the Alza, if any, has to be first leveled against the manual transmission. Its gear change is rubbery and imprecise, so you don't know whether you've slotted it into gear or not. Reverse proved to be a problem to find. The consolation is that this is markedly improved from the Myvi.
The clutch, meanwhile, was weak in its bite, meaning you need to pile on the gas on standing starts to avoid killing the engine. Additionally, there was almost half an inch of free play in our test car's clutch pedal. So, once again, the wise money is on the auto version.
On the highway, the Alza proved itself to be an adequate performer. Noise insulation isn't the best, and it isn't helped by the transmission's low gearing forcing the engine to spin at higher revs to keep the car at speed. Nevertheless, things are sufficiently suppressed for you and your companions to carry out conversations without having to raise voices.
An engine spinning at 4,000rpm at 5th gear doing 110kph isn't the best news for refinement, but the upside is that the Alza has very good in-gear acceleration. As long as the road stays straight, it is very unlikely that you would see the need to drop a cog for highway overtaking.
You would of course, need to alternate between 3rd and 4th along the trunk roads. Even with seven on board, I was able to overtake confidently a dual-lane single carriage road. Oh yes, the engine has enough reserves to properly haul the Alza at full seating capacity, though I concede that the auto version might struggle a little more.
Truth is, the Alza has no problems getting going with seven on board. The problem lies with getting the seven on board in the first place. Because the middle row of seats lack tumble folding, getting in and out of the third row requires some gymnastics on the part of the passenger.
Then there's the issue of luggage if you are fetching the seven on an overnight outstation trip, like I did. With the third row up, available luggage space is negligible. For my trip, I had other cars driving together with me. Will you have that luxury each time you travel?
When Perodua facelifts the Alza, I would suggest that they re-look into the third row. While I understand that the single-folding bench is probably a lot cheaper, split folding would give the occupants a lot more options. Perhaps this can be offered as a cost option? A luggage shade for the rear area would be useful too.
Does it live up to its promise?
It would seem that the answer is yes, in the eyes of most Malaysians. In an official reply to our query, Perodua informed us that they anticipate the total number of bookings for the Alza to hit 20,000 by the end of Jan 2010, with a three month waiting list for anyone who books now.
Whether this car makes sense to you, that depends on how you look at it. If a car like the Myvi appeals to you, compact yet spacious, and economical to run, the Alza offers itself as a slightly bigger alternative, and having extra seating capacity to call on if needed.
However, if you're looking for a full-fledged seven-or-more-seater MPV, you need to look elsewhere. It offers some versatility, but it's always more comfortable making the urban run rather than the outstation adventure, where a bigger MPV would be better equipped.
The Alza is a good product, little doubt about that. It's selling well, and will continue to do so until Perodua pensions it off in favour of a replacement model. It takes all the best qualities of their best product, the Myvi, and puts them all in a bigger package. But, if you ask me, the Myvi is still the more convincing model in Perodua's lineup.
Interact with owners of the Perodua Alza at MyAlza.com