Monday, April 23, 2012
The Proton Preve 1.6 CFE Premium Driven - And what I'd like Proton to make
Now that Proton has launched its latest 4 door sedan the question that begs to be asked is whether the Malaysian public can accept the fact that the darn thing (in its top-of-the-line 1.6 CFE spec) costs seventy two thousand of their Malaysian Ringgit. I think that this fact even outweighs all other factors including the fact that Proton has stuffed all the goodies into it and whether or not the car drives fantastically well or otherwise.
It has been obvious that in nearly every conversation that I've entered into about Proton usually begins or ends with someone stating their cars are crap and that the only reason they're selling is that they are cheap. So does anyone who reads this article really give two hoots about what I actually think of the way the Proton Preve drives then? They may already have the built in assumption that all Proton cars have shoddy plastics, bad build quality but 'Handling By Lotus'. And then they go out and buy a Toyota Vios, a Honda City or a Perodua Myvi. Malaysians are a brand conscious bunch and they love badging and branding over deriving pleasure from driving. But driving pleasure is actually what the Proton Preve 1.6 CFE would give you at the price it is offered.
The Proton Preve CFE is powered by a 1.6liter 4 cylinder turbocharged engine with variable valve timing. It is coupled to a CVT transmission that has 7 set speeds which is sent to the front wheels. As is most small family sized cars these days. It makes about 140bhp and 205 Nm torque. Now this may seem quite a lot, especially the torque figure which is as high or slightly higher than a normally asiprated 2.0liter engine but it actually isn't impressive as it seems. We'll get to that later.
When you get into the car you will notice that the steering wheel and seating position is actually quite spot on. After some slight adjustment you find that steering wheel isn't stupidly low as what you'd find in the Proton Waja, Gen2 and Satria Neo – the Persona seems to be slightly higher, but only slightly. You then find all the usual controls in the normal places. The stalks are nice to flick up and down and feels even better to do so than even a the Ford Fiesta sold locally. The air vents are good to adjust too. It does not feel cheap or flimsy and these are a million years ahead of the crap Proton used for the vents in the Satria Neo.
The only issues would be the plastics used on the lower parts of the car. The glovebox is a little flimsy and the coin box (which I've mentioned in my earlier report) is even worse to open and close. This harks back to the time of the Proton Wira, which was launched a good two decades ago. But then again, Proton has ensured that what the driver or passenger regularly touches is pretty good and I have no complaints about it. In fact, some of the contact points are actually on par with most cars instead of feeling sub-standard. So this is a good thing.
Now starting the car requires you to push the key fob into a slot and then press the start button beside it while stepping on the brake pedal. The start button is indeed a gimmick as they should have just done the VW/Audi way – starting the car is by pushing it deeper into the slot. They could have gone the 'keyless go' way, in that the key could be left in the pocket and the driver could just use the start button to start the car up. But they didn't. This seems to be a compromise or a marketing gimmick in my opinion. Maybe this is because the push start button is only offered with this top of the range CFE model. A key would be needed for the normal Preve models.
So you get settled in the car and start it up. The engine is quiet and you get going by moving the gear shift to 'D' and move away like any other automatic transmission equipped car. However Proton has thrown every toy into the Preve and you can leave it in 'D' or put it is 'S' for Sport or push the lever to the left and then select the '+' and '-' ala Tiptronic styling. But there is another option – paddle shifters that actually follow the steering wheel when you turn. A very good thing as it gives you more control especially if you like diving into corners and shifting at the same time.
However there is one thing I noticed at low speeds – the CVT emits a slight whine. It is quite a clear and distinct 'whoo' sort of sound. I asked a friend who also tested the Preve whether his test unit emitted a whine and he said it did too. It isn't that irritating, but it is present as it is the only sound that's loud enough to be heard when you are driving the car at low speeds.
If you potter around town you'd notice that the Preve is actually quiet aside from that CVT whine. There is minimal road noise transmitted through its Champiro GT Radial tyres (Proton is somehow speccing Indonesian made tyres for the Preve CFE) and you then notice that the Preve's steering is incredibly well weighted. It isn't feather light and it actually makes the Preve feel quite substantial. As does the rest of the car when it rides over bumps and how it generallly feels on the road. The Preve CFE isn't floaty and feels extremely well planted.
This feeling of stability does not change at higher than usual speeds. I took the car to around 160km/h on a quiet stretch of road and it was stable at this speed. It was also very, very stable when I slammed on the brakes at that speed to a standstill. The surprising thing was that I found out that the Preve's ABS system is so unobtrusive that in the dry conditions I tested the car it would not engage until the very last moment. Most cars' ABS systems usually engage quite early, but this one engages late and engaging late would mean that driver's who love trail braking late in corners would appreciate such a gesture.
And I do appreciate it as I actually enjoyed how the Preve drives and handles. This is actually a car that I could drive fast from the start. The steering weight feels fabulous (not feel, which is about average, but its weight). The ergonomics are correct and the car actually does what you want. So as it gives me the confidence to go faster I find out the more important details of the Proton Preve 1.6CFE Premium.
What I found out was that the Preve I drove had a tight engine or that it was lazy. If you leave it in 'D' the car seems to be sluggish. It may have 205Nm but it needs to be prodded and then stabbed. Maybe the engineers decided to make the CVT a little lazy in order to make the car economical. Or maybe it was the weight. The Preve weighs 1340kg, which is actually very very heavy considering its size is smaller than the Proton Inspira 2.0 (a.k.a Mitsubishi Lancer) but is only 5kg lighter than that car. Maybe this is why the Preve is really refined at most speeds as this weight is translated as extra sound proofing material - It is even quieter over rippled roads than a Volkswagen Golf 1.4TSI. But whatever the case it needs to be stroked to have some fun in it. And stroke it I did.
The Proton Preve wakes up if you're brutal with the acclerator (or happy) pedal and if you really shift down a gear or two via the paddle shifts. Leaving it in 'D' or 'S' isn't sufficient. The CVT isn't laggy if you do so and the engine somehow wakes up a little. The Preve will pull from about 50km/h in 2nd gear all the way to about 140km/h at a decent pace. Proton claims around 9.6seconds from nought to a hundred kilometers, and it feels it would achieve such a time. Somehow the 1.6liter turbocharged (a BorgWarner turbine) engine isn't that awesome. It could be the weight of the car, or that the engine is tight. But if Proton put a mid-9second time, I have to think its the weight that blunting ultimate acceleration – the price to pay for refinement. There isn't any turbo lag or CVT rubber-band. It is just a linear rate of climb, typical of modern day turbocharged engines like the VW 1.4 TSI twin charger or Fiat's 1.4Multijet where you get a slightly linear power delivery instead of an explosion at a preset rpm. But the Preve's engine doesn't have the technical complexities of direct injection which is why the Golf 1.4 feels like it has more torque from the start.
I also felt that the Preve's mid-range is pretty good for a 1.6liter car IF you stoke it through the gears. The engine makes the car feel like a normally aspirated 2.0liter car. So if you were expecting a Golf GTI killer or a Evo fighter, don't. This is a car that has to do so many things – make Proton's name shine brightly, carry a family of 8 (3 in front, 5 at the rear), carry durians, make people buy Protons over Toyotas and so on.
So I have now told you that the car is slightly overweight and the weight blunts the acceleration slightly so you have got to be a little rough with the Preve. It is faster than all the 1.6liter cars out there, but it is only as fast as a 2.0liter normally aspirated sedan, i.e the Inspira. But you do pay 1.6liter road tax, which is a good thing.
Now once you get in terms how to keep the fire burning you can really enjoy the rest of the car. The Preve can be thrown into corners with some abandon. It takes chicanes or high speed directional changes well. Use the paddle shifters, drop two gears then aim for the apex and the nicely weighted steering takes you where you want to go. It works like a mature version of the Proton Persona. Even the driver's seat actually supports you well. I first thought they were a little on the unsupportive side but this isn't the case if you're belting the Preve. It does support you well enough for a family sedan it really is. Maybe this is also down to the fact that the Preve has a pretty good driving position as everything falls into place.
Anyway, the nose points to where you want to go but you can feel that the Preve isn't one of those nose led cars (like a Golf or a Civic or even a Lancer GT). It pivots on a distinct middle point and the tail helps out once its turned in. The car is extremely well planted at speed and on directional changes as well. There was a bump with smack mid-corner and the Preve took it well. It was un-flustered and kept its line, ignoring that bump. A few weeks ago I drove the newly launched 2012 Hyundai Elantra 1.8 through the same route and that car felt more like a family sedan than this car. There is actually some body roll but all within acceptable limits. This is one car where the suspension soaks in the bumps yet allows the car to be predictable yet handle well.
One minor issue I found out is that if you do get overly excited the CVT seems to revert back to 'auto' mode in mid-corner if it thinks you are using too low a gear. It could be the ECU or the Brake Assist with Traction Control cutting the power. It could be quite irritating if you wanted full control, but I don't think most of the Preve buyers would face such an incident. Unless they all drive like I do. Or drive like they stole it.
The Proton Preve drives like a sports sedan. The chassis could easily handle another 30bhp. It is like Clark Kent instead of Superman. Or it is Clark Kent with some superpowers but without the Superman suit. And this little fact has made me realise that the Proton Preve is actually too mild mannered in terms of its styling to be something that people would actually want to buy. It is slightly dull and a less mature design compared to the likes of the Kia Forte. The overall shape, while modern isn't as nice to look at as the Forte. It shows that Proton would need to be more assertive in their designs. In fact, I have to complain on why Proton did not use the light clusters from the Tuah prototype it displayed a year or so ago.
So whilst I have been harping on how good the ergonomics, interior quality (aside from the glovebox and irritating coin box), ride, handling and some of its performance aspects are as well as the fact that the Preve does not feel like an el-cheapo Proton the only real reservation that I have of the Preve CFE Premium is whether anyone would buy the darn thing in the first place.
I am not buying this car simply because I have outgrown the market segment Proton is targeting. But if I were looking for a 4 door sedan in the RM60,000 to RM80,000, the Preve would be very high on my list of fun to drive cars. I would buy this car over the Vios (because the Vios is simply a thinny, floaty, dull car to drive), the pig ugly Pug 207 sedan (because it is so ugly, based on a 206 platform and it is actually a third world car instead of a real Peugeot), the skinny Honda City (because it does not drive as well as this car), the Ford Fiesta sedan (as its bigger and looks better), the Mazda 2 sedan. I may not buy it over the good looking Kia Forte (as it is good looking) or the larger Proton Inspira – which I do like as it basically is the Mitsubishi Lancer GLS which is more comfortable than the Lancer GT with Proton suspension tuning. Of course, if you add in the hatchbacks sold at this price range I may opt for them. The Mazda 2 and the Ford Fiesta are good drives. So is the slightly old Suzuki Swift. These are nippy little cars that are also high in the fun factor.
But what I actually want from Proton is this – a swoopy 2 door 1.6liter turbocharged mid-engined coupe that looks like Eva Longoria or Olivia Wilde, coupled with the Preve's ride and handling and a price tag of around RM90,000. Now Proton, IS that too much to ask?
Pros: Good ergonomics, decent interior quality, great handling, refinement, ride
Cons: Flimsly lower part of dashboard, decent performance instead of great performance, price, conservative instead of stunning looks
Conclusion: A very good drive, a very refined car for its price, slightly conservative looking and its a RM72,000 Proton – there will be a wait and see attitude with most
Note: More interior pics and my initial (pre-drive) assessment of the Preve here