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Car reviews - Proton - Preve - GX

Our Opinion

We like
Pricing, enormous boot, cabin space, generous standard equipment list
Room for improvement
Vague gearbox, ordinary ride and handling, 1.6L engine, multimedia system

Gallery

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Proton logo29 Jan 2014

By TIM NICHOLSON

Price and equipment

Proton is working hard to change the perception of its brand in Australia from cheap-as-chips Malaysian small car-maker to a legitimate alternative to more popular and far more established brands.

It is a massive challenge, but the company’s local distributors reckon they can do it, thanks to a refreshed product portfolio that kicked off in 2013 with the Preve sedan.

When it launched in February last year, it retailed for $18,990 drive-away, but since then Proton has reshuffled its pricing to better appeal to those budget-conscious buyers it was trying to move away from.

The Preve now kicks off from $15,990 drive-away in base GX guise (tested here), putting it in a similar price bracket to smaller light cars such as the Holden Barina CD sedan ($15,490 plus ORCs) and the Honda City VTi sedan ($16,490 plus ORCs).

This pricing makes it the cheapest sedan in the small segment by a significant margin. Most of its sedan rivals start from around $4000 more than the Preve and do not offer drive-away pricing.

Perceived sedan rivals such as the Nissan Pulsar ST, Kia Cerato S and Mitsubishi Lancer ES are all priced from $19,990 plus on-roads which can typically add between $2000 to $3000 to the final cost of the car.

So a cheap car means no goodies to play with, right? Wrong. The boffins at Proton know full well that the Preve is an unknown quantity in the Australian market and the best way to attract new buyers is to pack it with standard gear.

Comfort features include standard Bluetooth phone and audio, USB and auxiliary jack, phone and audio controls on the steering wheel, power windows, 60/40 split fold rear seats, ‘curry’ hooks in the front passenger footwell, reverse parking sensors, auto door locks, fog-lights and 16-inch alloy wheels.

This is a fairly solid list for a base variant and really, that is the Preve’s strong suit. On pricing and specification alone, the Preve is easily one of the best-value small cars on the Australian market.

Interior

Proton has clearly ticked the value-for-money box, but what is it like to actually spend some time inside the little Preve?To begin with, it is actually a reasonably handsome car to behold in the flesh.

Proton collaborated with Italdesign Giugiaro in designing the Preve and for the most part they have done a top job.

It does however feature some odd proportions, particularly from side-on where the wheels and wheel arches look far too small for the size of the vehicle, but aside from that, she’s a bit of a looker.

What is immediately noticeable when you step into the cabin is just how spacious the Preve is, given its size. In fact, when we parked next to a first-generation Mazda6, the Preve looked slightly bigger.

There is an impressive amount of space for rear-seat passengers, with the tall Preve offering acres of headroom, not to mention the surprising amount of legroom. In fact, the rear bench provides decent levels of comfort and support, making the Preve’s second row a very pleasant place to sit.

At the front of the cabin, the Proton’s dash design and layout is simple, uncluttered and pleasant without being particularly original or stylish.

Unfortunately, the Preve is let down by how cheap the cabin feels. While this is hardly surprising given its price point, it is still somewhat disappointing.

The steering wheel feels hard and cheap, matching the second-rate plastics that dominate the cabin, although there are touches such as the woodgrain panel inserts that break up the acres of plastic.

Proton’s black cloth trim is adequate and the contrasting black and grey cabin trim gives it a far less gloomy feel than it could have had with just one tone.

The audio dials are somewhat confusing, as is the Blutetooth set-up which, quite frankly, should not be that difficult given how outdated the multimedia system is. Speaking of, the Bluetooth was patchy and dropped out at times.

Proton has wisely included a much more modern, high-tech system for its recently launched Suprima S hatch sibling.

Other foibles include the lame rear parking sensors that are too quiet and seem to have a slight delay (although they are better than no sensors at all), the steering wheel is only height adjustable and there is no automatic boot opener on the key.

On the upside, the boot is equally as cavernous as the cabin, with a 508-litre cargo capacity beating other small sedan contenders such as the Mitsubishi Lancer (400L) and the Kia Cerato (421L), while also surpassing much larger fare including Holden’s VF Commodore (496L).

The only small car that betters it is the Nissan Pulsar (510L) by just two litres, but the Preve has fold-down rear seats, whereas the Pulsar, bizarrely, does not.

Engine and transmission

The Preve GX gets Proton’s CamPro 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine squeezing out 80kW at 5750rpm and 150Nm at 4000rpm.

This powertrain matches with a five-speed manual gearbox (a CVT with six artificial ratios is a $2000 option) that has a bit of a vague throw and a notchy feel.

There is no other way to describe the engine other than breathless, with its obvious torque deficiency more apparent the higher up the rev range you climb.

Proton claims a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 12 seconds for the manual.

Official fuel consumption figures are 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle and after a week of mostly city and freeway driving, we recorded 10.7L/100km. In the real world, it needs a good rev.

Ride and handling

Proton-owned British sportscar-maker Lotus is responsible for providing the Malaysian brand with the suspension specification, although we imagine the only thing the Preve’s set-up would have in common with a Lotus Elise would be its firm ride.

The Preve has a combination of MacPherson struts at the front and multi-link rear suspension at the rear. The ride is firm and a little busy, and transmits through the steering wheel over corrugations.

The hydraulic power steering is vague and lacks the sharp, direct feel of some of its more expensive contemporaries. There was evidence of bodyroll, understeer below the limits and some tyre squeal.

This was particularly evident in wet conditions. Thankfully the little car’s brakes proved quite effective in both wet and dry conditions.

Safety and servicing

Thankfully, safety is a strong point for the Preve. It was awarded a five-star crash safety rating from ANCAP and it features six airbags, a seat-belt reminder, reverse sensors and the usual list of acronyms including ESC, ABS and EBD.

Proton offers a five-year/150,000km factory-backed warranty, roadside assistance for the same period and five-year/75,000km capped-price servicing.

Verdict

The Preve is in several ways not in the same league as cars like the Ford Focus and Mazda3, and even the increasingly impressive Korean challengers such as the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato.

But there will be a lot of buyers who are only interested in the bottom line and on that front, the Preve excels in that it offers a lot of car for very little money.

Rivals

Kia Cerato S sedan (from $19,990 plus ORCs).

Kia’s super impressive new Cerato offers excellent packaging, an engaging drive and exceptional value for money. A massive step forward for the Korean brand.

Nissan Pulsar ST sedan (from $19,990 plus ORCs).

The Pulsar sedan feels a little cheap but it is priced well and offers lots of standard gear. Not a class leader but a step-up from the Preve.

Mitsubishi Lancer ES sedan (from $19,990 plus ORCs).

The Lancer is ancient by today’s standards and it feels it. It can’t compete with the big guns anymore but some dealers are offering very generous drive-away pricing so you might find one that is not that much more expensive than the Preve.

Specs

Make and model: Proton Preve GX
Engine type: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Layout: front-wheel drive
Power: 80kW
Torque: 150Nm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
0-100km: 12 seconds
Fuel consumption: 7.2L/100km
CO2 rating: 171g/km
L/W/H/W’BASE: 4543/1786/1524/2650mm 
Weight: 1305kg
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Steering: Hydraulic power steering
Price: $15,990 drive-away

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