On paper, the Proton Preve GXR looks hard to beat.
At $22,990 driveaway, the top-spec Preve GXR CVT (continuously variable transmission) is cheaper than the base variants of better-known rivals including the $21,690 Holden Cruze Equipe auto, 22,290 Nissan Pulsar ST CVT, $22,490 Mazda 3 Neo auto and the $22,990 Toyota Corolla Ascent CVT (all before on-road costs).
The Proton’s impressive list of standard equipment humbles its competitors. Preve GXR highlights include 16-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights and wipers, push-button start, cruise control, climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with gearshift paddles, and a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation – features that see the price of most other small sedans nudge $30,000 on the road.
The Preve GXR is very safe, earning ANCAP’s maximum five-star rating and coming with six airbags (dual front, side and side-curtains), electronic stability control and reversing sensors, as well as three child-seat anchor points and two ISOFIX mounting points.
It’s spacious, offering decent rear-seat room for adults, a Commodore-beating 508-litre boot, and 60:40 split-fold rear seats to create even more cargo room.
And it’s covered by one of the industry’s most generous aftersales packages, with customers protected by a five-year/150,000km warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance, seven-year anti-corrosion warranty, and five years/75,000km of free servicing.
By now you’re probably asking one of two questions: ‘Where do I sign?’ or ‘What’s the catch?’
A glance at the sales numbers suggests most Australians are thinking the latter. Fewer than 500 Aussies have purchased a Preve since it went on sale last year. To put that in context, Toyota sells as many Corollas in about four days.
Much of what the Preve lacks is in the detail.
The cabin’s layout is neat, though many of its plastics are hard, often flimsy and lack the quality feel of the Preve’s more mainstream rivals.
The steering wheel doesn’t get reach adjustment, and its phone and audio buttons aren’t backlit, making them hard to see at night.
Its auto-folding mirrors are handy, particularly when parking in tight streets, though they’re speed sensitive and only open out automatically after start-up once you reach a certain speed – annoying when you want to check around you before pulling out into traffic – forcing you to press a button to redeploy them.
There’s no boot release button on the boot lid, meaning you either have to hold down the unlock button on the key fob for three seconds, open the boot from inside the car, or manually insert the key into the lock to open it. Lifting the boot lid also reveals two large gooseneck hinges.
There are also a number of quirks to the infotainment system. Among those is the ‘configuration’ tab in the general settings menu, which, as we found when innocently pressed, disables the screen and all buttons and demands a complete reset.
There are some redeeming features, however. Pairing your phone via Bluetooth is simple, the central screen displays at a good resolution, and the Garmin navigation system is intuitive and provides clear directions.
The cabin also has a big glove box and decent storage in the door pockets and centre console bin.
The driver’s seat is comfortable and offers enough torso and thigh support. The bases of the A-pillars are quite broad and can obscure your view, but rear visibility is good. Back-seat passengers also get a soft and comfortable seat base but miss out on air vents.
The Preve GXR’s engine is another aspect that looks good on paper. The turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit produces 103kW at 5000rpm and 205Nm between 2000-4000rpm – competitive numbers for the segment.
Less impressive is its fuel consumption, which is rated at 8.6 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Worse still was the 12.6L/100km displayed by our test car’s trip computer after a week of predominantly city and suburban driving that also included some highway and back-road excursions.
The engine is loud and gruff at idle, and rattles plastics and sends vibrations through the cabin under hard acceleration. It’s initially slow to rev and feels laggy and hollow down low, and isn’t helped by the automatic transmission that is slow to react. The CVT also whistles and whirrs while cruising.
It’s willing through its broad mid-range, however, delivering decent kick, making it feel capable around town and inspiring confidence when overtaking.
The Preve GXR feels most settled on the highway, where the smooth surfaces make life easy for its suspension. The ride becomes busier over coarser roads and typical suburban streets, jittering over patchy sections and thumping over road joins and speed bumps.
The steering feels vague around the straight-ahead position and is slow to turn in. It’s initially light but becomes progressively heavier as lock is applied, lacking the consistency of its more dynamically rounded rivals.
The Preve feels balanced through corners, though is not as settled as its hatchback sibling, the Suprima S. Its Goodyear Eagle NCT5 tyres are also less grippy than the Suprima’s Continentals, and transfer excessive levels of road noise to the cabin on coarse roads and at higher speeds.
If quality and refinement are high on your priority list when shopping for a new small sedan, Proton’s more mainstream rivals will likely offer much greater appeal.
If you’re prepared to forego the polish, however, the Preve GXR delivers an unrivalled combination of equipment, space, safety and aftersales protection at its budget price point.