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Car reviews - Proton - Jumbuck - GLSi utility

Our Opinion

We like
Price, transmission, versatility, load space
Room for improvement
No ABS, no airbags, leaf springs, drum brakes

Proton logo16 Sep 2003

By JOHN MELLOR

FOR those who don't know, a Jumbuck is a sheep. It is also a Proton ute designed as convenient transport for the merchants of the bazaars and businesses of the Islamic world.

Just what a Malaysian small businessman's conveyance is doing masquerading as an Australian icon immortalised by Banjo Paterson in Waltzing Matilda is not clear, apart from the fact that it sounds catchy and the name Swagman was already taken by Holden.

So was the name Brumby and, if Proton had its way, the name Brumby would be great because the Jumbuck is effectively the replacement for the Subaru Brumby in Australia.

The Brumby, discontinued in 1994, was a pocket-sized ute that still remains in high demand as a pinnacle car in the used car market.

Indeed, nine to 10-year-old versions of the Brumby still command between $10,000 and $11,500 as used cars - incredibly 60 per cent of the original selling price nine years later.

But they are all getting very tired and the Jumbuck release is timed well to step up to the plate to take the Brumby's place.

To make it clear, the Jumbuck, unlike the Brumby, is not four-wheel drive. But in all other areas it matches the Brumby - including the Jumbuck's 1980s engineering - and actually sells for about $1500 less than the Brumby did nine years ago.

The base Jumbuck starts at $15,490 for the GLi.

It's not a bad package. The base car includes factory air-conditioning, power steering, twin-speaker AM/FM/CD radio, central locking and remote key entry.

The higher spec is the GLSi at $17,990 with power windows, cloth seats, four speakers on the audio, alloy wheels and metallic two-tone paint.

The engine is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit with a five-speed manual gearbox. There is no automatic and no airbags.

Jumbucks are a marriage of the monocoque construction of the Proton Persona hatchback to a ladder frame chassis supporting the utility tray. A torque box has been fashioned to provide the body with the required stiffness.

The Jumbuck is front-wheel drive with front disc brakes and strut front suspension. The rear suspension is a beam axle, a load-sensing valve and leaf springs. Rear brakes are drums.

While the Brumby was very popular with the rural community because of its 4x4 capability, the Jumbuck seeks to cast a wider net.

It is the only small ute on the market and should find appeal beyond the farm with small traders, couriers and the like looking for a car-based cargo carrier.

Proton calls it a "cross-activity vehicle" which is marketing speak for: we hope young people will buy it for their surf boards. At the price, it competes with many used cars so there is a reasonable chance it will.

Proton is aiming at just 1.5 per cent of the 4x2 ute segment with 1000 units in the first 12 months, rising to 1500 units in 2004. The expected mix is 60 per cent GLi.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

RIGHT from the start it is important to realise that the Jumbuck is pretty basic fare.

It was designed with a price in mind to appeal in markets other than Australia and it is based on 1980s Mitsubishi technology from which most car-makers, including Mitsubishi, have moved on.

So lack of airbags, no ABS and the use of leaf springs and drum brakes are the price you pay for not having to pay a high price.

The Jumbuck's 1.5 litre, 12-valve, fuel-injected engine produces only 66kW of power and that full head of steam occurs at 6000rpm. Torque of 126kW is achieved at 3000rpm.

That means you really have to run the old Mitsubishi power plant right up to high revs to get it moving.

With two people aboard and unladen there is no danger of breaking speed records in hilly terrain or on winding roads, but slick gear changes through a snappy gearbox mean fun for all as you row it along its way.

It weighs in at just over a tonne with a 550kg payload capability. Given that it also misses a beat when the air-conditioning kicks in, there is a fair chance that patience with a full load will become a virtue of ownership.

Official fuel consumption is a claimed 6.5L/100km city cycle and 5.9L/100km on the highway cycle.

On bitumen back roads and single lane forest tracks and with no payload, the Jumbuck did a fair bit of bucking in its own right - as utes can - and Proton would do well to have a look at the spring rates in the rear.

The suspension also seemed to lose the plot on heavily rutted gravel tracks, requiring very tender movements of the steering as the little ute danced along on minimal wheel contact.

But on sealed country roads it was quite a tidy little jigger and went pretty much where it was pointed. On long, flat freeway stretches it ran along nicely in fifth without making too much din.

In terms of home comforts you get what you would expect in any budget-price Asian car in the way of instruments and controls. The air-conditioning was welcome as standard but ours packed up as the drive went on.

The seats provided no cause for complaint. Road and wind noise were consistent with the design brief.

The Jumbuck is basic transport aimed at a quite select group of buyers wanting a bit of versatility in their car at a budget price.

Given that it has that market territory on its own and that people are prepared to pay quite high prices for decade-old Brumbys, it should do well at the price.

And, just in case, it comes with a three-year warranty and roadside assistance.

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