Thursday, October 30, 2014

Test Drive: The Proton Iriz 1.6 Premium CVT - Better specs and an automatic make it a better Iriz to drive

Let's cut straight to the chase. The Proton Iriz 1.6 CVT Premium is a much better car to drive than the Proton Iriz 1.3 manual I tried earliet. Some of you may be wondering how can a CVT automatic be better to drive than a manual transmission? The actual answer is the car with the better overall package wins.

It's quite straightforward. Its the extras over the base bread and butter model that does it for me. In the Iriz 1.6 CVT you get the following extra – the 1.6liter (modified) CAMPRO is more powerful than the 1.3 variant (95hp/120nm over 108hp/150nm), the suspension is slightly firmer and sportier in the 1.6 (which rides slightly harder but actually makes the car less bouncy over most surfaces. I.e more suspension tuning here), you get 195/55/15 tyres over 175//65/14 and the Iriz 1.6 Premium interior gets better leather wrapped seats which seems more grippy than the base model seats as well as a leather wrapped steering wheel. All of this, and maybe more makes the Iriz 1.6 a better driver's car and a better buy even if it costs a whole lot more – RM62,888 (in the spec tested) over RM47,888 (1.3 Executive (M) tested earlier).

I suppose its the usual 'You pay peanuts you get monkeys' argument in play here. Of course it is. There never is such a thing as free lunches these days especially in the very tough small car market. But how much better is it?

You start up the Iriz 1.6 Premium with a start button instead of a key (Keyless Go feature) and like the entry model you get a pretty good driving position with the steering wheel (only allows tilt) nicely square to your chest. The seats in this Premium are leather clad and are grippy at the sides and are quite nice to seat in even after a couple of hours. And so after all the usual adjustments, you slot in the gear lever into 'D' and drive off.

The ride is firmish but not uncomfortable. Proton have done quite a good job here as usual (where you get good handling but usually sub-par finishing elsewhere) and the chassis grips well on most fast sweeping corners. The car resists understeer quite well and is predictable. Now you add the fact that you now have 108hp over 95hp it gets even more adjustable on the throttle. The Iriz isn't fast mind you. It is now slightly more sprightly instead of just pedestrian. The 150nm does not make itself felt and the Iriz 1.6 feels very linear and nothing thrilling in terms of acceleration. Of course you get the all too efficient CVT transmission helping you out but it isn't fun in terms of making outright speed, just decent forward progress.

Now the reason why the 1.3 manual isnt as nice to drive is partly down to the extra power of the 1.6 has and the fact that the manual gear shifter is too notchy for its own good. I can take notchy gear shifters, but this one is one of those shifters that feel that it has too much resistance when selecting any gear. It is a letdown as usually petrolheads would love a rifle bolt-like shifter, smooth and precise instead of having resistance spoiling each gearchange. So avoiding the gear shifter is a good thing. But there is a 'but' involved here.

The 'but' is that the CVT based transmission is super duper droney. It will hold 5,000rpm almost throughout full-bore acceleration. This means that if you are at the traffic lights, you press on the loud pedal and the Iriz 1.6 gets SUPER LOUD for as long as the accelerator pedal is fully depressed. Imagine going from 0kmh to about 140kmh in full throttle. You would need a good 11.1 seconds to reach 100kmh and say you took another 5 seconds to reach 140kmh. It would mean high revs for almost 20seconds. Even with soundproofing (and you must remember that this is an affordable hatchback and not a Mercedes S-class) those seconds would be a tad bit annoying. 

Of course, CVTs are usually like that and rubber band-like in feel. But the reason that transmission is in the Iriz is that Proton needs to get better fuel economy figures and a CVT is good at efficiency. Even when coupled to an engine that isn't very efficient (yes, the CAMPRO derived engine is only slightly more efficient that before in terms of fuel figures). So it needs that CVT transmission to get fuel consumption figures closer to its competitors (it does not win and is still about 6.6-6-9l/100km (according to internal sources for mixed driving conditions) over compared to way under 6l/100km for the Myvi 1.5, Polo 1.6, Swift 1.4 and the newly launched Honda Jazz 1.5)

But that being said, if you drove it as a daily driver to the office and back the Iriz is very capable. At normal traffic speeds it is quiet enough to be very relaxed in it. The entertainment system is pretty good (with Navigation in this Premium spec) and again, the driving position is good. I suppose the grippy yet comfy seats and that leather wrapped steering wheel adds to the driver and car contact points. And that dashboard looks pretty good too (even with that fake moulded stitching). The only thing really wrong with an Automatic Iriz is the gearlock. It is bloody annoyingly loud. It is a loud 'kerlack!' when you start and stop the Iriz 1.6 Premium. When it comes to Proton, I truly wonder how they can make the hard things like handling and ride seem easy but make simple things like gear locks and some other stuff hard.

As for the rest of the car I have no complaints. Yes it is pricey at RM62,000, but name me any car with traction control (in all variants) as this price range and every other gadget that you'd want in a car. If you don't want most of the gadgetry like daytime running lights, auto fold mirrors leather, etc, the base 1.6 Executive CVT sells for RM58,000 but loses the driver interaction part a little with the lack of leather bits which I kinda like. I think at RM58,000 most Malaysians think that they'd rather buy the cheaper 1.5liter Myvi SE which comes in at RM55,000.

Most think that the Perodua is the better car in terms of quality if not for specs. If you add ride and handling, the Iriz beats the Myvi hands down. In terms of interior material used and its quality I have to say that the Iriz 1.6 is as good as the Perodua Myvi. It is public perception and the fact that Proton can still get a few things wrong here and there. Not in terms of build quality per se but on the design factor (like the loud gear lock mechanism and the overall styling of the car which looks like the car is an econobox with small wheels and a big body – you can read what I think of the styling in the Iriz 1.3 Executive Manual here).

So how do I conclude this article on the Proton Iriz 1.6 Premium CVT? can Proton make me an Iriz 1.6 CVT without the gadgetry BUT with leather seats and leather steering wheel and sell it to me for under RM55,000? That would be the price which I believe most people would have no problem in buying a 1.6liter hatchback from Proton.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spotted....and luckily not for sale: Proton Saga Flying Spur

To quote the President of the United States during his election campaign, "Yes We Can" seems totally appropriate. It seems we Malaysians can do everything and anything under the sun. And that we seem to have so much money to actually pay someone to do this kind of stuff. Wouldn't it be better to actually save the money and try buy a proper premium luxury sedan some time in your life instead of actually trying to turn an entry level car into one? 

So a second hand Proton Saga may cost RM20,000 and some mods may cost an extra RM10,000. What is RM30,000 when it'll become a masterpiece? A piece de resistance? A Mona Lisa? Wait a's a darn Proton Saga for Godssake!!!!!! And I thought the Audi Saga I posted earlier was ambitious.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Great Wall M4 - Chunky looks & EEV Tax break status equals to a surprisingly good drive against its local rivals

We have something cheap and reasonably cheery on our roads soon and the surprising thing is that this car is coming from China. The car, the Great Wall M4 (also called the M4 Haval) compact SUV has been previewed and will soon be on sale throughout Malaysia. According to the distributors, Go Auto, the Great Wall M4 has garnered about 1,500 bookings since its preview in July of 2014 and it will be seen on our roads by November if all goes well. Quite a feat. It got me really curious too. So when I was invited to spend some time with the M4 as well as some time with the people who are bringing it in I jumped at the opportunity.

So what the heck is a Great Wall M4? Sounds epic doesn't it? Imagine someone asking you what do you drive and you tell them “I drive a Great Wall”. It does sound quite preposterous doesn't it? Yup. And then you realise that BMW also uses the M4 moniker for its hot M4 coupe. But note that this Great Wall M4 is not a coupe but a compact SUV and it sits in the B segment, the same category that the very, very popular Perodua Myvi sits proudly in. It is also the same category where the Proton Saga sedan and the newly launched Myvi competitor, the Proton Iriz are placed within. So how does such a car compete against the current category champion and the others?

Quite well I say as the Great Wall M4 was truly a surprise. I tested two M4 Comfort spec cars in manual, one with about over 30,000km on the clock and another with around 1,000km or so. The compact SUV is a 5 door hatchback that is powered by a 1.5liter 4 cylinder engine that sends its power to the front wheels via a 5 speed manual transmission. Of course this isn't the transmission of choice for most urban Malaysians, and there is an AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) that will be on sale some time after the first manuals have been delivered. On the AMT, they claim that the M4 AMT will undergo more than 100,000km of continuous testing on Malaysian roads – Basically there will be a few teams of testers going up and down the Peninsular non-stop according to the folks at Great Wall Malaysia.

Anyway, at the first glance, the Great Wall M4 especially in the funky orange looks like an amalgam of brands. On its 205/55/16 sized wheel and tyre combo it portrays the chunky mini SUV guise quite well. The front looks like a Land Rover Freelander, from the side it looks like it takes after a Suzy SX4 (or a Fiat Panda) and the rear, especially the tail lights looked like the came from a Volkswagen Golf. As a whole, the design looks pretty cohesive even though you know that the Chinese usually do a lot of copy and paste. But you can tell that this M4 has more effort put into it. You could purchase some 18 inch wheels and tyres and it'll look like you're driving a Land Rover (or believe you're doing so). Take a look at the Great Wall lettering on the bonnet and you can tell where their inspiration came from.

On the inside, it does not feel bad at all. In fact, it feels totally livable. The Great Wall M4 has about 185mm of ground clearance where most small compacts have about 150mm at the very most. You don't really have to climb up but rather just a small step up into the driver's seat. The high pivot point make it a breeze for most people to enter and exit the M4. Once seated there aren't many things to adjust. The seat only moves fore and aft as well as the usual reclining backrest and a steering wheel that just adjusts for tilt and not reach. Even with the basic adjustments I managed to find a comfortable enough driving position.

Check out the LCD readout on the audio system in the middle of the dashboard!!!! No reading glasses needed folks.

The interior plastics are typically hard as even the best in category with the exception of a leather wrapped steering wheel. The quality seems to be quite decent but gets the material quality gets cheaper when you arrive at the glovebox level. It usually is in most B segment cars but even on the 30,000km M4, there were no unwanted rattles or squeaks. The switchgear and controls feel quite good to operate too. Even the manual gearshifter feels slick whilst shifting. Proton could learn a fair bit on how to make a shifter that isn't so notchy, as I found out when driving the Iriz.

However there was the super large digital readout for the audio system. It totally reminded me of those extra large sized calculators with those super large LCD readout. Pensioners and truly old people would not have any problems telling whether the radio is set to or The speedometer is digital too so there isn't any problem figuring out how fast (or slow) you're travelling. As for space, I was quite comfortable up front and even with the front seat adjusted to a guy who is 5foot 8inch tall there is adequate legroom. Headroom is good as it is a compact SUV and not a compact hatchback. I would say that the M4 has nearly as much space as the Myvi and more than the Iriz (especially at the rear).

Leather seats are non-standard for this M4 Comfort. It will only be available in the Premium variant.

Now before we continue, the reason why I am bringing up both the Perodua Myvi and the Proton Iriz is that the M4 is priced and sized like the two compact hatchbacks mentioned. The M4 manual is tentatively priced at RM46,990 (for Standard), RM51,990 (for Comfort) and RM56,990 (for Premium which adds leather seats and navigation). The AMT comes in at RM48,990, RM54,990 and RM59,990 for the same specs. You also get ABS, EBD, brake assist, dual airbags and 4 disc brakes.

The base Myvi XT manual comes in at slightly over RM42,000, XT Auto at RM46,000+. The Proton Iriz comes in at RM42,000 to RM53,000 for the 1.3 manual and auto and until RM62,000 for the 1.6 premium. The so far decent looking, livable interior M4 splits the two right in the middle and adds a bonus of being a 1.5liter at the same price range as the 1.3 Myvi and Iriz 1.3. Yes, there is the RM50,000+Myvi 1.5SE. And if you add that in you have a fight on your hands.

And the M4 puts up a heck of a fight. On the move the 1.5liter variable valve timing equipped engine is torquey. According to some research, it makes 103hp and around 138Nm torque and it is based on Mitsubishi technology (Some claim that its Toyota, but I spoke the the head of marketing and he states that it is Mitsu tech). Anyway, you could actually leave it in fourth gear for cornering and let the torque pull the car through at around 30-40kmh. Drop a gear and the engine responds well too. The manual transmission's close ratios and the engine's breadth allows for smooth progress on city streets. There is one drawback though, a slightly whistling sound which I believe comes from the VVT system's hydraulics. But the overall effect does not make the car unrefined. Overall engine refinement is actually quite good as the whistling sound isn't harsh or irritating. What can be clearly said is that the M4's engine sounds so much smoother (even close to its redline) than the one fitted in the Iriz 1.3 manual I drove recently. In fact, the 1.5liter engine is the actual reason why Great Wall are able to sell the M4 at such an affordable price. It is locally assembled under the Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) scheme and this allows Great Wall tax breaks due to its efficient fuel consumption (Great Wall claim something like 6liters per 100km fuel consumption for the M4 in their brochures). China builds a quieter and more economical engine than Malaysia. Honestly.

The other aspects of the M4's NVH is good too. Road noise is well damped and the suspension soaks up most of the bumps that Malaysian roads can throw at it. It is all SUV in terms of damping and feel, in that the slow body movements feel like the car is loping along an undulating road with small up and down movements. Those that have experience in other small SUVs that come from Japan would note the similar body movements in the M4.

However do note that the M4 isn't sporty It will roll and lurch if you suddenly think that this isn't a Great Wall M4 but a BMW M4 instead. If you drive it at normal city and highway speeds and don't decide to corner like a Civic Type R then this M4 performs as well as it should. The steering is devoid of feel but it does its job and so does the rest of the car's handling. I suppose the whole car does its job of being a compact SUV (AND not sports hatchback) pretty well. As a car, the Great Wall M4 is actually quite good.

The M4 is quite good as a total affordable car package as it beats the Iriz in all aspects except for maybe outright performance (as it is designed as a compact SUV) and in corners (as in handling). In every other detail, the M4 beats the heck out of the Iriz, especially if you keep harping on that coarse and rough engine that Proton has stuffed in the Iriz and the all important fact of fuel economy in light of increasing fuel prices. Which affordable car buyer actually puts handling over space, fuel economy and value for money in the first place?

The M4 takes on the fight to Perodua as it does not meet the Myvi head on but enters the ring with something that is similar in size to the Perodua but isn't just a small hatchback. It comes as a small SUV. The mistake I believe that Proton is currently in the process of making with the Iriz is try going head on with the Myvi with a clone of sorts.

The Great Wall M4 however takes the fight by playing by a slightly different set of rules. What the M4 brings to the compact car fight is that it is an affordable, decently put together, good looking mini SUV that actually saves petrol (due to its EEV status) coupled with the fact that everything from China is built to last horrendous traffic jams (that may last for days) and other ridiculous conditions in China (like dense drivers and blind pedestrians) may just work. as some would want something that looks different).

Buy the M4 without prejudice or without any worry about low resale value as it already is dirt cheap in the Malaysian sense anyway. For the price offered, it is good enough to own and drive around in.

Great Wall M4 specifications:
Length x Width x Height (mm) 3961x1728x1617
Wheelbase (mm)2383
Ground Clearance (mm)185

Transmission Type5MT / 6AT (AMT)
205/60 R16
Water-cooled 4 stroke inline four-cylinder DOHC electronic throttle VVT MPI gasoline engine
6 ltrs/100 kms
Euro IV
Ventilated Disc Brake (4 wheels)
McPherson Type Independent Suspension/Trail Arm Type Torsion Bar Composite Suspension

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Hyundai Experience Car Fest 2014 - 10th to 12th October 2014!!!!

Hello folks! Hyundai-Sime Darby Motors (HDSM) will be organising a car fest ths weekend starting tomorrow, Friday the 10th of October 2014 to Sunday, 12th of October 2014. Expect lots of activities including complimentary driving courses and the usual slew of test drives from the current range of Hyundai vehicles.

If any of you are interested in trying out that Hyundai Veloster like in the pic above, a Hyundai Elantra like below or a Hyundai SUV do head over to the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

Oh, The event will be held from 9.00am until 6.30pm. And if you're in Johor Bahru, the Hyundai Experience Car Fest will also be held at Jalan Desa Tebrau, Taman Tebrau in Johor Bahru from the 17th to 19th October 2014.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Trucking news: Malaysia competes in the Volvo Trucks Asia Pacific and World Fuelwatch Championship 2014 + Driving Tips

Press Release

Malaysia competes in the Volvo Trucks Asia Pacific and 

World Fuelwatch Championship 2014

Shah Alam, 2 October 2014 – The winner of Volvo Trucks Malaysia’s Fuelwatch

Challenge 2014, Ahmad Bin Othman of Logistik Petikemas Sdn Bhd, Prai, represented

Malaysia at the Volvo Trucks Asia Pacific and World Fuelwatch Championship 2014

held at home of Volvo in Gothenburg, Australia, on 16 to 19 September recently.

In July, Ahmad Bin Othman (pictured below) defeated close to 800 other Malaysian truckers to clinch

the national top spot when he achieved the lowest fuel consumption recording of just 1

litre for 2.52 kilometres in a 40-kilometre drive challenge pulling a 40-footer, 20-tonne

container with a FM 440 62T cab.

New record: Volkswagen Group celebrates 200 million vehicles produced & previews XL Sport Concept Car

VW Group Celebrates a whole lot of vehicles produced...and sold over at the 2014 Paris Motor Show. It also previewed the Volkswagen XL Sport, a concept car powered by a Ducati 1199 V2 engine.

Press Release
• A top value among European automakers

• Record-breaking vehicle XL Sport makes its world debut at Paris Motor 


• French film icon Catherine Deneuve receives €200,000 donation for 

“Cinema for Peace”

Wolfsburg/Paris, October 1, 2014 – A new record for the Volkswagen Group: Europe’s

leading automaker has now produced 200 million vehicles. Volkswagen is one of the

few manufacturers in the world to have reached this impressive total. At the Group

evening, the sports car study Volkswagen XL Sport made its world debut as the 200

millionth Group vehicle. On the occasion of the production record, actress Catherine

Deneuve, founding chairperson of “Cinema for Peace”, received a check for a

donation of €200,000 from the Chairman of the Board of Management of the

Volkswagen Group, Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Short Test Drive: Proton Iriz 1.3MT Executive


Proton has just launched its latest compact car and it is called the Iriz. The name, derived from the flower Iris but with a 'Z' is Proton's latest foray into the compact hatchback market. Prior to this we had the Savvy and before that, we were served the Tiara. Both the Savvy and Tiara were hard hit with criticism and in my opinion, were less than average creations. I wouldn't have bought them too. So is the Proton Iriz a compact hatch that any of us would want to buy or let alone drive? Well, I had a go in the Proton Iriz 1.3 Executive Manual and I think that it is better than any Savvy or Tiara out there. But is it better than its biggest competitor here in Malaysia? The Perodua Myvi?

To answer that question you'd have to start with the Proton Iriz 1.3 specs in direct comparison with a Perodua Myvi 1.3 (the 1.6 Iriz has the same dimensions if you are wondering but I am not touching on that variant here). The Proton Iriz  is longer at  3,905mm (3,690mm for the Myvi), wider at 1,720mm (Myvi: 1,665mm) and is 1,550mm tall (1,545 for Myvi). The Proton Iriz has a longer wheelbase at 2,555mm (Myvi 2,440mm.) The 1.3 litre Iriz's engine, a supposedly new VVT based engine has 95 PS and 120 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm, (Myvi 1.3 litre has about the same horses if you believe Perodua's statement that the Electric Power Steering brings 10hp back to the 86hp engine - 96hp  and 117Nm torque at 4,400 rpm). 

Trucking news: Volvo Trucks Drives Malaysia’s Progress with Launch of the All-new Volvo FM and FMX

Volvo Trucks Drives Malaysia’s Progress with Launch of the All-new Volvo FM and FMX

Launch event also marks a truck handover ceremony to 1st Malaysian customer to receive this new range – FELDA Transport

KUALA LUMPUR, 25 September 2014 – Volvo Trucks Malaysia today proudly unveils its latest cutting-edge truck range to the Malaysian market – the all new Volvo FM and Volvo FMX. Launched in conjunction with the ASEAN Logistics and Transport Show 2014, the new trucks are poised to become the future generation of haulers set to contribute to the nation’s growing economy.

(L to R - His Excellency Mr. Bengt Carlsson, Ambassador of Sweden to Malaysia; Mr. Mats Nilsson, MD of Volvo Trucks Malaysia and Mr. Wan Mohd Zain  Mohd Ismail, CEO FELDA Transport with the Volvo FM)

“Malaysia as a key Asian market is seeing exponential growth in construction, transportation and logistics sector and we are certain that our new truck range addresses the demand for total transportation solutions. The introduction of our new truck range goes to show that we are committed to our customers and we are here to stay, grow and contribute,” said Mats Nilsson, Managing Director of Volvo Malaysia.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

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'.
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