If ever a brand needed a car to be a hit, it’s the Proton Suprima S for the Malaysian brand.
Being priced competitively is key to any car’s success, and the Proton Suprima S gets off to a decent start in that regard, with driveaway pricing for all models. The entry-level Suprima GX is priced at $19,790 for the manual and $20,990 for the CVT auto, while the sportier Suprima GXR tested here which starts at $24,590 in manual guise or $25,790 for the CVT auto. Those prices mean it sits very close to established rivals such as the 3, Corolla, Hyundai i30, Holden Cruze, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
The base Proton Suprima S GX model comes well equipped, with 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear fog-lights, 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with Bluetooth connectivity and USB input and four speakers, steering wheel audio controls, reversing sensors, a multi-function trip computer and fabric trim.
The GXR model tested here adds several niceties and convenience items, such as cruise control, electric folding door mirrors, a folding centre armrest, push button start, auto headlights and wipers, steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters for the CVT auto specification, DVD player, satellite navigation and an extra pair of speakers up front. Leather trim and climate control air-conditioning complete the step up in spec.
It’s not all about standard gear, though – Proton is aiming to make the ownership aspect of its models one of the main selling points. As a result, the Suprima S comes with five years of free scheduled servicing (up to 75,000km), as well as free roadside assistance for five years (or 150,000km), and also a five-year/150,000km warranty.
On top of that, the Suprima S (and its Preve sedan sibling) achieved a five-star ANCAP crash test rating courtesy of its full complement of airbags (six, including dual front, front-side and full-length curtains) and stability control. The GXR also gets front parking sensors and a reverse-view camera.
But where the Proton may fall down is in residual value. Resale experts Glass’s Guide predicts the GXR auto will be worth about 50 per cent of its purchase price after three years, while the Corolla Ascent Sport will retain 56 per cent of its value, and the Mazda 3 Maxx holds 58 per cent over the same time.
The interior of the Suprima S is a big step up on Protons of years past – and even an improvement on recent models such as the Exora people-mover and the Preve sedan. There are soft-touch plastics on the doors and dash which give a sense of quality, and while the dashboard presentation is lagging in style terms, everything is well organised and easy to operate – except the media screen, which was glitchy in our test car.
It is spacious inside, with good head-, toe- and leg-room in the rear seat, which is comfortable and offers a good view of the surroundings. The front seats are also good, with decent support and manual height adjustment for the driver’s chair.
Storage is of a good standard, too, with decent door pockets both in the front and the rear, but the glovebox and centre console are a little small.
The rear seats fold 60:40, and the base section of the back pew can also be lifted and stowed in the footwell, creating a handy flat load floor for bulky items. The boot is average in its class in terms of capacity, with 309 litres that can be expanded to 427L. Frustratingly, there's no boot release button on the rear hatch - you need to hold the unlock button on the key or reach into the driver's door for the boot lever.
Powering the Suprima S is a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 103kW of power at 5000rpm, and 205Nm of torque between 2000-4000rpm.
Those figures match up quite well against entry models like the Volkswagen Golf 90TSI (90kW/200Nm), Toyota Corolla Ascent (103kW/173Nm) and Mazda 3 Neo (114kW/200Nm), but where the Proton drops the ball is its fuel use – claimed consumption is rated at 8.8 litres per 100km, well above the aforementioned automatic models which use 5.4L, 6.6L and 5.8L respectively. It needs premium unleaded fuel, too, compared with the cheaper regular unleaded required for two of those three rivals, Golf excepted. During our test we saw a combined average of 9.7L/100km.
The engine is willing, with adequate power and reasonably smooth delivery on the move. That its peak pulling power is available across a broad range means it is peppy and responsive to quick prods of the throttle. However, it can be a little sluggish from a standstill, exhibiting some turbo lag and slow reactions from the automatic transmission. Our car coughed and spluttered on a number of occasions during cold starts, too.
That CVT automatic is noisy and lacks the refinement of similar gearboxes seen in the likes of the Corolla and Nissan Pulsar. It whines and whirrs at a high 2200rpm at highway speeds, with the noise emanating into the cabin along with plenty of tyre roar.
Proton isn’t touting the car as any sort of hot-hatch but it does prove itself quite adept in terms of handling - the Malaysian maker spruiks the fact its cars are tuned by Lotus (see the badge pic). There's even a heavy duty strut brace under the bonnet.
The car’s suspension is set up for a sporty drive experience, and during our test it capably dealt with sharp corners and sweeping bends, the former with little understeer and a nicely balanced feel to the car. Its tyres – Continental ContiSport 3s – offer excellent levels of traction, which is rewarding the driver.
However, its firm suspension means it is hard over bumps, with the rear in particular rebounding too aggressively, and smaller inconsistencies noticeable through the cabin. The car’s brake pedal also offered inconsistent feel and response, biting harder on some occasions while pushing further towards the floor of the car at other times.
Unlike many modern day small cars the Proton does without a fuel-saving electric steering system as is so commonly offered in small cars, and is instead fitted with a hydraulic power steering unit that offers more natural response than some rivals. The steering is light but reacts quickly, though the turning circle could be better for those of us who spend a lot of time in town.
Ultimately, the Suprima S isn’t a class-beating small car, and we can understand why buyers will choose to opt for better known nameplates and the surety of better resale value.
However, it is far from embarrassing – indeed, it’s arguably the most rounded and mature car the Proton brand has offered to date.