Wednesday, August 17, 2016

TEST DRIVE: The new Proton Perdana 2.0L over Highways and B-Roads - We take it to the limit

The Proton Perdana.  It is the first of at least four new models that are part Proton's current turnaround plan and sometimes, the first will give you some impression on what's going to happen next. So Proton decided to take a few of us automotive writers and put us in some Proton Perdana to drive to Port Dickson for lunch, then to Melaka for the night and back the next day. I chose the Perdana 2.0L - WC 3820X to be the car I would drive.


The 2.0 flanked by a lot of 2.4. Note the extra chin spoiler on the 2.4 cars.

The reason I chose to be in a less powerful version of the car is because this is the most relevant model to most of us out there. It cost RM113,888 and here in Malaysia many prospective buyers like capping their car purchases under the 2.0liter barrier where road tax is cheaper. It is also very relevant because Malaysians are also somewhat careful when it comes to buying cars over RM100,000. This is big money. So how much car they can buy is very important to most people. My decision to try out the less powerful model was also the reason given by my co-driver for the trip, Mr Faisal Shah, of Countersteer.my (he has since joined Focus Malaysia also) and formerly Editor in Chief of Autocar Asean. 

The thing about the Perdana 2.0 is that it gives very little away to the 2.4. Aside from 400cc, a front strut bar in the engine bay, a front spoiler with side skirts and a full leather interior – the 2.0 makes do with half leather and fabric, the 2.0 is essentially the same. Oh, a colourless infotainment screen is another thing which you would notice. Not that it would make any difference whatsoever in terms of usability. 

Now a bit more on the Perdana's development. They have taken a slightly older Honda Accord chassis, the eight generation (now's the ninth), and breathed new styling upon it. It makes sense to just procure an existing chassis as the total volume for the D segment in Malaysia is somewhere between 30,000 to 40,000 units annually and Proton only aims to sell 6,000 units of the Perdana annually.  A bulk of it going to government agencies and the rest, hopefully to you and me.

This car is not a simple rebadge. It now looks like something Jaguar would design if it did front wheel drive cars. The Accord now looks all swoopy and low slung. Proton's redesign to the front and rear has now made the car seem longer than it is. It is slightly longer, by a few millimetres, but the low slung looks add a visual factor. The front end rework consists of all the front end body panels. It is more rounded than before with the Proton chrome 'wing' crossing the whole grille and melding with the headlights. 

The rear rework is much more dramatic. Everything behind the C-pillar is new. The rear doors only keep the door skin and the window frame has also been reworked (much to Honda's chagrin). The rear window now is at a less steep angle than the original and it looks more like a fastback than a sedan. It also has flared out rear wheel arches. Everything is pulled inwards making the car seem longer than it was. 

The overall silhouette is sporty and there is road presence in the design. The car looks impressive especially if you are following one from the rear.  All hunkered down and ready to pounce. I do like how they've made something as mundane as an Accord into something nice like this. Think of this car to be somewhat like how the Volkswagen Group does things. The Skoda Superb is also a Volkswagen Passat and also an Audi A4. Everything underneath the skin is essentially the same. The only difference between the Volkswagen Group cars is that Proton uses something under licence from Honda. One internal, one external. Same objective.

Under the reskin however, it is all eight generation Honda Accord. The engine, the transmission is all Accord. The interior gets a minor rework with a larger infotainment unit compared to the original. The look takes after the current double screen Accord dashboard or thereabouts - the screen on top is just to show the time and some air conditioning details. Not much on the trip computer stuff or fuel economy readings in this car though.

This is the same with the suspension. However, new 17 inch alloy wheels and Goodyear Efficient Grip tyres are fitted to the Perdana. Specially sourced by Proton for this car. The larger sized alloys (like the ones on the 2.4) and current generation high performance tyres (not ultra high performance) help the balance of the car as you shall read below.

The Perdana's suspension has something called a double wishbone up front. What this means that is has a lower and upper arm holding the front absorber strut. The most sporty type of cars have this setup. Couple this with a multi-link rear set up and the car actually can handle very well albeit that slightly feelless steering. In fact, this is the last Accord with this sort of suspension set up. The current Accord has to settle for the industry standard McPherson strut front.


So you end up on the highway that you were instructed to drive on (LEKAS first, then the Seremban-PD highway) find yourself easily cruising along at over 160kmh without even realising it. The 2.0 Perdana is no slouch in the high speed cruise department. It could easily keep up with the Perdana 2.4 at the limit. About 205-210kmh or so if you took the time and looked at the speedometer. The lead 2.4 IS affected by drag at these speeds so the car we're in can easily fall into the slipstream and keep up with it. The key word here is 'keep up', not overtake. You need extra grunt to do so. Maybe if Honda were to allow Proton the use of the 3.5liter V6 which was also used in this generation of the Accord that would be a vey good thing (to the detriment of a very nose heavy front end of course). 

The 2.0 is remarkably stable at these higher than usual speeds, but at over 180kmh you will feel the steering wheel feel a touch lighter than before. There is some high speed lift at the front end but not by much. Long sweeping corners on the highway could still be taken without any issue whatsoever. The Perdana is stunningly stable on the highways and the redesign of the whole rear end by Proton may have actually made it better. Aside from that, the suspension also soaked up the road surfaces well with no issues at all even on the more undulating Seremban-PD stretch. There were also no noticeable wiggling from the rear of the car like the first time I had a go in both the 2.0 and 2.4 Perdana at the Proton test track last June.

There is an issue at speeds above 140kmh. It tends to get a little bit busy on the inside in terms of road noise intrusion. The tyre roar and road noise gets distinctively louder once you pass the speed mentioned above. There is little harshness coming from the engine, but everything else, the tyre roar, wind noise is up by a notch. You can still hold a conversation with your passenger right beside you but it would be a little bit difficult to do so with those at the rear once past 140kmh. I blame Honda for this. Not Proton as the car's design and use of soundproofing material is typically Japanese to an extent. 

The Japanese usually build their cars to cruise on roads well within the 110-130kmh speed limits that most countries use. So their cars' NVH (noise vibration harshness) engineering is usually, limited to the bracket. This is no exception. Although I do think the newer Accord, which has to resort to sound cancelling audio systems, and the Toyota Camry are quieter. The new Accord would also handle as well as this car but the Camry would be all over the road at these higher speeds (I usually feel the need to concentrate a little too hard when driving one over 150kmh. It is a little unnerving).


But that being said, Proton has actually made the car slightly quieter with the redesigned rear end due to improved aerodynamics (computer aided simulation done by Proton claim to be so). It feels quieter at the rear than in the original. Not by much. Not as good as some of the newer generation D segment cars but I would say better than the original by a touch and it just makes the grade. The sloping rear end actually helps aerodynamics making it cut through the air and cuts down wind noise slightly at the rear. Chassis rigidity seems to be unaffected by the redesign as I have stated that it cruises well at high speeds. So Honda need not worry so much about Proton redesigning the car in the first place. They may have even improved things slightly.

The Perdana 2.0 also behaves quite well on the twisty B-roads. The 2.0 IS actually a sweeter car to drive here. On the B-roads down from Port Dickson to Pantai Klebang, Melaka the car was extremely good. The steering may be a little lifeless but it is accurate once you get used to how it feels in your hands, especially the initial over assisted feel at city speeds. I think the 17inch wheels and the Goodyear tyres fitted on them works well. These Goodyear Efficient Grip tyres are the latest in all weather performance tyres that Goodyear has. Proton chose this because the tyres actually help in various factors like ride (which is actually comfortable) & handling and also its NVH. I think they're predictable tyres that allowed us to go for a high speed bash and now it allowed us to have predictable B-road handling. They suit the car well and the car did not at any time run out of ideas. 

The car turns into a sharp corner quickly enough. There is obviously understeer at higher speeds when you're pushing it into corners. Push into a corner hard and the steering loads up informing you that you need to put in more steering input to turn. But you're actually taking tight corners at around 80-90-100kmh here. No joke. The car may be large (it really is large!) but it can really hustle even on the twisty but fast flowing kampung roads of Negeri Sembilan and Melaka. But do watch out for the local 'kerbau' or buffalo on the roads here. 

Brake feel is good and you can trail brake this full sized sedan into the corner whilst applying more steering whilst you enter the corner. It is nose led and body roll is kept in check. The 5 speed automatic has no pedal shifters for you to stroke but you can lean on the brakes hard before the apex and after that, give the accelerator a shove to make it kick down  a gear or two depending on the engine speed (or you could downshift via the shifter of course). The gear shifts are not lightning quick but it makes up for being a smooth operator. The combination between the 2.0liter engine and the 5 speed auto gearbox works well for some spirited driving. I do not really feel the need for any extra gears at all. Unless you're just chasing emissions standards of course.

So the Perdana 2.0 has competent handling. It can be hustled everywhere even it is a full sized sedan. I also think it is sweeter than the 2.4 variants as there is less weight up front. The 2.4 may have a front strut bar across the front suspension towers to add some rigidity but after trying out the 2.0, I feel that this car does not really need it. On the B-roads, it was actually capable of overtaking and then leaving a 2.4 driven by a less competent journo and it was also easy hauling in the 2.4 which was ahead of us slightly further down the road. Keeping up with the 2.4 allowed us to soak in the shape of the car as it was eating up the road in front of us (photo below).

That 2.0liter Honda twin cam engine is also a sweet thing all the way to its red-line. It may not have the grunt of the 2.4, which I have driven before. The 2.4 feels stronger from the start and especially in the mid range pull but I have no issues if I owned this 2.0liter version. I mean, yes the car lacks at least 30hp and about 30Nm torque, but in the end, even this amount would never satisfy a car guy like me. It is adequate and the 2.0 also makes up by being a sweeter B-road drive. If the 2.0 can cruise at 200kmh just like the 2.4 then it's good enough for me. It may take slightly over 10 seconds to 100kmh from nought instead of slightly above 9 seconds like the 2.4. This does not really make much difference actually. And do note that the car is about RM20,000 cheaper than the 2.4. It is a very good deal. 

The Perdana gets high marks for allowing us to have a D segment package at C segment prices.  There are flaws – like the Honda NVH tuning, or lack of it. And there there's the interior trim – The piano black trimming on the front dashboard is a little uneven and not really piano black looking. This could be better as it does sit right in front of you and your passenger. The silver paint surrounding the infotainment unit is silver paint so it does not look like proper metal and the colour of the font used on the 6 infotainment buttons to the left and right of it washes out under bright sunlight (you can see the photo of the unit somewhere below in the specifications section). Some will say that the lack of Electronic Stability Control is an issue, but I think the Proton has safe and predictable handling and there is a need to keep costs low (ESC is available on the 2.4). It isn't an issue that would be a deal breaker as the price of the car is kept to a very affordable price. Every car I've driven has some flaws in them but this car has enough equipment and enough pizzaz in the drive to make fussy ol' me happy.

It also has a heck of a lot of space (since this generation of Accord is actually bigger than the one that replaced it). It looks like that nice European car called a Jaguar. It handles extremely well at high speeds on both the highway and is very competent on the B-roads. And it is the most affordable D segment car to purchase. Now because it is a 2.0liter normally aspirated engined car, it will also be relatively affordable to maintain in the long run with low road tax and a simple to maintain engine (anything without superchargers or turbochargers will be easier to maintain in the long run).

So after driving and sitting in a Perdana 2.0 for more than 400km or thereabouts, over highways and B-roads, I believe that Proton has made the correct choice with this new Perdana. It does feel like a car that is up to date in terms of styling, a car that still has more than adequate handling and high speed cruising capability, no drivetrain or powertrain weaknesses on real roads and a car that is only slightly behind in terms of NVH tuning but one that would still be able to take me from one end of Peninsular Malaysia to the other with little fatigue. I thoroughly enjoyed the car for what it is.

With that, I have to say that the Perdana 2.0 is a car I would have no qualms on buying one if I was looking to acquire a full sized sedan in the RM100,000-120,000 price range. 
Actual shot without much cropping. You can see journalists and photographers everywhere.

PROTON PERDANA 2.0L
Pros: Most Affordable D segment on the market, great exterior styling, road presence, handling, ride, equipment levels are good, 4 airbags, a properly done restyle

Cons: A little noisy at high speeds - NVH half a generation behind the class leaders, some trim bits need sprucing up.

Conclusion: Superb looking car with D segment comfort, refinement, performance at C segment prices. A real steal.

Price as tested: RM113,888

The 2.0liter engine

2.0
4-cylinder 16-valve SOHC engine 
154 horsepower and 189Nm torque

5 speed automatic

0-100kmh: 10.5 secs (tested)
Top speed: 210kmh (tested)

Infotainment


6.2" TFT Screen with Radio, CD, Integrated DSP, Bluetooth, USB & AUX Connectivity 
6 speakers

Safety features

4 airbags – dual front and dual side airbags
ABS with EBD
ISOFIX & top tether mounts
Front & Rear park sensors
Reverse camera
 2.0 Black
 2.4
 2.0
2.0 & 2.4

2 comments:

  1. Actually there's one model in segment D falls under rm120k now, is the VW Passat..Well they are throwing huge discounts in preparation for the new model launching very soon. Damn tempting to get it, BUT the cost of maintaining the car will be as expensive as owning a rm170k car..sigh..

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    1. Yes. It basically still is European in terms of maintenance. Which is why I believe this Perdana would be a better bet in the long run. But I believe that the new Passat will be launched soon. This is only a short term deal. Whereas the Perdana is new and should be around for a good five years according to what I heard.

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