Pro­ton’s bunch of fives

The Malaysian battler gives its best-value shot

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - TIM VAUGHAN CARSGUIDE DEPUTY ED­I­TOR

IS five a lucky num­ber for Malaysians? Mo­tor­ing mi­nor Pro­ton, em­bark­ing on a plan to build 500,000 cars an­nu­ally by 2018, aims to lure Aus­tralian buy­ers with a unique five-year free-ser­vic­ing deal.

To en­hance the value mes­sage, there’s a five-year war­ranty and road­side as­sis­tance cov­er­age on the brand’s three fresh mod­els, the Ex­ora peo­ple-mover, top-spec Preve sedan and Suprima S warmish hatch, the lat­ter two bear­ing five safety stars. All share a 1.6-litre turbo petrol four.

“We’re adding a lot of fea­tures never seen in a Pro­ton be­fore,” says sales and mar­ket­ing boss Billy Fal­coner.

The Ex­ora is claimed to be Aus­tralia’s most af­ford­able peo­ple-mover and even in base GX spec it is full of fruit, in­clud­ing roof-mounted DVD player for aft pas­sen­gers. Its four airbags earn four safety stars but the lack of head­rests on the third-row pair is at odds with the com­pany spiel.

It also claims to have seat­ing suit­able for seven adults.

Snow White, your ride is ready.

It can jus­ti­fi­ably claim good all-round vi­sion (the now-oblig­a­tory quar­ter win­dows be­hind the wind­screen pil­lar not­with­stand­ing) and the win­dows for the third row are pos­i­tively panoramic com­pared with the likes of a Cap­tiva.

Un­der way, the turbo makes its pres­ence felt with a thrum rather than a whine — Pro­ton main­tains the forced in­duc­tion is a means of boost­ing econ­omy rather than per­for­mance. The whine in­stead comes from the CVT un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, though on a free­way and outer-ur­ban loop it was hap­pily flare-free.

Pro­ton makes much of its own­er­ship of Lo­tus, whose engi­neers fet­tle the sus­pen­sions. The Ex­ora’s ride is geared to com­fort, its han­dling to neu­tral and its steer­ing to ( just) com­mu­nica­tive.

The in­te­rior is bland if varied: cloth trim in the GX; leather in the GXR; and dash pad (it’s quite a dis­tance from the wheel to the base of the wind­screen), door caps and lin­ing in a mix of plas­tics and fake tim­ber. The ex­te­rior styling makes it ap­pear more com­pact than its 4.6 me­tres and it rolls on stylish 16-inch al­loys.

Hailed as Pro­ton’s most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced four­door, the Preve GXR re­sponds eas­ily to pad­dle-shift­ing its seven-speed CVT, the Bel­gian­built ProTronic.

It bris­tles with the safety and com­fort gear that’s part of the Pro­ton value equa­tion but dy­nam­i­cally the four-

door does noth­ing to en­dan­ger or ex­cite.

The lit­tle turbo punts it along with less au­ral ac­com­pa­ni­ment than in the big­box peo­ple-mover but over­all it ap­pears sup­pres­sion of noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness re­mains a de­vel­op­ing skill.

Launched only months ago in Malaysia, the Suprima S shares the Preve plat­form and its hatch styling makes it just a handspan shorter than the sedan. It’s not a bad thing to look at, es­pe­cially in GXR guise with 17-inch­ers to fill the arches and em­pha­sise the hipline on the doors shared with the sedan.

It car­ries yet more in­fo­tain­ment kit than the Preve. On our brief test, Carsguide left it to savvier types to use their phones to get WiFi to down­load the apps to turn the Smart In­for­ma­tion Dis­play into … yet another mo­bile de­vice.

The hatch car­ries a “Lo­tus Ride and Han­dling” badge, not seen since Pro­ton’s Sa­tria GTI circa 2004. Whether due to the roads, windy weather, tyres or ob­tuse driver, this bless­ing was dif­fi­cult to dis­cern.

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