Whether crossover or multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), they are essentially built to have big interior spaces to carry as many people as they can within the limits of their compact dimensions.
Space and comfort levels between the three test vehicles are different. Performance, visual aesthetics and styling vary as well.
Such differences are to be expected in the spirit of competition and the relentless pressure on car makers to offer a set of desirable features in their products at a pricing that’s attractive to the target consumers. All test units were the top-of-the-line versions.
The Toyota Sienta, Honda BR-V and Proton Ertiga are recent entries into Malaysia, having being launched here either last year or early this year. How do they stack up against each other?
Well, we are here to find out, aren’t we? Let’s dig in.
This Honda model is the newest of the trio, being the first car to be launched locally in 2017 when it debuted in early January.
We have had a few flings with it. First in Japan, then in Thailand followed by a local media drive, and now in the company of two rivals.
Design-wise, the BR-V is a chimera of sorts, combining an SUV styling with the spaciousness of an MPV.
Viewed sideways, the BR-V gives a sense that it is a derivative of something smaller like you would know the Perodua Bezza or the Kia Rio sedan are. Indeed the BR-V is.
It is adapted from the Brio hatch platform that has spun off the Brio sedan, the Mobilio MPV, and now this. All of which signals that there are lots of parts sharing to keep a lid on production costs.
Look at the steering wheel plus the binnacle, and the avid Honda fans will know where they have seen them before.
Even the engine is the same as that in the City with output and torque figures virtually identical.
Derived from a small car platform, some trade-off in aesthetics exists. On the whole, the BR-V looks presentable but there’s also less fluidity in its lines as the Honda team had to stretch the body to the max to fit three rows and seven people. And it does the job competently enough.
Giving it that SUV look are roof rails, a higher ground clearance, plastic cladding around wheel arches and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Honda Malaysia has crafted a winning package in the BR-V, which is the reason why it’s selling so well.
The SUV appearance holds the biggest appeal. Practicality is spoken for with a big boot, a versatile seating arrangement and 11 cup holders to keep all the, errr, cups, loose change and what-nots you could think of.
Other standard kit are 16-inch tyres, rear air-cond vents, four-speaker stereo system with hands-free features, electric power steering, halogen projector headlights and LED daytime running lights.
Two airbags, vehicle stability assist (VSA), hill start assist (HSA), anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD) and ISOFIX points for child car seats add up to a proper set of safety gear in the RM84K-RM90K price band the BR-V occupies.
This is one of the safest vehicles around, and Asean NCAP says so, giving it a 5-star safety rating.
Cabin space all round for most adults is good though they will find third row to be snug.
On the move, the engine is up to the task of hauling the entire machinery at a brisk pace. There’s sufficient pickup when overtaking traffic.
It didn’t feel underpowered, and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) covers a wider torque range to allow sustained uphill drives.
The suspension helps cushion passengers from the bumps and ruts on roads, making the cabin a calm and comfortable space when travelling at highway speeds. However, body roll is noticeable when taking corners.
Steering is light for easy manoeuvrability especially in jams.
Out of the three vehicles tested here, the Proton Ertiga out-manouvers the competition with its price at RM64,800 for the Executive Plus variant which is featured here.
You can get the Ertiga at an even lower price with the Executive variant with a choice of five-speed manual transmission at RM58,800 and a four-speed automatic at RM61,800.
However, the Ertiga is only a six-seater compared to the other two MPVs but it’s not a deal breaker as it has a lot going for it other than its affordability.
For one, the Ertiga is very comfortable, thanks to its pliant suspension and thick seat padding. The cabin is also well insulated and keeps external noise at bay. It also offers a lot of head room for the driver and the occupants. And if you need to haul stuff around, it offers a lot of space too.
The second row seats fold 60:40 while the third row at 50:50 and with both rows folded you get a massive 735 litres of storage space.
The Ertiga is powered by the 1.4-litre Suzuki K14B engine with variable valve timing (VVT) that delivers 91hp at 6,000rpm and 130Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. If you’re wondering why it has a Suzuki engine it’s because it is a rebadge of the Suzuki Ertiga which was designed and built for the Indonesian market.
The figures shown above may lead you to conclude that the Ertiga is underpowered. But such is not the case. The Ertiga’s powertrain has a smooth and capable delivery.
The transmission, albeit a four-speed automatic, feels more responsive and engaging than a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The Ertiga has a relatively high clearance of 185mm which gives the driver a slightly perched view and the car is really fun to drive as it handles really well.
You would easily forget you are driving an MPV because of its zippy character and steering the Ertiga makes you feel like you’re inside a compact car but with a lot more room.
For a car at this price, we were pleasantly surprised with the very low levels of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
Inside, the Ertiga is covered in beige from the upholstery to the dashboard making for a bright interior and more importantly, you will notice the quality of the fit and finish.
Your passengers will enjoy the ceiling mounted air-conditioner blower that is good enough to cool the entire vehicle.
The Ertiga is also well equipped with safety features such as two front airbags, reverse sensors, anti-lock braking system with electronic brakeforce distribution, ISOFIX childseat points and top tethers on second row seats.
The Executive Plus variant gets additional equipment such as turn indicators on wing mirrors, front fog lamp trimming, driver seat height adjuster, audio system controls on steering wheel and metallic trimming for interior door release latches.
The Ertiga is an affordable, comfortable and a capable people-carrier with enough frills to be enjoyed.
While compact multi-purpose vehicles usually come with boxy-styling to maximise interior space, Toyota seemed to have worked around the typical exterior looks by injecting curves and bold character in the Sienta.
The fun and youthful theme for this Indonesia-manufactured vehicle continues inside with a curvaceous dashboard, a free standing centre display and dual tone trimmings of black and brown.
Our top-of-the-line V grade variant priced at RM99,900 was equipped with Optitron meters and a 4.2-inch multi-information display which are not only easy to read even under bright sunlight but give an upmarket feel.
Based on a modified Vios platform, the seven-seater Sienta has a flat floor layout on the second row similar to that in the Vios. This flat floor area made walking easier as there is no centre hump to trip over.
In addition, it also allows the centre passenger to place his or her feet flat on the floor for a more comfortable seating position. The generous floor to ceiling height easily translates into a roomy interior for all three rows.
However, the third row seats are best recommended for children although legroom can be increased by sliding the second row forward.
Like the Proton Ertiga and Honda BR-V, the Sienta also gets a rear air-conditioner blower to ensure cool air gets everyone inside.
The Sienta is the only vehicle of the three with rear power sliding doors, which makes it much easier for second and third row passengers to enter and exit the vehicle since sliding doors provide a bigger opening area compared with swing out doors.
The sliding doors, which can be activated by the remote control fob, also allowed easy entry and exit in tight parking bays.
Powering the Sienta is a 1.5-litre Dual VVTi engine producing 107PS and 140Nm of torque mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a seven-speed Sport Sequential Shiftmatic mode. Its kerb weight of 1,350kg, the heaviest of the three vehicles, does blunt the Sienta’s acceleration from on standstill.
Stomp on the accelerator and the CVT will keep the engine revving just before the redline and upshifting the “gears” seamlessly.
However, once we have gotten the Sienta up and running, picking up speed is not too difficult. The electric power make steering easy and effortless although it does not provide much feedback.
Its combination of front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam suspension is tweaked for firm as it may be required to carry seven persons should the occasion arises.
Being a tall vehicle, the Sienta tends to roll more around fast corners compared with sedans and hatchbacks, so don’t drive the Sienta like it’s a sports car.
At night, the bi-LED headlamps offers a good spread of light which allows for safer driving. Being the most expensive of the three vehicles, the Sienta is also the most features-packed.
Aside from two front airbags, anti-lock braking system, vehicle stability control and hill-start assist, the Sienta also gets a driver knee airbag, front digital video recorder, satellite navigation and all-round disc brakes which the Ertiga and BR-V are not equipped with.
All three models provide value-for-money propositions depending on what you are looking for in a compact people carrier.
The Proton Ertiga Executive Plus with a price tag of RM64,800, might not have the styling and features that are as “mouth-watering” as the Honda BR-V or the Toyota Sienta’s, buyers can save up to RM35,000 by opting for the national brand.
What the Ertiga impresses us are its brisk acceleration, driving dynamics and handling even though its smaller 1.4-litre engine delivers 91hp (92PS), way below the BR-V’s 120PS and the Sienta’s 107PS.
Its four-speed automatic transmission surprises by delivering punchy acceleration to enable it to easily keep up with the BR-V, the most powerful vehicle of the three.
We could only suspect that the continuously variable transmission of the BR-V and Sienta was tuned for a more sedate and fuel saving driving experience.
If you are not bothered by the Ertiga’s plain-in-comparison appearance, this vehicle should please the not-so-fussy buyers with a small budget (Proton did say it is working on some facelifts).
Mind you, the Sienta and BR-V have seven seats, while the Ertiga has only six. But if you have more cash to splurge like RM92,800 for the BR-V and RM99,900 for Sienta, you will get vehicles which have not only bolder looks but also a long list of comfort and safety features.
Currently one of the most sought after cars in the Malaysian market, the BR-V has already made a deep impression as one of the cars to own.
The sports utility vehicle body style of the BR-V is certainly the key to its popularity while a modern interior with plenty of storage areas add to its overall appeal.
Like the Sienta, the BR-V also gets vehicle stability control, large centre touchscreen display with reverse camera, keyless entry with push start/stop button which are features that consumers want even in vehicles costing just below RM100,000.
While the BR-V is the clear favourite in this shootout, the Sienta, for which costs RM7,000 more, is a worthy consideration as it includes extra features such LED headlamps, driver knee airbag, all-round disc brakes, front digital video recorder, satellite navigation, two power rear sliding doors and security and solar film, among others. — HONG BOON HOW, GEORGE WONG and RIZAL JOHAN