Saturday, November 19, 2016


It has been a whirlwind for Proton these past few months. One car launch after the other. We have had the new Proton Perdana, Persona and the Saga launched one after the other. Even at the end of the year, a period when most auto makers slow down a little, Proton is still at it. Making up for lost time. And also making up in terms of quality as the cars launched so far have been pretty amazing for such a small (in global terms) manufacturer.

Update: The MPV has been launched It comes in 2 variants – the Executive (manual [MT] and automatic [AT]); and Executive Plus (AT) transmissions respectively with prices starting from RM58,800 up to RM64,800 for Peninsular Malaysia. Details here

We've now come to the final of a total of four vehicles that Proton has promised to unveil by the end of the year, the Proton Ertiga. Most of you may have heard of it already. It is essentially a rebadged Suzuki Ertiga compact MPV. I have been one of the few motoring people who had been invited by Proton to view and try out the final production version of the Proton version of the Suzuki Ertiga at the Proton test track. Like always, they have not allowed any of us to take pictures and we were given some teaser pics to share with you readers.

Let me say that this car isn't like what Proton did with the Perdana or even the earlier Inspira. This is to fill a gap in Proton's range of vehicles and the management of Proton had somehow entered into an arrangement with Suzuki to market and sell certain Suzuki vehicles. The management of Proton decided that they needed a B segment MPV that sits underneath the C-segment sized Exora and so the Ertiga came about as the vehicle that was agreed upon. This is also because the B-segment is affordable segment for most people here in Malaysia.

A bit on the history of the Ertiga. The Suzuki Ertiga is a 7-seat mini MPV developed by Suzuki with its Indian subsidiary Maruti Suzuki. It was launched on 12 April 2012 in India as well as in Indonesia and later in July 2014 in the Philippines. It was designed to compete with the Toyota Innova, Toyota Avanza, Perodua Alza and even the Nissan Grand Livina.

Ertiga is said be an adaptation of R-Tiga where "Tiga" means "three" in Indonesian. The "R" stands for Rows. Therefore, "Ertiga" is derived from "R3". Proton have also stated that they are not changing the name of the Ertiga because they feel they have no need to do so. The Ertiga's name is already established in the region and since the MPV isn't on sale, they figure that This isn't something they should change or need to change. I personally think keeping the name is a good thing because unlike the recently launched Perdana, which was continuing its namesake from the 1990s as well as being quite some engineering done towards the rear end it actually deserves to be called a Perdana. This Ertiga is almost a total rebadge package from Suzuki without any major changes whatsoever.

We are getting the Ertiga facelift version (first seen in 2015). If you look at the exterior, the only changes to the Ertiga are the front Proton logo. The rear gets a horizontal chrome plate without the word 'Ertiga' on it like the Indonesian variant. We however get a rear fog light which sits in the middle of the rear bumper (pictured above). Indonesian Ertiga does not have it if you look at the photo herein. The interior gets a Proton logo on the steering wheel boss and that's about it. The beige 'bamboo' pattern fabric seats and beige interior colour was basically chosen by Suzuki as are the major specification and configuration of equipment for this Malaysian Ertiga. This is essentially a Suzuki controlled product assembled in Proton's Tanjung Malim plant from CKD kits brought in from Indonesia. Which is another reason why Proton is maintaining the Ertiga name.

This car is powered by Suzuki's 1.4 litre petrol engine as well as a diesel version powered by a Fiat's 1.3 litre Multijet turbodiesel engine (which we are not getting as Malaysia is still not a diesel market when it comes to small cars). It has either a 5 speed manual which we get at the base model and a 4 speed torque convertor automatic which there is a Executive and Executive Plus models to choose. The car is based on lengthened, heightened Suzuki Swift platform. So it is essentially a Suzy Swift 1.4 that can seat a lot of people whilst being slight taller and longer. It shares the same basic dashboard of the Swift with everything set a little bit higher.

Proton has stated that it sits in the MPV-B segment which means that it is slotted under the Proton Exora. Whilst has a longer wheelbase and it has taller ground clearance than the Exora, it is still shorter in overall length and interior space. But packaging is good. Even chubby ol' me could enter and sit on the third row seats. The second row is comfortable too and both rows share the comfort of rear air blowers located on the roof. This rear blower help cool the large cabin quickly. There are plenty of cup holders inside but some may find the size to be a bit small if they want to store  larger thermos flasks instead of just the smaller 500ml water bottles you see in the teaser pic below.

I have no actual issues with the seating inside in any of the three rows. However, the Malaysian specced Ertiga has seat belts for 6 passengers and does not have one for the middle passenger in the middle or second row. This is because in Indonesia the middle seating position only has a lap belt. Regulations here ask for a three point seat belt which Suzuki has not designed so. Imagine that. However I was told by one of Proton's engineers that they are in the midst of designed a three point belt for the Ertiga on their own. Safety is a concern for Proton as they are aware of Malaysians who would use up all the seating in any car they use.

Another Suzuki issue is the audio system that they have decided to include in the Ertiga. It is basic. Even for the top specced Ertiga Executive Plus . It still looks like the one Suzuki used to give us Malaysians in 2010. Actually the problem is that this is the same audio system in the Suzuki Swift CKD from 2015. Suzuki aren't too generous when it comes to specification of equipment here. There is a infotainment option in Indonesia, and Proton has mentioned that they are developing a system for the Ertiga locally (for a near future update) but I have no idea why it was not optioned in the Ertiga from the outset.

Driving the Ertiga
It is a Suzuki Swift. A longer, taller Swift with a slightly higher up driving position. So it drives like a longer and taller Swift. Being a Suzuki it is very refined at a cruise for such a smallish and built to a price kind of vehicle. One journalist noticed that even on 5th gear it cruises at 110kmh with the tachometer reading close to 3,000rpm. But the car is quiet. It is the same for the automatic. 110Kmh is quiet enough on the Indonesian sourced Campiro tyres.

For a MPV that weighs close to 1,200kg and only powered by a 92ps/130Nm it is also nippy. 5 adults were stuffed in the automatic variant and it could pull away decently enough. The factory claims that 0-100kmh in the automatic will take 13.9 seconds whilst the manual can do it in 11.8 seconds. 

The Ertiga is pretty composed at the highway speed limit and even 20-30kmh above it. Being a MPV it is not meant for spirited driving. It may be based on the Swift but it has lower limits. On a radius reducing bend it will exhibit understeer quite early on. The understeer that has been engineered into the Ertiga is easily felt if you just push it slightly harder than normal. I tried a roundabout at the test track and at 60kmh you can feel massive understeer. The steering starts loading up a lot then telling you to back off and slow the MPV down. The Ertiga is basically reminding you that it is a people carrier, and not a Swift Sport. I cannot find any fault in that.

I also used a lot of the gradient climbing as I wanted to try out the pulling power of the 1.4liter engine. Climbing up a 20degree slope is easily achieved with four adults inside. Reversing is also easy with good visibility. All variants have park sensors for the rear. No reverse camera though. I did mention that the Ertiga has a very basic audio system only.

Brakes and Safety
It is equipped with ABS and EBD (electronic brake distribution) but no Brake Assist. Not that BA is necessary as I did repeated emergency stops in one and it could stop quite easily. Just stomp on the brakes and hold the steering wheel tight as the Ertiga is a tall MPV and may sway very slightly due to weight transfer under heavy braking. There is no traction control or ESC as this is not offered in any of the Ertiga variants in Indonesia or even in India where it is produced. Two airbags – driver and front passenger on all specs. That being said, the Ertiga is a 4 star ASEAN NCAP rated MPV.

I basically have no complaints about how the Ertiga drives, handles and behaves. For a B segment MPV or car it is quite good in terms of the drive. The refinement part is impressive to say the least. From the low NVH levels to the spaciousness of the interior for a small MPV. I think it did feel less cramped in the third row compared with a Perodua Alza.

Even when seated in the third row I thought that it was more than bearable. It was comfortable to an extent. My legs did not feel cramped nor did I suffer from a lack of headroom in the back (note that the seats are in the theatre arrangement – the front is the lowests, the second row rises up a step and the rear gets another rise up making everyone have a view out the front (visibility from the driver's seat is still good even which this arrangement).

Boot space with 6 passengers is also decent. There is a false floor where you could load stuff and the spare tyre sits underneath with access from the underside of the Ertiga. Space utilisation is good.

Some issues
So my issues as regards the Ertiga are the beige interior for one (which the Indonesians must like as this is similar to what is sold over there). Beige interiors are bright and airy but I do notice that it may get dirty faster than usual (if you have kids that like using upholstery to wipe their hands) and the fact that the younger car buyers like darker interiors.

The second issue is the simple audio system. In the age where everything is touchscreen with this and that we only get a basic system that has a tiny LCD strip for information. It plays CDs, radio and blueteeth and USB. But it looks so simple. Note that its Malaysian competitor has a larger screen in the top specced variant.

So how is the Ertiga? A good competent drive with good space utilisation inside. It does have some flaws as mentioned above. But which basic, affordable car isn't compromised in one way or the other? But if the price is right I see a bright future for it and it should hit the sale targets that Proton (and Suzuki) are after - 1,500 units per month. 

I do believe that since this is Proton's first EEV (energy efficient vehicle) status vehicle, it will also benefit from some tax discounts. Proton will only tell us the price come launch time (sometime very soon I hear).

Note on pricing
The top spec Ertiga Plus has to come in under the most affordable Proton Exora Bold MPV(RM67,000) by at least RM5,000 if not there would be too small a gap between the larger MPV when monthly instalments are taken into account. RM5,000 in a nine year loan is an extra RM65 or so. 

Another reason why the top specced Ertiga should be priced at around RM62,000 or below is the fact that Perodua is selling the top specced Alza at RM65,000 or thereabouts. It has a 1.5 liter engine and higher equipment levels (if not space utilisation inside – this one the Ertiga beats it). The top spec Alza has a proper infotainment system compared to the high spec Ertiga. 

Anyway, enough speculation. It HAS been launched. 

Photos of the Suzuki Ertiga - This is basically it. Swap out the logos front and rear and there you have it. Same front bumper, lights etc. 

 The rear differs in that the ERTIGA lettering is removed from the chrome strip and there is a fog light right in the middle of the bumper.
Even the wheels are similar
Swift dashboard. Set slightly higher due to the Ertiga being a MPV. 
Maruti Ertiga interior showing airbags being deployed. Legroom at the rear is good. 

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