Car reviews - Proton - Suprima S - range
Sweet turbo engine, good road-holding, attractive pricing, styling improvements over previous models, generous cabin space
Room for improvement
Droning CVT, entertainment system sound quality, limited iPhone connectivity, some cheap cabin plastics
10 Dec 2013
First impressions of the Proton pair are generally pretty good, and it seems in some ways the days of Proton looking like an ultra-budget option are on their way out.
A full-width continuous front grille incorporating the headlights and indicators wears the now typical Proton tiger and wings badge, and keeps the pointy end looking simple, inoffensive and clean.
Understated design signatures continue at the rear end, with a good balance of clean lines and angles devoid of chintzy styling gimmicks.
Add a boot to the Suprima S and it becomes the Preve, but it shares all of the mechanicals of the hatchback.
Generally both cars carry an air of acceptable quality on the outside with consistent body-panel gaps, good component fit and decent paint finish. The seven-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels add a touch of class.
The same story continues on the inside with decent quality materials used throughout the cabin, though there are some flashes of cheap feeling silver plastics, a very flimsy looking gear-selector lever and surrounding gate.
On the flip-side there were some pleasant surprises from the soft-touch anti-glare patterned dash to the nicely appointed full leather seats and, while the sports steering-wheel may not be the most lavish, it had a charm similar to something from Momo’s range of aftermarket accessories.
Note: The Preve has to make do with cloth trim for now, but the forthcoming LE variant will share the leather seats of the Suprima S GXR as standard.
A generous seven-inch (aftermarket-styled) touchscreen mounted centrally in the dash added another dose of technology and was complimented nicely by the ‘Smart Information Display’, which sits between the tachometer and speedometer.
Connecting a phone to the entertainment system was a simple process, but the sound quality during a hands-free conversation was far from the best we have heard and the USB connection didn’t speak iPhone.
One of the cars we tested had an entertainment system made by Clarion, but an identical system in a different test-car was labeled Blaupunkt, indicating the days of cost-cutting parts-bin raiding are not entirely over for Proton.
Cranking the volume on the six-speaker sound system caused distortion relatively early and the sound quality lacked depth however, as the head-unit is a standard double-DIN size, replacement with an aftermarket unit might be a possibility – an option on very few new vehicles today.
The Suprima S and Preve are sold as a small hatchback and small sedan but the interior space defies their segments.
Both front seats had a comfortable firmness, offered ample leg-room and very generous head-room with an excellent driving position.
Back seats also provided a comfortable place to be, with generous space for up to three adults (or two with the arm-rest in place) and plenty of room for extra bags, toys or pets.
The interior may not offer the luxury of some more expensive options but everything felt as though it would stay in place, even if it received the unwanted attention of a dog or children.
A decent sized boot expands with folding rear seats and completes the practical credentials of the Suprima S and Preve, but much has been said about the connection to Lotus and the new turbocharged engine, so we were keen to find out how the pair drove.
A manual gearbox is on its way for both models but for the time being GXR variants get a CVT as standard.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder pulls strongly from a standing start with the automatic transmission behaving in a similar manner to a dual-clutch transmission, but as the revs built, the classic CVT drone set in.
Steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters worked acceptably and inputs altered the ratios effectively, but we found normal automatic mode suited most driving styles just fine.
The arrival of a manual gearbox will be very welcome for anyone interested in involving and enthusiastic driving because sadly, the automatic transmission didn’t get the best out of the surprisingly pleasant engine.
With just 103kW and 205Nm of torque, the 1.6-litre engine might not sound like a very exciting proposition, but it did have a few charismatic traits.
The single water-cooled turbo didn’t seem to be working very hard, which indicated to us that the forthcoming hotter R3 version - arriving in Australia next year - will wring more power out of the same engine with a higher boost pressure.
On acceleration the engine produced some very satisfying turbo-whistle and gutsy exhaust notes, which encouraged our reviewer to explore the Lotus tuned chassis.
The steering had just the right weight at lower speed but this gave the false impression of feedback, and as the pace increased, very little could be read about the terrain.
Variable power steering would no doubt help the situation but it is not available on either the Suprima S or Preve.
On smooth predictable surfaces the Lotus-fettled suspension resulted in very impressive levels of grip, but required careful steering to prevent weight rolling on to the outside front wheel in fast cornering.
In gentle hands the ride was comfortable, enjoyable and the Continental SportContact tyres took the Proton exactly where it was pointing.
ESC intervened only when absolutely necessary, but still allowed a little slip without cutting engine power in the frustrating manner the so many stability programs can.
The impressive handling on consistent asphalt was all too easily upset by the frequently changing Australian road conditions, and rough surfaces caused traction limitations with larger undulations causing the body to heave vertically.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a practical low cost car and its not exactly track-ready road manner is entirely forgivable, even if it is the first model to wear a Lotus badge since the Satria GTi.
Generally speaking the ride was firm but comfortable and the Lotus involvement has produced something that will respond well in the hands of someone with an interest in driving.
For years the range of Protons sold in Australia may have catered only for those wanting something purely to fulfill the basic and often quoted function of ‘getting from A to B’, but with the introduction of the Suprima S GXR and its booted Preve sister, the Malaysian manufacturer may just be breaking in to new territory.
The pair of mechanically identically siblings may not share the same name but, with the introduction of a turbocharged engine, a renewed emphasis on the Lotus connection and fresh styling, the Suprima S and Preve twins both offer the same customary Proton value with an added dollop of fun.
With an attractive combination of value and practicality, the Preve and Suprima S GXR don’t attempt to cheat physics and may well begin the chain reaction that Proton is planning in Australia.
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