Let's get the obvious out of the way. The Perodua Kelisa has zero street credibility. No, make that negative. Its name sounds terrible in the English language, and very few people will have heard of it, never mind have the ability to pronounce it correctly (Per-odd-you-a). It looks like an ugly copy of the previous generation Nissan Micra with skinny pressed steel wheels. Now that's out of the way, forget all your preconceptions and take the Kelisa for a test drive. I am convinced that after 10 minutes you will be mightily impressed.
For starters, rather than feeling like a snail tied to a lamppost, the Kelisa really shifts. Yes, I am being serious. The Daihatsu-sourced engine is only of 1.0-litre capacity, and has just 54 bhp, but its delivery is fantastic. There is a wide and flat torque curve and it feels much quicker than is claimed by Perodua. The low weight of the Kelisa has a large influence, but the little engine also pulls strongly to its 7000 rpm rev limiter (is that really necessary in this type of car?!). The little 3-pot engine has real vim and character by the bucket load too, sounding like the Smart Roadster (but without the wastegate flutter). It is barely believable that a few people in the office likened the sound to that of an early Porsche 911...
Once you are over the shock of actually enjoying how quick the Kelisa is, take a look around the cabin and you may be further surprised. Though lacking luxuries, the cockpit is well designed and practical. It is certainly as good as that in the Daewoo Matiz
, with perhaps less emphasis on cheeky design touches. The important things are present and correct: two airbags, comfortable seats, loads of cubbyholes and even room to rest your clutch foot. It may not have the list of standard features the CityRover
has, but it beats it hands down on quality and execution.
I would never have expected the Kelisa to be fun to drive. Perodua do surprisingly emphasise that it is in its brochures. Along with the engine is a 5-speed manual with perfectly matched ratios. The change is not quite as slick as in the Matiz, but it is still good. The brakes are full of feel (which is just as well as it has no ABS), and even the steering is not completely devoid of communication. It didn't feel unnatural to hustle this little mini-car along from roundabout to T-junction. The Kelisa really is a bit of a hoot.
In fact, the Perodua Kelisa reminds us of the current Nissan Micra
; it is competent and well designed; its damping is spot-on; it is light and easy to drive, but actually rather fun. The Kelisa also has bags of something missing from many new cars: character. That alone would never be enough to survive in the tightly fought super-mini class. It does after all compete with the likes of the new Fiat Panda. So, the Perodua is probably the least obvious choice, but you'd be a fool not to consider it.