Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Vauxhall Viva....or the Perodua Viva ?

Many, many moons ago I had just learnt how to take a dump in my little potty instead of taking a dump in my diapers. It was a small step for a toddler and a relief to my mum as she didn't have to wash diapers anymore. I had also learnt that Malaysian Television had only 2 channels in black and white and I managed to survive these dark ages with barely a scratch. This was sometime in the mid 1970s and my father had just taken delivery of a new car named the Viva. Now this Viva was made by Vauxhall and was General Motors’ small family sized sedan that supposedly competed with the Fiat 124, Ford Escort and other European small family sedans. It was a dull looking sedan. If you were six years old and drew a car, you’d draw this kind of car, a typical three box shape with four wheels sticking out of it. (see pic)

Now the thing is the word ‘Viva’ basically means “Long Live” or “Hooray!” and this car had nothing to be praised at all. It was a crap car with crap build quality and handling. I remember my father telling me that he ended up with tons of cooling problems as well as some electrical problems also. It was also a car that my father used for the shortest period of time and not worth mentioning at all. The fact is, I believe that one of the reasons that my father chose a Vauxhall Viva was that I happened to come along into his life by being born, and he needed a ‘decent’ family car (This was after he owned an MGB GT which he sold off due to the reason stated above and another major incident involving that car). In those days, most respectable Government servants wouldn’t be caught dead in anything Japanese. That means something British or Italian, something that wasn’t named Sunny or Cedric or something that wasn’t made out of Milo tin. However, this meant suffering rust, electrical and cooling problems. Build quality wasn’t so much of an issue as buying British or Italian meant you have very little of it and not much difference from the Japanese cars of the same era. German cars were pricey then and only senior officers tended to buy them. Actually, there was nothing much to shout ‘Viva’ during those days in buying a normal family sedan in Malaysia. Basically the Vauxhall Viva was a dull and problematic car to own throughout the known universe. I doubt that any Vauxhall owner would scream “hooray!” after owning this car for a few months. Needless to say, the next car my dad bought was a second hand Mini Minor 850 which didn’t give him or my mum any major problems until he bought another car sometime later.

Notice that after the 1970s and in the 1980s GM basically had no market presence in Malaysia worth mentioning (other than Suzuki which it owns a major portion of shares). In the 1990s, it tried again with the Opel brand, and that too faltered. Hooray for us car purchasers, as Opels/ Vauxhalls in the 1990s were dull looking cars. Even the Lotus Carlton didn’t make me wet my pants. It was too Q car for my liking.

Back to the Viva, the Perodua Viva; instead of the original Viva from the days of terrible British engineering. This is the replacement for the Kelisa, which was first launched in 2000 and also the Kancil, which was first launched when Perodua was still in its diapers, sometime in 1995. From what I gather, it is a car with pretty good build quality and has a lot of space compared to its predecessor, the Kancil. In fact, the materials used by Perodua is so much better than even a Proton Gen-2 or Satria Neo which are cars from a grade higher than the market segment which the Viva is targeting. This is a feel good factor and is actually what Malaysians want; space and quality at a very reasonable price. I have to repeat that Malaysians do not really care if their car has handling like Lotus but just want to load things that they buy from Ikea into their cars. This is the reason cars like this new Viva and the earlier Perodua Myvi will succeed in selling by the thousands. I have sat in the 1000cc Viva full option and the seating position is nice (no silly Satria Neo screwups), the steering is light, the switches and controls very tactile and the quality in fittings is purely Daihatsu. These are good things. Looking at the size, it is as long as a Myvi as even with me pulling the seat to my desired driving position, there is still lots of space for the rear passenger. The boot also is an improvement over both the Kelisa and the Kancil although not by much but the seats fold down to make lots of space. Imagine a Myvi that is slightly lower and 10cm narrower and you have the Viva. I think, it may not be as nippy as the Kelisa due to its size, but at this price, space and comfort takes priority. And if you’re into tuning cars, you’d know that you can make any car handle pretty decent if you have some money to throw into the car.

On another note, I am looking forward to test driving the smallest Viva of them all, the 660cc manual. Why you might ask? The reason is pretty simple. It REVS TO 8,000 RPM! The 850cc and 1000cc models may have more power but they only redline at 6500rpm. This is pretty normal and what we motorheads would like is to occasionally drive a car with redlines closer to motorcycle redlines. Imagine driving this silly small car all the way to 8,000rpm and trying to keep the revs high, maintain momentum and just trying a windy mountain road in a small compact car. It would be like having a diluted experience of driving a small Italian Fiat 500, 600 Abarth through a mountain road. Imagine a mini Viva race series limited to the 660cc Vivas. It would be like a dozen angry mosquitos tearing down Sepang. It would be a race series that would be cheap to run yet pretty technical. It would be glorious, just Glorious. This Viva could be really live up to its namesake this time around.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Expensive Gym Memberships, Mazda 3, NAZA Sportivo version cars and memories of driving a van

How about enrolling yourself in a gym like Fitness First or Celebrity Fitness? It costs a bomb in fees every month and you get to rub shoulders with other pretentious people who usually go to these places to be seen instead of really working out. The people waste money on enrolling themselves in expensive gyms yet only use the shower, changing room and the juice bar instead of pummelling their bodies on the funny exercise contraptions. Some of them even live in apartments with gym facilities yet choose to be seen with other sweaty people. They already pay for the facilities in their apartment, yet pay more for facilities elsewhere. Some of them are not fat, but choose these places as excuses to meet people or to feel good about themselves but flaunting their skinny bodies to those who just enrolled and are really fat. Imagine how the fat newbie feels? I on the other hand refuse to pay any sort of money to keep in shape. Maybe that is the reason I am a fat pudgy man. But I do know the real secret of losing weight; and the secret is don’t eat anything for weeks, or months. For example, look at the starving Ethiopians, with skin and bones and flesh all wasting away. Their secret to looking absolutely fabulously thin is basically not eating and has nothing to do with going to any gym. So if you intend to be slim, just do what the Ethiopians do, don’t eat. However, I think I prefer bread, eggs and cheese instead of swallowing sand.

Joining an upscale gym isn’t the way to be healthy or not fat. It is just a way of showing other people that you have a healthy lifestyle or telling people that you can afford paying ridiculous amounts of money for a lifestyle that one does not actually practice. It’s like those people who are smart, or in this case stupid enough to buy huge 4x4 vehicles yet never spend a minute offroad. These are those who will buy Ford Rangers and never carry anything with it. These are those people who buy Toyota Hilux and bolt on 22inch rims and tires and make the nice purpose built 4x4 have no actual purpose at all except look ‘bling’. Why buy a 4x4 like a CRV when it can never go off road or even go on picnics, mountain biking, white water rafting or hiking like what the advertisements on these kinds of vehicles suggest? What is the point of buying something if you do not use it for the purpose it was built for? You might as well as buy a Ferrari 430 and let your 89 year old grandmother drive it for her weekly trip to play Bingo somewhere. It’s like asking Jean Luc Picard to use the U.S.S. Enterprise’s phasers to carve a block of wood into a cube instead of using them to knock out a Borg cube that’s attacking Earth. Then again, resistance is futile, people who think they’re all about a certain lifestyle would be conned over and over again into buying large 4x4s and use it to drive into their reserved parking lots somewhere in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

A practical car for Kuala Lumpur would be something comfortable yet reasonably sized for city traffic. So the other day I went to the NAZA showroom to help a few family members pick up a reasonably priced car for them. I chose to go to NAZA because they were Mazda dealers and had the Mazda 3 (pic on the right) on display. Currently, the Mazda 3 1.6 auto Sedan is on offer at RM99,500.00 or thereabouts. At this price, it is the best car under RM100,000.00 to own in Malaysia based on the criteria of price, looks, quality and rarity.

For the price of slightly lower than RM100k, you get a very sporty looking car, great Japanese build quality and technology as well as the rarity factor due to all straightlaced, normal individuals conforming and buying Toyota Vios’, Honda Civics and Citys, various Kia vehicles and those crude Toyota Avanzas. The Mazda has a great driving position of which everything falls into easy reach and place; with tactile knobs and turn signals. The tactile feel of the knobs and switches was actually better than the tactile feel of its bigger brother the Mazda 6, which is actually one reason why anyone should buy a newer designed car compared to a bigger, but slightly older car. It feels so much sportier than its competitor, the Honda Civic. It is of course not as huge as the Civic but I think the Civic is too huge to be actually called a Civic. It should be called the Accord. Compared to the 4th Generation Civic, it’s a Honda Legend. The size is actually why owning a Mazda 3 is actually more viable than owning a Civic in Kuala Lumpur. All the Mazda 3 needs in its standard 1.6 litre form are larger rims. The stock 15in are too small for the car and it looks dumpy. It needs rims from the 2.0, which are 17inches in diameter. The materials used in the Mazda 3 are of better quality than your average Korean or Malaysian car. In fact, I’d rate it close to its European cousin, the Ford Focus in build quality as well as its handling. But being Japanese, I would suppose the cost of maintaining it won’t be as high as owning a Ford. I also have to mention that the Mazda is a CBU or fully imported unit from Japan as a plus point. This is currently my favourite small sized family saloon (circa 1.6-2.0 category) made available locally because of the points stated above.

While we are on NAZA, do not buy any NAZA Sportivo version of the 206 Bestari. Its carbon fibre look panelling interior looks like it came from the world’s worst plastic manufacturer. The carbon look plastic feels cheap and its carbon weave pattern is absolutely horrendous. Even a person with a spray can would be able to paint carbon weave better than the plastic manufacturer who did that panelling. Even a baboon at the local zoo if given a paintbrush and the colour black and grey will be able to get the carbon look right. This was so wrong I cringed. The 206 is French, meaning that while the carbon panelling was like duck food, the plastics in the whole car also felt like brittle plastic containers sold in the 1970s. the 206 looks good, but after the interior of the Mazda 3, its doorhandles felt like wafer biscuits instead of sturdy plastics. It felt like the cream cracker that you hold in your hand and if you use a bit more force would flake and crumble in your hands.

Do not also buy the NAZA Sutera Sportivo just because it has the same el-cheapo plastic panelling and MOMO equipped steering, gear knob and pedals. The driving position is awful. It you were ever the owner or either a Catering firm or a Nasi Ayam stall owner who once owned a Nissan C20 Vanette and wanted to relive the ‘good ol’ days’ where you had toiled hard, please go ahead and buy this car. It has a driving position which is exactly like a Van, a commercial one at that. That says it all.

So if you want to buy a car and feel good about it and be different from the other regular people. Buy a Mazda 3, don’t waste your money on stupid 4X4s or expensive gyms.