Monday, January 23, 2017

TEST DRIVE: THE PROTON ERTIGA EXECUTIVE PLUS A/T - The Ertiga Media Drive Experience to Kuala Selangor

A few weeks ago I went on the new Proton Ertiga media drive. This was the first time most of us motoring guys got to try Proton's all new compact MPV out on Malaysian roads. Prior to this most of us had a go with the Ertiga over at Proton's test track where we decided that it was a decent little people carrier that would get the job of transporting a family of five to six (occasionally seven) people comfortably in and around the country. The only thing that came to our mind at the time was how much Proton was going to price it.

So when they launched it sometime in November last year, we found out that it was priced at RM58,800 onwards. This meant that it is one of the most affordable compact MPVs sold in Malaysia. Most of us also noted and wrote that this is actually a total rebadge of the Suzuki Ertiga which different logos in place and extra fog lights/reflectors. I have to add that at RM58,000+, this is stretched, widened, heightened Suzuki Swift platform.

This is now sold as the Proton Ertiga and is actually cheaper than what it would have been if Suzuki (now no longer selling cars in Malaysia) were to have sold it. Note that Suzuki sold the base Swift at around RM65,000+. Imagine this larger six seat MPV. So on the point of price and affordability I was already a believer in the Ertiga. You are essentially getting a Japanese MPV with a Proton badge. You spend less money for a Japanese car. This is how you play the game if you want something Japanese but at a lesser price.

Now that they've launched it, announced the price the only thing I believe that I should do is comment on how it performs. In terms of styling, the Ertiga is all about making the best use of its space. Function before form in most ways as it is simply a single box design with extended wheel arches at each corner of the car. It is not ugly in any way but neither is it a knockout busty blonde wearing knickers and louboutin heels sexily whispering your name into your ear. This is someone reliable, and dependable. Like Ronald McDonald, each Big Mac ordered from him will taste exactly the same day after day.

As I mentioned in the initial drive report, the dashboard design is typically current generation Suzuki Swift tweaked for the Ertiga. Everything is similar in operation and feel.The plastics aren't high end but it feels good enough to touch. The steering wheel, gearknob, hand brake as well as other contact points all feel good to the touch, not outstanding, but good enough for this price point. It does look slightly no frills but in an entry level MPV, it is good enough. Not many compact MPVs at this price point come with a rear compartment air blower unit. Not many compact MPVs at this price point and more can fit a chubby bloke in the third row seats easily and comfortably (you don't suffer even seated right at the back). This is one compact MPV which you can sit six people properly (seven is actually possible but since it does not come with seatbelts for the middle seat in the second row...).

The drive experience

Anyway, I have typed about this in the initial drive. Let's talk about its performance out in the real world. The Ertiga media drive took us from Proton's Centre of Excellence to Bukit Melawati in Kuala Selangor, parts of Sekinchan and back. The roads were a mix of highways and rural dual carriageways. The roads in and around that part of Selangor are actually quite bad. Potholes, undulations and bad patches mark most of the roads in that area. So whilst a short day trip, the drive did make us understand a bit more about the Ertiga. 

In terms of outright performance, the 92ps/130Nm 1.4liter engine can cope with the weight of 6 people (each with a small bag) easily on the short hillside stretches of Bukit Melawati. It is no scorcher but its not meant to be one. What the Ertiga can do is give you ample power to drive up and down Peninsular Malaysia or drive from one end of Sabah to Sarawak. It is not fast. The 4 speed automatic version we tested will change gears up and down when required but do not expect lightning speed from this MPV (It feels like it would do the 0-100kmh dash in around 14seconds but not much faster). 

Of course, we also tested the fuel economy of the Ertiga and since it is an EEV (energy efficient vehicle) certified vehicle it was actually able to achieve the fuel economy figures which Proton posted. It seems the new batch of Protons are indeed fuel efficient (some even without the EEV certification). The Ertiga proves it by easily doing an average of 6liters/100km on a fuel economy run.

The thing about the Ertiga is that the engineers designed it for emerging markets in Asia. India and Indonesia were the main target audience and the suspension feels like it is meant to cope with bad roads. The high riding long travel suspension soaks up all the bumps thrown at it by the Kuala Selangor roads. The roads in and around this part of Selangor is so bad due to the soft soil composition. It is beside the sea and the area is full of paddy fields. 

The roads would sink in sections causing some parts to rise and some parts to fall. This is especially prevalent around the bridges built. The bridge stays put but the road leading up to it has sunk causing a sharp bump or even jump. Which the Ertiga could easily tackle due to its ride height. If you live around Kuala Selangor or areas where the soil is waterlogged, the Ertiga would be a practical mode of transport. You can even carry loaaaads of agricultural produce if you push the seats down. Again, the seats are easy to arrange as they are easy to operate onces you get used to it. That being said, the suspension works well on rough B-roads. 

On the highways, the Ertiga cruises decently well at 110kmh. It feels refined and planted at the highway speed limit. It also does quite well until 130kmh if you push it a little. At this higher than usual speed you can hear or feel the limitation of the 4 speed automatic. It makes the engine sound a little harsh. Wind noise is still kept in check but what the Ertiga feels to me is that it is designed to cruise at around 110-120kmh on highways with little effort. More than that and it feels like you're pushing it. The steering lacks feel and has some freeplay off center. Now whilst it is based on the Swift, the Ertiga is built taller and has larger tyres. I suppose this is the trade-off you get for a comfortable and higher ride. 

The Ertiga is a well designed six (and sometimes seven) seater compact MPV. I say it is well designed because it can carry two big journalists at the third row seats. It has a blower for the passengers at the rear (so important as it can get hot). The airconditioning is like what you'd expect from a Proton – It is suitable for our hot and humid weather. The ride works well on the worst roads you could throw at it. The refinement is good at highway speed limits. 

I have no real complaints about the Proton Ertiga. Aside from the fact that Proton (and Suzuki) speccing the Ertiga with an audio system from 2005 instead of 2016 I am quite happy with the rest of the car at the price it is being offered. Space for luggage in any compact MPV is limited. It is the same with the Ertiga but there are clever storage spaces located throughout the car. I even did not bother about the light coloured interior which does brighten up the car's interior. Of course, if you have small children or barbarians eating and drinking stuff inside, then seat covers, a little discipline or some fabric shampoo occasionally would do the trick. 

Some people have complained about the lack of power. Well, it is a 1.4liter MPV. Work within its limits it will still perform. How you drive a car like this is different from how you drive something like a 1.6liter sedan. It is adequate and when you drive such a car you have to adapt and plan ahead if you plan to overtake. Always take the safe and sure route in cars like this. I have to emphasize that Proton is giving people a chance to own a Japanese MPV at a very affordable price. You cannot have everything at a certain price.

 Some did mention the lack of any sort of electronic traction control, but even Suzuki did not spec this into their models at this time - But at the speeds the Ertiga was designed for, and if you drive within its designed limits, I do not find this an issue. You have to be a totally irresponsible driver to lose control of the Ertiga and you may have been driving dangerously in the first place. That being said, the original designers of the Ertiga, Suzuki, designed the Ertiga to have a 1.4liter petrol engine from the outright. So spirited driving isn't on its design spec. But being a Suzuki, it drives well.

Is the Executive Plus worth the extra?
So whilst I tried the white Ertiga Executive Plus A/T you see in most of the photos here,  the entry level Ertiga Executive comes in at around RM58K with everything you need. You don't really need to by the Ertiga Executive Plus as the plus points are limited to some exterior garnishing and some extra interior bits. The equipment inside both variants that you can prod or touch are the same. So you could just buy the base model and enjoy the savings. Maybe if you like a bit of chrome in the front bumper and signal lights in the side mirrors, then by all means go ahead and pay RM64,800 for this white one you see here.

Remember, big people like me can sit at the rear most seats. I find that a big deal in small, affordable MPVs. And it is basically Japanese, aside from the badges. I find that to be quite a good deal folks.

Below: The white one below is the Ertiga Executive. Note the lack of indicators on the side mirrors and the lack of chrome trim above the driving lights on the bumper.

Proton Ertiga is the first model introduced through PROTON’s collaboration with Suzuki Motor Corporation Japan. 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.

1.4 VVT (variable valve timing) multipoint powered injection 

4 speed automatic torque convertor

Fuel consumption at 5.7L/100km for the (MT) and 6.0L/100km for the (AT) based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) which combines both urban and extra urban cycles.

Tank Size:

4265mm long, 
1695mm wide and 
1685mm in height with a wheelbase of 2740mm. 
185mm ground clearance, 

2nd row air conditioning blower 
One touch smart access lever on the 2nd row seats allows for convenient and easy access to the 3rd row. 
Foldable rear seats provides versatile seating arrangements, especially when the 2nd and 3rd row seats are folded to provide a storage space of 735 litres.”

Both variants have added comfort and convenience features such as sliding seats which promote ample space for the 3rd row seats, a 60:40 fold 2nd row seats, a 50:50 fold 3rd row seats, a 45 degree 2nd row seat recliner, 2nd row arm rest, headlamp levelling and 4-speakers sound system. Proton Ertiga also comes with electric steering with tilt adjustment, radio/CD/MP3 and USB/ iPod Jack.

The Executive Plus variant is further fitted with auto fold side mirrors, audio switches at the steering wheel, 2 tweeters, in addition to the 4 speakers, and back pockets for driver and front passenger seats, turn signal at the outside-rear-view-mirror (OSRVM) and driver seat height adjuster. In addition, the chromed finished inner door handle and fog lamp garnish as well as tinted film give it a more luxurious feel.

In terms of safety, both variants are accorded 4-star ASEAN NCAP rating and are equipped with various passive and active safety features such as the ISOFIX and top tether, 2 front airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), power window auto-up and anti-trap (for driver’s side), front fog lamp, rear fog lamp and reverse sensors.

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