The Proton Suprima S is the hatch variant of the Preve sedan we have already tested, though has enough of a difference to make for the best car we've driven yet from Malaysia.
One key change in addition the the more practical body style is a new 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with a seven-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT), where the Preve uses a non-boosted 1.6L.
The Proton Suprima S sits near the bottom of the price range for the small car segment, starting from $18,990 driveway with an $800 factory bonus for the GX six-speed manual to match the same figure for a Nissan Pulsar hatch that is only RRP.
It finishes up at $25,790 driveway for the GXR automatic that includes the same limited-time factory cashback offer).
The Proton Suprima S is the first of a new-generation of vehicles from the Malaysians that promise a five-star safety rating, better build and reliability credentials.
From the outside the Suprima S is a modern and elegant design. Its front is by styled by Italdesign Giugiaro (a company owned by Lamborghini and credited with such beautiful cars as the Alfa Romeo Brera).
Its grille and LED daytime running lights add an extra layer of sophistication generally not found on cars in its price range, while the side profile carries an Audi-esque bodyline (Audi owns Lamborghini).
The rear is a bit more conservative (designed by Proton) but its two-tone bumper design helps emphasis its hatch proportions and style.
Inside, the Proton Suprima S is a simple yet practical cabin, but does tend to emphasis the simple part a little too much. The air-conditioning and light controls are plasticy and don’t necessarily feel nice to touch.
The seats themselves are comfortable but the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel does limit seating position for the tall folks out there.
The rear is surprisingly roomy and feels more like a Toyota Camry in size than a Corolla. There’s more than enough space for two tall adults to fit comfortably, a third can join for short trips as well. There are two ISOFIX anchor points, which means new child seats (when available) will be super simple to install.
The 7-inch LCD infotainment screen, which is available on all variants, is surprisingly handy and packed full of features. It runs an Android-based system that lets you download apps and does pretty much anything a mid-range Android smartphone can do. You can tether your iPhone or Android’s phones internet connection to it for wifi and away you go.
Of course it does all the basic Bluetooth audio streaming and telephone connectivity functionality as well. Proton says it’s iPod compatible, though despite our best efforts its Android system refused to talk natively (using a USB to lighting cable) to our iPhone 5S – though it had no issues via Bluetooth.
It also froze at one stage (not unlike an Android phone) but after a proper reset it all went back to normal and had no further issues. As a display, it does suffer from lack of brightness and contrast on a sunny day but overall it’s an excellent unit for what is standard equipment in a very reasonably priced car.
Behind the wheel the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a tad sluggish off the mark, but once it gets going it’s no slouch. The manual doesn’t arrive for another few months, so the automatic is all we had a chance to test.
With 103kW of power and 205Nm of torque, the 1.6 turbocharged engine is by no means tuned for performance – going from 0-100km/h in 9.9 seconds – yet it also uses an above-average amount of fuel (9.1L/100km officially). (A similar engine found in the Nissan Pulsar produces 140kW and 240Nm.)
On the road the Lotus-tuned steering and chassis handle the everyday suburban roads easily but the Suprima tends to bounce around a bit when the going gets tough.
The steering system is ideal for a car its size and fit for purpose, but expect a bit of play on centre and occasional kickback if driven over a poorly surfaced road. The continental tyres (17 inches on GX, 18 inches on GXR) provide excellent grip mid corner and not too much noise in the process.
The seven-speed (artificial gears) CVT 'ProTonic' automatic transmission is made in Belgium and does its best to extract power and torque at the right rev range.
But while it just sits on a set RPM when the accelerator is flat to the floor to aid economy and acceleration, the engine drone and gearbox sound is less than ideal.
On the safety front, the ANCAP five-star-rated Proton Suprima S gets six airbags, traction and stability control across all models. The high-spec Suprima S GXR also gets front parking sensors, a reversing camera (though no rear parking sensors), daytime running lights and hill-hold assist (no roll back on a gradient).
What the Proton Suprima S tries to do is to provide a safety net for those that just want a safe car that works without the worry or hassle of potential issues and associated costs.
To that end, Proton’s five-year warranty and free servicing is an ideal combination. It simply leaves the fuel and insurance costs for the first five years of ownership and not much else. In addition to that, now that is has a five-star safety rating, it’s also not a compromise on safety.
Resale values, based on the Preve, are among the lowest in the segment, though, which does wipe out some of the Suprima S's price advantage .
If you've got no more than $19,000 in your budget for a small car, the Proton Suprima S comes with plenty of equipment and some peace of mind, though the price tag could still have a bigger gap to its Japanese, Korean and European rivals that can justify their higher premiums with generally higher-quality interiors and more refined driving manners.