Proton Prevé - Test Drive Report
Towards the end of 2008 I test drove the Proton Persona (CNG Version). At the time, I had hoped that the Proton would provide a real alternative in the Thai market, and unfortunately despite looking good on paper, and despite offering apparently excellent value for money, I came away from the whole experience disappointed.
Jump forward to today, and we are mid-way through 2013. The new Proton Prevé has been on the market in Thailand for just a few months, and I finally found time to check it out. As I got behind the wheel of the new car I had similarly high hopes that the Prevé could deliver.
Continue reading to see if the Prevé could do better than the Persona.
A real Proton
Proton has a complicated history spanning 30 years. During this time the Malaysian company has relied largely on technological partnerships with Mitsubishi, Citroën and most recently Honda. Proton has rebadged Mitsubishi cars, even recently with a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer.
In the late 1990’s Proton bought a majority stake in Lotus, and somewhat of a fiasco resulted when Proton started to claim that everything they made had “Lotus DNA”, “Lotus tuned suspension and handling” and so on. Fast forward to 2013, and it would appear that Proton is making a real effort to stand up for itself.
The Proton Prevé brochure is bereft of any mention of Lotus, in fact it has a rather strange little “Proton Ride and Handling” stamp in the top corner.
The Proton Prevé really is a Proton but confusion remains. The Proton representative here in Bangkok wrongly informed me that the Prevé engine was from a Mitsubishi. In actual fact, Proton and Lotus worked together to develop the engine in house.
Regardless, Prevé means prove, or proof apparently, and Proton seem to have made a big effort with the car. So, how did they do?
Where does it fit?
On paper the Prevé looks like a reasonable proposition. Actually, in Premium specification, the safety specification is excellent, and unmatched in this class and price point. Actually at THB 759,000, the Prevé rivals the Honda City and Toyota Vios top spec models, but the Proton is actually a class above and should actually be compared to the Civic and Altis in the C segment. Price can’t be ignored though, and I think it is only fair to consider the Prevé as being over 200,000 baht cheaper than its true rivals.
In the metal, the first thing that strikes you about the Prevé is the size. The Prevé is longer, wider and taller than both the Altis and Civic. With a length of 4543 mm, width of 1786 mm and a height of 1524 mm, the Prevé offers a lot of metal for the money. This advantage is helped by a long wheelbase at 2650mm. No surprise then that when you climb aboard you find that the Prevé is very spacious.
I am 6’ 1” tall, and with the drivers seat properly adjusted there was ample legroom for me to sit behind the driver seat. Headroom is also good, and while the floor is not completely flat, it is virtually flat, and foot space is very good for the centre passenger.
Thanks to the practical design boot space is 508 litres, just shy of the Nissan Selphy which has a 510 litre capacity. Even better is the 60-40 split folding rear seat backs that allows for larger items to be carried. So far so good!
In the drivers seat
Finding a good driving position didn’t take long either, however I might have just been lucky. While the steering wheel is height adjustable, it doesn’t have as much adjustment as some may like. Additionally, there is no reach adjustment, something which is offered in the Civic for example. So, while I found a perfect driving position despite these shortcomings, some might not be as fortunate.
The driver seat can be height adjusted though, so it isn’t all bad.
Ergonomics aren’t perfect however. The indicator and wiper stalks are set too far back on the steering column, and extending a finger to operate them is a bit of a stretch. But, apart from this there isn’t all that much to complain about.
Actually there is quite a bit to like. As already mentioned, the car feels roomy. While some have described the interior design as dated, I found the aesthetics pleasing, and while the centre console might appear sparse, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Navigation and media
The navigation/media system is positioned below the central air vents. This isn’t ideal placement but on a plus it is easy to operate. The Blaupunkt unit sports a 6.2” touchscreen and provides navigation, radio, USB media play back, DVD/CD and MP3 playback as well as Bluetooth integration for paring with a phone.
The system performs pretty much as you’d expect, although there is a slight delay with most of the functions, I have seen worse. The unit has a small cover for the USB and AUX inputs directly on the device, while there is an additional USB and AUX jack located in the centre console behind the gear leaver. These would be ideal for a smartphone connection, and there is a little sliding cover to keep said device out of sight. There is also a power point here, and another is located to the back of the armrest storage unit which is accessible to rear passengers.
The media system is well catered for with steering wheel mounted controls. These include volume controls with a mute/call button on the left side, while on the right there is a mode selector with toggle switches to navigate the functions of the media system. This all works as expected.
The steering wheel also includes paddle shifters for the “virtual” gear selection option and an old-school stalk to control the cruise control. This is fine by me.
To the right of the steering wheel there is a slot to accommodate the key fob, and to the right of that is the engine Start/Stop button. This is quite a neat solution and it seems like a sensible idea to have a place to put the key fob.
So far not a lot to complain about, but it is on the move that the Prevé really starts to shine. And while 5-years ago the 2008 Persona was a disappointing experience, the 2013 Prevé was anything but.
Let’s start with the power. I have read that the normally aspirated CAMPRO IAFM+ is adequate. The CAMPRO CFE found in the Prevé Premium is more than adequate. With 138hp, and 205Nm of torque from 2000-4000 RPM, the Prevé feels lively. Proton likes to say that the 1.6 litre turbo unit offers the same performance as a 2.0 litre normally aspirated unit, and this is more or less accurate.
The engine feels strong from low revs, and the CVT makes manoeuvring at low speeds very comfortable. Refinement is pretty decent too.
Flooring the gas pedal results in a nice and smooth delivery of power. Rather than feeling a kick down as would be the case in an automatic as it shifts gears, the CVT adjustment is almost undetectable. The rev counter climbs steeply and stays high as the car accelerates before dropping back to around the 2,000 RPM mark when cruising speed is achieved. Acceleration feels brisk from 30-80 km/h.
The gear leaver has a S position, for “Sport” below drive. In this mode the car will rev slightly higher during acceleration, and while it does improve performance the engine note is a little rougher. And although I have heard criticism of the refinement of the Prevé motor, I think these are unfounded. The engine is no less refined than the 1.5 in the City/Jazz for example. Nice and quiet at low revs, but quite a lot more vocal when pushed.
Perhaps it is just me, but I actually enjoyed the sound made by the Prevé.
While the CVT doesn’t have gears in the traditional sense, it is possible to hold the ratio and thereby simulate manual gear changes. The Prevé has such a system, which is actually very similar to the one employed by Honda for the previous generation City/Jazz. The Prevé has a 7-speed system and it worked very smoothly. Whereas the Honda system seemed to object to every selection I made and overrides my selection moments later, the Prevé gives me the benefit of the doubt, trusting that I know what I am doing. The result is surprisingly pleasing, and while descending a hill I was able to drop a few gears and notice the engine braking taking effect. Gear changes, such as they are, happen very smoothly too.
In reality this is a feature that will rarely be used, but it is fun to have the option. As if all that wasn’t enough, it is also possible to operate the manual mode via the gear leaver by moving it to the left from drive. Again, unlikely to see a lot of real-world use, but if like me you are used to manual transmissions and need something useful to do with your left hand, well.. there you go.
Ride and Handling
Proton hasn’t mentioned Lotus in connection to the suspension tuning of the Prevé, but this is one area that the Prevé shines. At the risk of sounding overly excited here, the Prevé is a great driver’s car. At low speeds the steering is nicely weighted, and it is very easy to keep the car moving in a straight line. This might sound like an obvious thing to get right, but many cars in this class/price range require constant minor adjustments to just keep to the road.
The Prevé has firm suspension, but yet it manages to be very composed and settled. On rough road surfaces the car does a reasonable job of soaking up the bumps. Overall the ride quality is good, and having recently driven the Civic Hybrid, I would say that there isn’t much to separate the two in this area.
Get the speed up though, and things start to shift in favour of the Prevé. The steering feels very precise, and even on bumpy surfaces the car remained very settled. If anything, the ride improves with speed. The car feels very well worked out and composed.
Like I said: great driver’s car.
The Brakes are good too, with a nice progressive feel, and no dramas.
We’ve already covered the interior in some detail. All doors include storage areas and there are cup holders in the front centre, as well as in the rear armrest for rear seat passengers. The front seat backs have pockets included, and the glove box is average.
Overall, due to the size of the car, and the sensible design and layout, the Prevé scores high in terms of practical day-to-day usefulness. Passengers will be comfortable, and there is adequate storage, while luggage space is class leading.
There are a few niggles here however. For a start, closing the glove box was a rather horrific experience, requiring a rather forceful slam, and it sounded like I broke it. However, it opened just fine, but once again required the same force to reclose. It is possible that this was just a quirk with the model I was looking at, but you’d imagine this would be an easy thing to get right.
This is another win for the Prevé. With a 5-star NCAP rating from Australia, the Prevé is as safe in a shunt as you can currently achieve in this class. But that only tells some of the story.
You see, no other car in this class can match the Prevé with 6 airbags. The Honda Civic maxes out at 4 airbags, while the cars in the Prevé’s price range might have 0, 1 or 2 depending on the manufacturer.
So, as well as a strong shell, the Prevé is packing 6 airbags. Beyond that, the 759k Prevé has ABS with EBD, as well as BA, TCL and ESC! All for 759,000 baht! Top marks for the Prevé here also.
As well as sporting an excellent array of active and passive safety kit, the Prevé comes loaded with other bells and whistles you simply wouldn’t expect to find in a car of this price. These include LED running lights, automatic headlights, automatic rain sensing wipers, and auto folding electric wing mirrors (that don’t wobble around on rough roads).
Also remember that the car has navigation, cruise control, push to start, and there really isn’t a thing to wish for.
Okay, no leather seats, and a reversing camera would be a nice option, but remember: THB 759,000.
When I reviewed the Persona I concluded that there was no way I could recommend the car. While there were some positive aspects to the car, not least the competitive pricing, the Persona felt like a car from the late 90’s.
The Prevé is an entirely different proposition. Sure, it is not without its flaws, but when you take the price into consideration, and remember that the car is unmatched in this class in terms of safety kit, there are many compelling reasons to carefully consider the Prevé.
The Prevé is fun to drive, well equipped, good value for money, spacious, comfortable and comes with a 5-year/150,000km warranty to boot!
So what is the catch? Well, first, it is a Proton and this is Thailand. If this were a Toyota it would be the top selling car in Thailand. Unfortunately, Thai customers would rather buy a Toyota Vios with NO airbags and an 11-year-old engine and transmission system than to take a chance on a Proton Prevé, albeit considerably better in every way.
The brand snobbery in Thailand will not end in the showroom either. If you are brave enough to buy a Proton here, don’t expect to have an easy time selling it on in a few years. Depreciation will be ridiculous. As an example, a 2010 Persona has already lost half its value in a mere 3 years.
Also, while Proton has been back in Thailand for a while now, the dealer network is quite limited, and options for servicing locations are very limited when compared to the more established players.
What it comes down to is more or less this. If you are okay with the Proton brand, and you are looking for a safe car that offers great value for money (at least initially), and if you are brave and ready to deal with the jeers from those who will say “I told you, you should have bought a Honda.” when things go wrong with your Prevé, then you should book a test drive and give it some real thought.
This is a good car. Perhaps it is just wearing the wrong badge.
Finally, regardless of how successful this car is or isn’t, I am delighted to see it on the market. It shows what can be offered here in terms of value for money, and it should give pause to the Toyota and Honda fans. Toyota and Honda are ripping off the Thai public. They cut corners in terms of safety specification while charging significantly more for the cars here.
Proton has done it right.