There’s been far too much new metal and expensive on PetrolBlog in recent weeks, so to even things up, here are some words on what was once Britain’s cheapest new car – the Perodua Kelisa. Its a car that’s much maligned and seems to take a constant battering from petrolheads, but have a read of David Bicker’s affectionate and lighthearted review and see if it changes your mind.
The Perodua Kelisa. It’s what happens when Bacofoil and a Moulinex blender are left alone and unchaperoned. St Jeremy of the Clarkson, (some say he’s an arrogant man with all the charm of a yeast infection), once purchased one of these little gems and set about it with a sledgehammer, such was his antipathy to it. That, for me, is reason enough to purchase one today.
Were I a tax exile given to wearing jeans and a varied selection of linen jackets, the Kelisa wouldn’t perhaps be my first choice of vehicle, but it’s a smarter buy than the GT40, Jeremy.
The Kelisa is, in essence, an elderly Daihatsu Cuore with shoulder pads, powered by the 989cc engine found in the Sirion & Yaris. It feels robust and sounds sweet at reasonable revs. Fifth gear is particularly long-legged, the ratios well-spaced and it has a note on the overrun which is exquisite. It is not festooned with gadgets, which is a freedom in itself, nor does it have 30 square feet of charcoal dashboard with A-pillars capable of hiding HGVs. Both front corners of the vehicle are visible, which is a rarity these days. There’s no guessing involved, you can see what’s around you and indeed, what isn’t.
The dash is simple, well lit and functional and the seats are supportive. After a journey, you don’t end up walking like Groucho Marx. If you have a large family, or ego, this isn’t the car for you.
I cannot pretend that it is a pretty machine, it is homely at best. If anything, it looks similar to the Nissan Micra of the mid ’90s that’s been through a boil wash. The facelift in 2004 gave it a hint of spaniel pup, found with its nose in a tin of biscuits, but it’s not in the Ssangyong Musso league of hideous. The comprehensive owners manual appears to have been written by Yoda. (Find the air filter you will…)
On the road it is a hoot. It passes the pint of milk test every time. Behind the wheel it’s not dissimilar to the MK1 Mini, but perhaps not quite as flat and tenacious in the corners. It also has a touch more understeer – if you wish to go around corners, then it is necessary to insist. There is a degree of body roll too, but it stays within ‘fun’ and never gets to ‘frightening’. (Having owned a 2CV in the past, I don’t feel capable of making a sound judgement on that one, to be fair). Unlike the Mini, it can pass through deep surface water without stopping 50yds further on, and in similar circumstances doesn’t turn the cabin into an instant sauna when water touches the heat exchangers, an interesting habit of the 2CV.
Having spent the previous 16 years driving smooth, plodding diesel motors it took a while to acclimatise to the dinky petrol engine with 55bhp on offer. But it has won me over with its snub-nosed, wheel at each corner charms.
Like the diesels, I’m a bit of a plodder, but the Kelisa is the sort of motor that could lead middle aged men like myself astray – it is fun if driven with a hint of purpose. Do so though, and the fuel economy will plunge to 52mpg. Listen for the ‘no-fuel-going-to-the-engine’ overrun, then 60 mpg is yours. All with the 18p gallon saving in respect of diesel, and cheaper road tax too.
Perhaps the single obstacle preventing many people buying such cars is the fear of scorn heaped upon them by neighbours. On balance, wiser neighbours are a better option. Thinking about it, no, these cars are terrible. Don’t buy one. Leave them all to fester at the Bangernomics end of the market. In that way another impoverished soul, like myself, will be able to buy an 04 plate Kelisa with 12k on the clock, and a year’s ticket, all for £850.