Inter-class warfare

D-segment values for C-sedan price. D-sedan for C-segment price. Who's right?

perdana_civic_01Did you know Honda just launched two cars five days apart? The all-new Honda Civic was finally given its official coming out party on 9th June. Priced from RM113,800 to RM135,800, Honda Malaysia claims ‘D-segment values at a C-segment price’ for the Civic.

On 14th June, Proton launched the much anticipated all-new Perdana. It’s a proper D-segment car but since it’s priced (quite coincidentally no doubt) from RM113,800 to RM138,800, it’s in the same ballpark as Japanese and European C-segment cars.

Wait, didn’t we start this story saying Honda launched two cars? Well, they did. In a way. As you’ll no doubt know, the Proton Perdana is based on the eighth-generation Honda Accord, so technically it’s a Honda with a different set of clothes.

So two very different cars but due to the closeness in price, it’s not too far-fetched to say these two ‘Hondas’ could compete against each other. Besides, one offers D-segment values for C-segment money while the other is a D-segment car for C-segment money. Which company got its product planning right? Read on…

The best Civic ever

Before it arrived, pictures of the 10th-generation Honda Civic probably received more views than Kim Kardashian’s bottom, so expectations are sky high. If it proves to be anything less than the ‘Best Civic Ever’ Honda claims it is, we’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Longer, wider and lower the 10th-gen Civic is a far better looking car than its predecessor
Handsome new visage dates the old car instantly; full LED headlights are specific to the 1.5T Premium only

As promised, it’s bigger than before. Length is up by 119mm, it’s 44mm wider and sits of a wheelbase that’s 30mm longer at 2700mm (the same as the eighth-generation FD Civic). Combined with a 19mm lower roof, it therefore looks much sportier than before. This isn’t the biggest C-segment sedan though as both the Toyota Corolla Altis and Nissan Sylphy have the similar wheelbase measurements, while the all-new Peugeot 408 sedan, launched a week earlier, is even longer and wider.

Then again, Honda says its new baby has D-segment values instead of being an actual D-segment car. We’re not quite sure what that means but perhaps the spec sheet will shed some light.

Honda don’t believe in engine covers, which is why their VTEC turbo looks like a nest of snakes

There are two engines to choose from. The base model uses a carried over 1.8-litre i-VTEC while the two higher-spec variants are powered by Honda’s new 1.5-litre VTEC Turbo. Developing 173hp and 220Nm from 1,700rpm to 5,500rpm, it should deliver a welcome boost in performance, though we’d hold off on any junior GT/GTI claims. Both engines are mated to a CVT gearbox, which are different for each engine to account for the different peak torque amounts.

Interior 1_edited
Smart interior has a 7-inch touch screen, multi-information displays and is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready
Six airbags are standard on all versions of the Civic

Equipment levels are generous, and not just on the 1.5T Premium. For instance, safety kit like six airbags, VSA, ABS with EBD and BA, hill start assist and auto brake hold are standard across the board. Remote engine start, walk-away auto lock and a smart entry key are also standard so you’re not really losing out on the toy count by opting for the least expensive variant. Sure, only the top-spec Civic gets niceties like full LED headlights, navigation, leather and dual temperature controls, but there’s nothing you can’t do without.

Honda hopes this will be the only view rivals have of the new Civic as it zooms past them

Having not driven it yet, we can’t comment on ride comfort or handling provided by the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension or how lively or lifeless the steering feels, but it should be a step up over its predecessor. It’s also much better value because Honda hasn’t raised prices despite all the new tech. Well done to them.

There’s a daunting sales target to hit though. The aim is for 1,200 cars to find owners each month, which is more than three times what the old achieved in its final full year of sales. Where will these new buyers come from?

Proton’s last chance saloon

At the beginning of the year, Proton’s management said they were aiming to sell 150,000 cars assisted by four new models in 2016 after they barely sold 100,000 cars the previous year. At the all-new Perdana launch, the all-new management (75 days in to the job) claimed they would have met those bullish targets if they kept to their launch schedule this year.

Right. It’s already June, Proton are behind Honda in overall sales volume and the Perdana is their first launch of the year. Even if everything went according to plan, they would not sell 50 per cent more cars than 2015.

P4-90B Variant for Media_Camera_Camera 15_edited
Proton’s designers have done a good job of hiding the Accord origins of the car, not that you can tell from this unflattering studio shot
Perdana_Side_Red_Bodykit - resize_edited
Only the front doors , A-pillars and windscreen have been carried over; rising waist line and low roof add drama

Quite how the Perdana was going to help volume numbers though is a mystery because with six months to go, Proton only expects to sell 3,000 Perdanas; two per cent of their stated 2016 target. Sounds pathetic right? But apparently this isn’t due to demand. Rather it’s a supply issue.

Step forward Honda. One gets the impression the Japanese were arm-twisted to do a deal (Proton parent DRB-Hicom is the second largest shareholder of Honda Malaysia) because the conditions imposed by Honda on the Perdana seem draconian. Proton aren’t allowed to touch the engine, suspension, brakes, steering and gearbox. They also can’t add electronic stability control to the 2.0L model, and to top it all off, Honda can only supply about 7,000 cars annually, or about three months’ worth of Toyota Hilux sold. Maybe they should have also insisted on power windows malfunctioning after 10,000km while they were at it.

Honda’s 2.4-litre i-VTEC is the top engine choice; Proton’s own 2.0-litre Turbo should arrive late 2017

Things are set to change by the end of 2017 when Proton’s own 2.0L Turbo engine will find its way under the bonnet, but that’s still some way in the future.

Despite the limitations, this is a unique looking car. Critics opine the headlights look like a Renault Clio’s and the bum is like an Opel Insignia, but for a traditional three-box D-segment saloon, it’s sleek and contemporary. There’s a nice flowing roofline, the window graphics are elegant and the standard 17-inch wheels add a nice touch, though there are a few styling faux pas. For instance, the rear chrome bar looks like an add-on while the rear bumper insert, complete with fake body-coloured exhaust tips, is just hideous. Whoever approved it needs their eyes checked.

The headlights carry over some Proton DNA and feature DRLs; 2.0L model doesn’t get the Xenons of the 2.4L
Perdana_Rear_Red_Bodykit - resize_edited
The most awkward view of the Perdana; chrome strip looks heavy handed while the fake exhaust tips are just nasty

Despite the modest volumes, there are two completely different interior colour schemes. The cheaper 2.0L uses black while the more expensive 2.4L has a ‘ten-years too late’ beige and gray interior complete with gaudy fake wood trim. Why Proton would do this is a mystery because it adds unnecessary complexity and costs.

Quarter Cockpit_edited
The year 2000 called and asked for its interior colour combo back; fake wood cheapens the ambience
The interior is very similar to the Accord; lack of steering wheel emblem is an odd omission

With four airbags, auto headlamps, front and rear parking sensors and a reverse camera standard for both cars, equipment levels are up to par. You’ll need to opt for the 2.4L if you want navigation, full-leather seats, ESC and shift paddles, but just like the Honda Civic the base model isn’t an empty vessel.

Again, without having driven it, we can’t comment on performance, handling and ride comfort but with all the mechanical parts being carried over it should feel exactly the same as the Honda Accord it’s based on. Is that enough to tempt 7,000 people a year?

Who’ll be successful?

Despite the D-segment values spin for their new baby, Honda knows D-segment customers are a very different animal. Nobody will trade-in their Accord for a Civic as it’s a class downgrade despite the new technology involved, so buyers will come from other C-segment rivals and B-segment (City, Vios, Mazda 2) upgraders. Is that enough for Honda to hit their sales target? It might be and with Thailand having sold 8,000 cars in less than three months, the signs are good for similar success in Malaysia.

As for the Perdana, the decision to buy depends on the simplest of questions. Will you buy a Proton? If the answer is no, then it doesn’t matter how good the car is because the brand is too much of a stumbling block. Those who say yes however will end up with the best value D-segment car currently available and while it’s a shame the car couldn’t be differentiated more from the one it’s based on (e.g. suspension calibration), it also means mechanical reliability shouldn’t be an issue.

As for being potential rivals, that’s highly unlikely. Those considering a Honda are not likely to look at a Proton as a potential alternative, which is a pity because based on their prices and spec levels, it seems the latter is the better value proposition. Maybe we need to do a head-to-head in the near future just to be sure.