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Proton prepares new model avalanche

Inspired sedan: Espire concept previews next year’s all-new Persona sedan.

Upgraded S16 sedan just the first in a plethora of new products to come from Proton

16 Aug 2011

PROTON’S new model renaissance will not stop with the facelifted S16 sedan released recently in Malaysia, where the new-look Saga FLX marks the first in a series of fresh Proton metal to arrive in Australia from early next year.

Next cab off the Proton rank will be a replacement for the Persona small sedan launched here in May 2008, as previewed by the sleek Espire concept.

Debuting as the Tuah concept at the Kuala Lumpur motor show late last year, the successor for the Gen.2 hatch-based Persona sedan will be produced with 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol engines.

The 2012 Persona is expected to borrow many of the design cues seen on the classy Espire/Tuah show car, which previews Proton’s future design direction and features LED tail-lights and foglights, concealed and illuminated door-handles, an adaptive rear spoiler, adaptive headlights and an auto-dimming photochromatic glass roof.

Also due on sale here early next year is the Exora people-mover – the first seven-seat model to appear from Malaysia’s state-owned car-maker.

Launched domestically in 2009, the Exora is the first MPV designed and developed entirely in Malaysia, and is built with 90 per cent local content.

The domestic-market Exora, which is about 100mm shorter than Toyota’s Avensis but almost 50mm wider and 16mm taller, is powered by the same 1.6-litre CamPro petrol engine seen in the Gen.2 hatch here.

However, Australia’s Exora could arrive here with a larger petrol and/or turbo-diesel engine, which would allow Proton’s inaugural people-mover to compete directly with 2.4-litre petrol models like the Avensis, as well as Hyundai’s popular iMax and the Kia Rondo.

The Exora comes with a four-speed automatic transmission in Malaysia, but should also be offered with a five-speed manual here next year.

43 center imageFrom top: Proton Jebat, Lekir and Lekiu.

Designed to achieve a four-star Euro NCAP crash rating, the Exora is available in Malaysia with cruise control, an LCD screen, leather seat trim with suede-like bolsters, a portable GPS unit, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone air-conditioning and a roof-mounted DVD unit.

Like other Protons, the Exora’s suspension – which comprises a MacPherson strut front-end and torsion beam rear-end, which could be replaced by a more sophisticated multi-link arrangement for export markets - was tuned in Malaysia by engineers from the Proton-owned Lotus operation.

When it was launched two years ago in Malaysia, Proton said the new Exora platform would also spawn light commercial derivatives including a van and pick-up utility, with the latter designed to replace the brand’s long-running Jumbuck – which remains Australia’s cheapest ute at $14,990 drive-away.

However, GoAuto understands a Jumbuck replacement is no longer on Proton’s radar, although the Exora will eventually form the basis of Proton’s first commercial van.

Next on Proton Cars Australia’s agenda for release here as early as 2013 is a compact crossover previewed by the Lekiu concept. The high-riding five-door wagon is designed as an SUV for the suburbs and features futuristic headlights and tail-lights, LED foglights and matt-black body-side mouldings.

Although the Lekiu officially remains in the ‘feasibility study’ stage, a compact crossover remains at the top of Proton’s wishlist for Australia, which could also eventually become home to production versions of two other concepts that also debuted in Kuala Lumpur late last year.

They include the Lotus Evora-based Lekir coupe, powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine that produces around 164kW. Riding on the same lightweight bonded aluminium chassis as the Evora, the Lekir concept wears 18-inch alloys and bespoke Proton bodywork, but retains obvious links with its Lotus donor model.

Similarly, the four-door Jebat sports sedan concept is an unashamed knock-off of the Lander Ralliart from Mitsubishi, which remains a minority shareholder in Proton.

The striking Jebat concept features pumped-out wheel-arches and even wilder front and rear-end styling than the top-shelf Lancer Evo, but shares its 177kW/343Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine with the Ralliart model and is claimed to sprint to 100km/h in a similar 5.6 seconds.

As we reported last week, Malaysia’s facelifted Saga FLX sedan previews the upgraded S16 sedan that will go on sale in Australia late this year, when Proton Cars Australia’s cheapest model will finally also be fitted as standard with electronic stability control and two airbags.

However, PCA managing director John Startari told GoAuto the 2012 S16 is unlikely to remain priced at $11,990 drive-away even if the Australian currency continues to strengthen, because it will no longer be made available here with a 1.3-litre engine, leaving the 1.6-litre version (currently $12,990 drive-away) as the entry-level S16 variant.

“In Australia we are preparing to launch the Exora people-mover and new Persona sedan early next year,” he said.

“Before then we’ll launch the facelifted S16, which will no longer come with a 1.3. We’re trying to maintain strong price points and if exchange rates continue to improve the S16 should remain priced from under $13,000.”

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