Craig Cheetham buys a Perodua Kelisa and Richard Gunn has trouble with a MINI R50 auto.
On a business trip last year, I had cause to hire a car 500 miles away from home. The car in question was a Dacia Sandero, currently the cheapest car on sale in the UK, and you know what? It was really good. A bit basic and kitted out with plastics that you’d be more likely to find in a kindergarten, but overall it was quite a decent steer. If you insist on owning a new car, you could do a lot worse.
It got me thinking about the demise of the traditional budget car. Back when I was a nipper, those on a frugal budget never had it this good. There were rearengined Skodas, boxy old Ladas and the delightful Yugo, all of which were very much of a compromise. Yes, they came with the back-up of a manufacturer warranty and were dirt cheap, but boy did you know about it when you drove them.
Then, in the 1990s, Malaysia got in on the act. The Mitsubishi-based Proton was the state’s national car and it really wasn’t a bad one. A little old-fashioned, perhaps, but generally quite decent to drive and extremely comfortable.
Later on, Malaysia gave us Perodua, and the Daihatsu-based Nippa, which was the Yugo concept revisited. It was the cheapest car on sale in the UK. Nippa gave way to Kelisa, which was based on the Daihatsu Cuore. So after driving the Dacia, I was far too intrigued to overlook a Kelisa that had turned up at my local breaker’s yard, who I think have me on speed-dial. It had seven months’ MOT and was only disposed of because the owner’s grand-daughter refused to be picked up from school in it.
I’d have told her to walk, but that’s beside the point. Plus, it isn’t the best example – a mixture of four shades of
silver and grey primer. But, it was also just what I needed – a work contract that involved multiple train journeys in and out of London meant I wanted a car I could park near the railway station, in a questionable part of town, without having to worry about it, and the Kelisa fitted the bill.
I handed over £200 and decided to see just how far the UK’S cheapest car has come in the past 15 years. Without wanting to discredit the Dacia, the answer is ‘not as far as I thought’.
Thing is, the Kelisa – £4995 in 2004 – is actually a fun little thing, powered by a revvy 900cc three-cylinder engine with a slick gearshift, it’s one of those cars that responds well to what Basil Fawlty would have called a damned good thrashing. I genuinely haven’t smiled as much since I last had my Austin Mini on the road, which is about the same time as the Kelisa was new. It’s such a willing little thing, and it loves to be chucked around.
I hate to say it, but the perky Perodua has wormed its way under my skin.
Having run the MOT down to a matter of days, I chucked the Kelisa in for a test to see if it really was disposable or if it had a fighting chance of going another year.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the only thing that troubled the MOT tester was a split rubber in the passenger-side windscreen wiper, plus a few advisories for assorted bushes and balljoint dust covers, which will be simple enough to put right with an afternoon on the ramp. The floor and sills are actually surprisingly good – with the exception of a small plated repair hidden beneath that patch of primer, it’s as solid as they come.
So, long live the Kelisa – it’s off to live with a new owner soon, though, because I’ve tracked down a saveable example of its predecessor, the original Perodua Nippa. And yes, I am a glutton for punishment.
Craig is delighted with the savings offered by the cut-price Kelisa.
Daihatsu triple is an absolute hoot, revvy and with a great soundtrack.
Cabin is bland but functional.
Silver rattle can will improve off-side sill.
High-quality previous bumper repair.