Proton Preve / Suprima


Debut: 2012
Maker: Proton
Predecessor: Gen.2


 Published on 5 Feb 2014
All rights reserved. 


Founded in 1983 under the direction of government, Proton was supposed to be the pride of Malaysia. Initially it built rebadged Mitsubishis, then it acquired Lotus, established its own R&D capability and introduced its own vehicles since 2001. Unfortunately, the more local content the lower its sales became. Back in 2002, it sold 215,000 cars and accounted for 50 percent market share of Malaysia. Those numbers dropped to 141,000 units and 22 percent in 2012. Now it lags a long way behind Perodua (30%) and is being chased by Toyota (17%) in its home market. Overseas business was equally disappointing. Having withdrawn from the UK market many years ago, its presence is limited to a few ASEAN countries and Australia with a total sales volume of only 20,000 cars. The root causes of its poor performance? Poor management, no doubt. If you read its annual reports (I do this every year to gather its sales statistics), you will find this company talks about only the good news and hides all the bad numbers. Lack of transparency means lack of accountability. Last year, it talked about some "exciting" new plans again, such as aiming to regain the number one status in 2 years and raising its worldwide sales to 500,000 units in 5 years. Don't take it too seriously. I think it would forget these bold claims by the time the 2015 and 2018 annual reports are released, just as if they had never existed!

The Preve and its hatchback version Surprima S are supposed to be the main factors to drive its sales growth. They are the successors to Persona and Gen.2 respectively (by the way, Persona is the saloon version of Gen.2 and it will remain in sales in short term as a low budget alternative). Naturally, they continue to fall in the C-segment where competitors include VW Golf, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Hyundai i30, Kia K3 / Forte / Cerato etc. How can the Malaysian car lure buyers from the strong competitors?



At first glance, it looks quite promising in many ways. The styling was penned by Italdesign Giugiaro. It is a modern design, if not especially memorable by the standard of Italdesign. The front end looks neat enough and the overall shape is inoffensive. It is not as stylish as the latest Korea cars by Peter Schreyer, but it doesn't feel cheap either. The only strange thing is the large piece of black plastic located at the trailing edge of rear side window. It seems to be designed for the fitment of a "hidden" door handle (like Alfa Romeo Giulietta), but probably deleted in favour of a cheaper, conventional arrangement. Measuring 4543 mm in length and 2650 mm in wheelbase, the Preve is on the larger side of the segment. In addition, its roof is set very tall at 1524 mm, no wonder the cabin offers generous space for both rows. Rear head and legroom are remarkable. Ditto the trunk space of 508 liters. Hatchback offers less, but it has a fold-flat split rear seat to expand luggage space.

Unfortunately, the cabin still feels low-rent. Yes, it might be a vast improvement from Gen.2, but that comparison is pointless. Not only the plastics used throughout the cabin are hard, the silver plastic and fake wood trim look cheap, the assembly gaps are large and varying, the switchgears look cheap and feel hard to touch… The aftermarket-style multimedia system is unintuitive to use, and both its image and sound quality are simply awful. The driving position is equally compromised. Even in the lowest position you still sit too high, whereas the steering wheel cannot be adjusted high enough to suit. Moreover, there is no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, something should not have happened in this class. You might blame the component suppliers of Proton for all these problems, but establishing a quality supplier base is its responsibility.



Comparatively, the chassis looks far more promising. Proton stresses that it employs hot-formed steel to achieve a very high torsional rigidity of 19,000 Nm/degree. In addition to modern safety equipment (ABS, ESP, TC, EBD, BA and up to 6 air bags) it achieves very good safety rating. The multi-link rear suspension, a development from the Gen.2, is also worth the jealous of some rivals. Moreover, the handling and ride was tuned by Lotus.

On the road, although it doesn't match Ford Focus or VW Golf for ride and handling, it is still good enough to inspire driving confidence. The suspension is quite firm, but on normal roads the ride is compliant. The roadholding is good and the handling is predictable. On the downside, the outdated hydraulic power steering (without speed sensitive assistance) it employs is poor on communication and slow to respond. It also transmits a lot of kickback to your hands. On bumpy roads, the ride could get quite bouncy, lacking the composure of Focus or Golf.

Proton's Campro engines, again developed by Lotus, have some fancy labels but they are actually quite technologically outdated by global standards. The base Campro IAFM+ engine is a 1.6-liter DOHC 16V with a vacuum-driven variable length intake manifold. It is not even provided with variable-valve timing. While 108 horsepower sounds not bad, on the road it feels breathless, lacking low-down torque to haul the car, which is admittedly quite heavy by the class standard. The progress is further hampered by the notchy gearshift of the 5-speed manual box. 0-60 mph takes more than 11 seconds to accomplish.



Slightly better is the Campro CFE engine. It is a 1.6-liter light-pressure turbo offering 140 horsepower accompanied with a more usable torque of 151 lbft. Lacking both exhaust VVT and direct injection, it is not going to match Ford 1.6 Ecoboost or Volkswagen 1.4 TSI for power and fuel efficiency, but at least it compensates the performance weakness of the base engine. Unluckily, Proton decided it has to mate with a compulsory CVT. The latter is supplied by Dutch CVT expert Punch Powertrain (whose history could be traced back to DAF, the modern pioneer of CVTs). It is not a great CVT, still having the bad habit of rubberband effect. This mean in acceleration it revs the engine hardly while varying its transmission ratio, causing a lot of noise yet without delivering the necessary acceleration. Consequently, the car never feels as responsive to accelerate as it should be, whereas aural refinement is poor. Besides, the car still drinks fuel in a thirsty manner. There is really no benefits it brings, with the exception of probably a lower cost than a conventional automatic. The Japanese build much better CVTs.

So the Preve and Surprima S duo leaves many things to be desired. While its design looks fresh, its cabin feels spacious and its handling and ride is competent, poor powertrains, cheap interior and low build quality are more than enough to offset its merits. As a result, it is not going to be the savior of Proton.
Verdict:
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Preve 1.6
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4543 / 1786 / 1524 mm
2650 mm
Inline-4
1597 cc
DOHC 16 valves
Variable intake manifolds
-
108 hp
111 lbft
5-speed manual
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
205/55R16
1305 kg
112 mph (c)
11.3 (c)
-
Preve 1.6 Turbo
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4543 / 1786 / 1524 mm
2650 mm
Inline-4
1561 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
Turbo
-
140 hp
151 lbft
CVT
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
205/55R16
1340 kg
118 mph (c)
9.1 (c)
-
Suprima S
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4436 / 1786 / 1524 mm
2650 mm
Inline-4
1561 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
Turbo
-
140 hp
151 lbft
CVT
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
215/45R17
1395 kg
118 mph (c)
9.3 (c)
-




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