Short Test Drive: The Perodua Axia Advance Automatic – Viva Replacement with so much more value for the Ringgit

I have been busy with a whole lot of things these past few weeks. My family affairs, work and other pet peeves have taken some precedent over writing. I managed to take time in between these various activities to look at new car launches and test drives though. On the higher end of things, I spent some time poking about in the interior of a Mercedes Benz S400 Hybrid and it is everything a Chairman, a CEO or even a Towkay would want in a car. Its interior is so darn impressive that it would give any Bentley a run for its money in terms of ambiance as well as tactility. 
The buttons and knobs are full of feel (very tactile and very important to me personally as if you drive, the switchgear are the things you hold, feel and prod most of the time). The mood lighting, which can be adjusted brings soothing colours to the aluminium, wood and leather trimmed interior. Coupled with its NAP EEV tax breaks, it comes in under RM600,000 with all the bells and whistles, making it a steal for multi-millionaires here in Malaysia. Remember, the previous V221 S300L came in at around RM700,000. As this translated to over RM100,000 worth of savings (equivalent to about four Rolex Submariner or two Hermes Birkin handbags (with some change) these days), it is now fully sold out till the next EEV policy announcement in 2016. So even if you have RM600,000 you can’t get a S400 Hybrid from the authorised dealer unless someone lets you take his or her S400. Yup, a RM600,000 hot cake due to its ‘value for money’.

On the more sensible side of the spectrum, we have the Perodua Axia. This is Perodua’s replacement for the Perodua Viva. It may be a replacement for the Viva but the car isn’t built to the Japanese ‘Kei’ or super compact car standard anymore. It is a proper sized citycar much the likes of the Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Suzuki Alto and the MItsubishi Mirage/ Attrage sedan. It is actually as large (or larger) as the largest of the class, the Mirage and unlike the fully imported, over RM60,000 Mirage, it is sold between RM24,900 to slightly over RM42,000. This makes it super value for what it is offering.
The Perodua Axia is a rebadged Daihatsu Ayla /Toyota Agya. All variants come in a 1.0liter 3 cylinder engine coupled to either a 5 speed manual or a 4 speed automatic transmission. The engine produces 66bhp and 90Nm torque at 3,600rpm. It also qualifies under the NAP’s Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) like the S-Class mentioned earlier. It is longer, wider but lower than the outgoing Viva and if you compare it to the larger Perodua Myvi, not that far off from it in terms of size. In fact, it has more legroom than the Myvi and only loses out on headroom and interior width. It really is a proper car unlike the Viva where to chubby people in the front seats would actually rub shoulders or support each other during hard cornering.
And when you drive this now not so tiny Perodua, it actually feels like you are actually driving a car instead of a motorised trolley like before. The variant I had a go in was the Axia Advanced, which has all the bells and whistles, including GPS and leather seats (these two items differentiate it from the Axia SE which also gets the sportier big gaping mouth bodykit and different wheels from the base E and G models). Speaking about the bodykit, the front end has a very very very very very big grille / mouth. It looks alright in the promotional photos, but in the metal, or plastic, that front end gapes a whole lot. Some may like it. I find it alright as if I am driving the Axia I don’t get to see it unless one passes by on the opposite side of the road. And knowing that Perodua has secured over 15,000 bookings on its launch, we shall be seeing a lot of it soon. Anyway, if you can live without the bodykit, leather seats and GPS, you can buy the normal  E (totally basic spec sans radio, central locking, alarm, park sensors and other basic stuff) or the G spec which gets you the usual goodies like radio, alloy wheels and more.
So what’s it like to drive. As mentioned above, it drives so much more like a proper car than the Viva. In the Viva you know you’re driving a shopping trolley. It is so short, narrow and tall, and this somehow dominates its driving experience. You understeer early, the ride is choppy and you get body roll as well as you holding on to the steering for dear life during hard cornering. With the Axia you get none of that rubbish. The car still rolls but its 175/65/14 tyre and wheel combo suits it fine and does not feel undertyred like the Myvi (which uses the same tyre size). Fact is, the Axia’s nose feels more alert than even the Myvi and is more willing to turn in during cornering. 
The new to Perodua 66bhp 1.0liter engine and the 4 speed automatic is actually very zesty for its small capacity. You floor the accelerator and the car just moves off the line easily. Kickdown when you are cruising at around 50km/h and the gearbox quickly drops down a gear (or two) and you’re gaining some speed. The gearbox itself is pretty smooth and changes smoothly too. If you compare this with its actual 1.0/1.1 liter competitors like the Suzuki Alto or even the Mitsubishi Mirage the car is more responsive than both mentioned. The Alto has a good engine but the gearbox isn’t tuned like this and it more likely to hold its gears longer than it should whereas the Mirage’s CVT (and extra body weight) is draggy. The Axia weighs around 850kg and this actually helps performance a lot. The Alto and the Mirage are at least 60kgs heavier minimum. In small capacity cars, this makes a difference.
The Axia also does have quite a good ride over bumps and crests. It handles them quite well and does not have that firm and crashy ride of the Myvi. There is more compliance here due to it being softly sprung (which is why it rolls a bit) but the Axia makes up for being comfortable on most roads around Petaling Jaya (which somehow isn’t as properly maintained considering it is supposed to be one of the prime areas in the Klang Valley). So coupled with the perky engine and transmission as well as having good ride with nippy handling, the Perodua Axia is a fun car to drive. I dare say that the Axia feels like it is the most fun to drive car in Perodua’s line up today (fun to drive does not always equate to performance, think original Mini – and no…this still does not come close to that car’s character)
As for NVH, you can’t ask for much for a car this light. Soundproofing is pared down but it is definitely quieter than the Viva. You can still hear more road noise than you would like as well as the engine noise if you indulge more than necessary. The good thing about 3 cylinder engines is that they actually sound less frantic at certain engine RPM. So at normal 90-100km/h cruising speeds feel actually smoother than some small capacity 4 cylinder cars.I would say that the Myvi, Suzuki Alto and Mirage are all slightly quieter than the Axia but it isn’t by much and there are no irritating sounds that could stress you out on a slightly longer journey. I think if you drove the Axia to Terengganu it would be able to cope better than even the Suzuki Alto as even though the Alto is quieter, it is more spacious and the whole car is nippier (fun to drive factor about the same though but the feel is slightly different). The Mirage? Duller than both.
In short, I tested the full monty Axia Advance and it is as fast and as nice a compact city car can be.  I suggest people to get the G spec Axia (around RM30,000+- for the manual and RM32,000+- for the automatic).Of course, if you want the big mouth, bodykit and other goodies, you could get the RM40,000 SE or the RM42,000 Advance. I would opt for the simpler G spec and save up the RM10,000 as the G spec will do whatever you want a compact city car to do. At slightly over RM30,000, the Axia is super value for money. 
I personally think that as a second or third car for the family it would do nicely. I like it for this purpose better than I would like the Myvi. It is more economical (Perodua claims over 20km/l for both automatic and manual), almost as large, rides better and the only thing it does worse is the performance (1.3 vs 1.0 – of course) and space (Axia is A segment vs B segment for the Myvi). The Axia also looks decent, so I do imagine myself keeping my other cars at home and taking this baby out for the daily commutes in and around the Klang Valley. If I had a S400 Hybrid I still see myself driving the Axia around the neighbourhood as well as short drives and keep the S400 for times when I am chauffeur driven around or for power meetings. Yes. The Axia works for me and it should work for you too.