The Proton Exora is here to help big families on a tight budget.
In a day where it would cost a family of seven about $500 for a day trip to Wet’n’Wild, and up towards $250 to go watch a 3D movie at the cinema, a brand new people-mover available for just $25,990 with nothing more to pay may seem heaven sent in relative terms.
The Proton Exora replaces Kia’s Rondo as Australia’s cheapest seven-seater after the South Korean rival stepped up in price with its second-generation version launched locally in 2013.
Proton splits its people-mover into two trim grades: GX and GXR. Even the base model has its share of standard-feature highlights.
They include air-conditioning across all three rows, Bluetooth, LED tail-lights, 16-inch alloy wheels and reverse sensors, though possibly most notable is the ceiling-mounted DVD player that will help to keep the rugrats entertained.
The Proton Exora GXR costs another couple of grand at $27,990 drive-away. It adds some aesthetic touches such as extra bits of chrome here and there, daytime running lights and a rear spoiler, though the important additions are a reverse-view camera and cruise control.
Running the Proton is made cheaper by the inclusion of free servicing for five years (with a maximum of 75,000km), free roadside assistance for five years (up to 150,000km) with a five-year/150,000km warranty thrown in for good measure.
However, while the Proton giveth peace of mind on the one hand with that generosity, it also taketh some of it away with the omission of protective airbags for the second and third rows. Only the driver and passenger benefit from the potentially life-saving cushioning devices.
The Exora also misses out on a full five-star independent crash rating, losing some marks for its performance in the frontal offset test.
If this is a budget-priced people-mover, it is reflected in the cabin that is 50 shades of grey of the literal rather than literary variety.
The design layout is super-basic as are the unrelentingly hard, dull plastics, with upholstery in grey whether you have the GX (cloth) or GXR (leather, with brown highlights).
Storage isn’t great, either, with narrow door pockets and a centre console tray that sits on the floor but is shallow and requires looking away from the road or fumbling around for items such as your mobile. There are dual gloveboxes, though.
Boot space is decent, the loading lip isn’t too high, and the rearmost seats also split fold 50/50 for cargo/passenger flexibility.
A comfortable driving position isn’t guaranteed for everyone with the lack of telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel and seatbelt height adjustment. The front armrests of the GXR are also flimsy.
Moving back a row, the middle section of the cabin provides good legroom for adults though the seats are flat and unsupportive.
The seatbacks here split 60/40 with a top tether child seat set-up though no Isofix points for the clever child seat restraint system that will be available in Australia in the near future.
There’s also a 12V socket in the middle row, with the GXR trim grade gaining an extra one for the back row.
Headroom is excellent in that third row, though the shortage of legroom and virtually non-existent toe space makes these two seats a best-left-for-the-kids scenario.
There is that DVD screen to help pass the kilometres remember (hoping the kids can agree on what to watch), while all occupants get audio entertainment in the form of an aftermarket-style Clarion audio fitted as factory standard. And it’s a great-sounding system.
You may be tempted to turn up the volume, though, to cover over some of the various noises that intrude into the cabin.
The brake pedal in our test car would squeak regularly, buzzes emanated from the dash under acceleration, and the continuously variable transmission auto also made a constant whine, accompanied by some whistle from the turbo fitted to the Exora’s engine.
The 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and CVT don’t make a bad combination, though.
There’s only a modest 103kW of power and 205Nm of torque, but the latter is at least produced in a good drivability zone of between 2000 and 4000 revs. (In contrast, the rival Rondo in petrol form produces 213Nm at a high 4700rpm.)
There’s some initial sluggishness off the line, but from there the Proton Exora picks up sufficient people-transporting pace and the transmission helps make that acceleration a smooth affair.
It helps that the Exora weighs about 100kg less than the Rondo despite the 4.6m-long Proton being bigger than the Rondo (about 7cm longer and 8cm taller).
Official fuel consumption of 8.3 litres per 100km is reasonable for a seven-seater, though it’s pipped by the Rondo here (7.9L/100km) as well as the bigger (more expensive) Honda Odyssey (7.6-7.8L/100km).
The Proton Exora rides more comfortably than the Odyssey, though. While the Malaysian model’s suspension (struts up front, torsion beam at the rear) can be occasionally noisy as it tries to deal with messy road surfaces it’s competent at keeping the body composed.
Competent is also a good word to describe the steering, which is sufficiently smooth and just needs to be a bit quicker from lock to lock to make the Exora feel more car-like than bus-like.
The Kia Rondo is the stronger people-mover choice if you can stretch to $29,990 (current drive-away deal at time of writing in May 2014), with its more appealing interior and superior safety.
The Exora’s omission of airbag protection for middle- and rear-row passengers is certainly not ideal, and it reduces the vehicle’s Price and Features rating that would otherwise have been a 9 out of 10.
Cabin quality and refinement are also lower than would be preferable, but buyers will weigh that up against the fact this is a competent people-mover that’s both extremely cheap to buy and run.