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It’s been hot in the automotive circle in Malaysia where a slew of hot hatchbacks are launched within a span of weeks from each other. From Mercedes, we have the A200/A250, Volvo with the V40, Volkswagen offers the Golf GTi to spice things up ….. but they all pale compared to Proton when our national maker launched the Suprima S last week. In size, they’re similar and fall in the same C-segment hatch category but compared to the rest, the Suprima S is ahead of the pack; from the affordability point of view.

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Banking heavily on it’s active and passive safety features, the Suprima S hopes to attract buyers who’re looking for the agility of a Ford Focus and the performance of a VW Golf … all for the price of a B segment Japanese car. You’ve really got to hand it to Proton; I’m sure they’ve done – *ahem* – extensive studies by – *ahem* – highly-qualified consultants to come up with a benchmark chart against these vehicles and claiming the Suprima S exceeded those 2 hatches in almost all aspects in terms of driving experience. At the risk of sounding like a jakun (Malay slang), I thought Proton was exhibiting a fair bit of spirit the moment I saw the results. It’s as though here you have our local jaguh standing up against the German and American giants and giving them the finger with their latest offering.

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Either that or with “internal testing” as the source, Proton’s marketing team had too much a good time the night before the presentation and did a “syiok sendiri” with that kind of declaration. Probably more of the later instead of the former.

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Whatever it is, a test drive is warranted and the results was mildly surprising. Here’s why:-

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Disclaimer: I went to 5 different sales branches and was only able to test drive the car ONCE so the observation shared below is strictly based on that ONE test drive. It could very well be that this particular unit had some issues that are not standard among all other units so it is best for you to test drive and verify for yourself. Do note that there are 2 variants of Suprima S: the cheaper Executive and the top-of-the-line Premium

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Design

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I’m not going to elaborate much about the differences between the Suprima S and the Preve, the sedan in which the Suprima is based on. Instead, do spend a couple of minutes watching and listening to Hafriz Shah, editor at Paultan.org who did a great job running through the features of the car. The video can be found HERE.

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Back from watching the video? Good. To summarize;-

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  • Honeycomb and horizontal lines on the grille and lower front bumper has been swapped.
  • Suprima rims is upsized to 17″ (with 215/45 tires) compared to Preve’s 16″ (Executive spec retains 205/55 R16)
  • New LED DRLs
  • Redesigned rear lamps to suit the hatchback theme. Love the ‘L’-shaped lights reminiscing the kris.
  • Rear diffuser
  • Badges -Handling by Lotus makes a come back

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What’s not mentioned is the side mirrors fold and unfold when the car is locked or unlocked. This is unlike the Preve where unfolding only occurs once the car achieves a certain speed after driving off. The Suprima’s simultaneous unlock/unfold, similar to that found in the Peugeot 308 makes more sense and safer although one wonders the durability of the motor.

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What’s incorrectly mentioned in the video is that at 1.42, Hafriz mentioned there is a new fog lamp. There isn’t; the Preve did come with 2 rear fog lamps but this feature is omitted in the Suprima S which is pretty strange since some countries (especially those with 4 seasons) makes it a mandatory feature to have before the car is allowed to be sold there. Either Proton does not plan to export this model or it`s an oversight that they plan to rectify in subsequent editions. That little red trapezoid we see at the diffuser is just a reflector.

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Performance

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No difference in terms of engine specification; we still get the same 1.6litre turbocharged Campro engine which has a maximum output of 140Ps @ 5,000rpm and 205Nm of torque at 2,000-4,000rpm. What’s not the same is Proton has dropped the CFE name and decided to stick with a huge Turbo badge which, according to them is a lot easier for the market to relate to than some obscure alphabets whose Charged Fuel Efficiency full name is lost in translation ….

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… and would probably be the butt end of jokes since there isn’t anything efficient about returning 9.1litres of fuel per 100km in a combined cycle. And that’s just on paper which, in my experience is usually overtly optimistic. The brochure on the Preve claims 6.6litres per 100km @ 90kph which is absurd given the only time anyone maintains 90kph is at AES zones. Still, in my non-empirical, unscientific, biased and strictly personal opinion, the Preve might be doing better in returning more mileage for each full tank due to it being lighter in kerb weight (Preve 1,340kg vs Suprima S Premium 1,395kg).

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The Suprima also gets CVT for a gearbox and it would tie with the Preve at maximum speed of 190kph; except the Preve would arrive at that speed a day earlier than the century it would take for the Suprima. Seriously, while it is understandable that being a hatch Proton would have to change the manufacturing process to comply with safety regulations (hence, possibly the heavier weight) but it rather difficult to stomach that a hatch (one with a S-for-Sport denomination at that) sprints slower to 100kph from standstill compared to its sedan brethren (Preve in 9.6 seconds while the Suprima in 9.9 seconds).

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Still, all is not bad with the Suprima. Despite it being thirstier and slower than the Preve, the engine note of the Suprima is more tolerable than the Preve when driving hard. Where the Preve’s engine sounds like some poor animal is painfully abused when someone slams the gas pedal, the Suprima demonstrates none of this weakness …. it even sounds macho to some extent by proving it has better acceleration from zero to 50kph, something the Preve does only after whipping its engine pass 2,000rpm. Such improvements are thanks to adjustments made to the car’s ECU (engine control unit) and TCU (transmission control unit). Honestly, it was a lot more fun driving the Suprima S around as city driving speeds are achieved without much fuss. The only time when you wished you had more ooompphh under the engine is when you’re climbing a hill or moving up to speeds on the highway. Personally, it is adequate for most people.

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There’s also something else that’s interesting to note in the Suprima S’s engine bay:-

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The higher one is Preve while the picture above with the “Turbo engine” is the Suprima S; notice there is a silver canister located on the left side near the coolant reservoir?

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Peek behind it and you’ll see the label above. Proton has added an electric vacuum pump in the Suprima S which should enhance the braking system and is required for the Hill Hold Assist to function in the Premium version.

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Ride and Handling

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Seriously, it’s not bad. The suspension is orientated slightly towards comfort, potholes and irregularities on the roads are soaked up well. Throwing the Suprima to a bump won’t unsettle the car and it is composed around corners and bends, a true testimony of its Lotus-tuned front MacPherson Strut and rear multilink with stabilizer bar set-up. And like all front wheel driven, front engined vehicle, understeer will set it the moment you push the car too much. The “much” is quite a lot and unless one is race-track trained or having too much to drink till you have less sense to hail a cab rather than driving under alcoholic influence, your balls would fail you long before the limits of the car is reached.

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It doesn’t help that the biggest weakness of the Suprima S, IMHO is something we use ALL the time when driving; the steering. Feedback is inconsistent, sometimes heavy but often times too light and is particularly unnerving when taking a quick pace at long corners since you’re not entirely sure when the front wheels is going to go on strike and quit keeping the car in line. The lightness is not as bad as a Peugeot 408, more similar to a Kia Rio but the alternating hard/soft steering that’s hard to predict like a girl’s mood while having PMS mars the whole driving experience which is a real shame. It’s strange since on paper, it uses a conventional hydraulic power steering and this phenomenon is not observed in the Preve. The other issue with the steering is its accuracy; the unit I tested doesn’t turn as quickly or sharply when I flick the wheel. As a matter of fact, I could turn about 5 degrees to the left or right and the car still moves relatively straight. It’s not as bad to the point where you can’t steer the car but it’s certainly no where near the “German” or “American” car’s level.

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Speaking of brakes, the ones on the Suprima I test is rubbish. The Proton SA I was with claims the Preve’s brakes was too stiff and Proton re-calibrated the brakes to make it more pliant and linear. It makes it feel as though you’ve got a 70 year old granny with no teeth trying to bite the discs. More work needs to be done here to improve its stopping power.

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Cabin Convenience

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Everyone says the dashboard is not as bad in real life as it does in pictures and I agree. The “Tempest Grey” theme (the silver areas) fits the interior well and provides a good contrast against an otherwise dark and sober cabin. The fit and finish is better than the Preve I remembered, which is strange since the Preve I remembered (article found HEREshould be sharing similar components as the Suprima. If one jumps into a Preve today, you will note that there is a marked difference compared to the ones done during launch day so technically, the fit and finish of the Suprima can be said the same as Preve, which is much better than before.

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As mentioned in Hafriz’s video, the finishing on the steering is now piano black which would attract finger prints. At least it’s better than the Preve’s which had the glossy black surface everywhere. The leather wrapped steering in the Premium variant felt thin and would have been a lot gripper if they have made it a little fatter.

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By the way, although the Premium spec has Push Start/Stop button, you’d still need the key to be slot in before cranking the engine (the same as the Preve)

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Probably the biggest improvement in the Suprima S compared to the Preve is the 7″ LCD touchscreen which is like a 80″ TV versus an iPod. Both retains similar functions except you can play DVDs in the Suprima’s unit. The larger screen also makes the GPS function a lot more user-friendly. Also not seen is the Preve is the addition of Parking sensor activation/deactivation found on the right side below the window defogger button. The reverse camera is one of the clearest I’ve ever seen.

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Visually, the center console suffers from only one balance issue which draws people’s attention to: the gap between the air conditioning controls and the hazard light switches. The space is quite obviously disproportionate compared to the space below the air con controls. Proton could have made some inserts for the hazard light area to satisfy our need to see balance.

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It’s leather seats all round for the Suprima and while I’m willing to endure the occasional burnt ass in our super hot climate in exchange for the ease of cleaning the seats, it does get rather challenging when one’s ass is sliding all over the place when tackling corners at high speeds. It’s a good thing I’ve got a large arse to keep me planted but that’s besides the point. At the very least, it’s further encouragement for one to use the seatbelts when driving.

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Another positive improvement is the rear headrest. The top picture is taken from the Preve whereas the lower picture has headrests that has a snug fit on the backrest which increases rear visibility. The new rear headrest offers good head support and the rear inclination is comfortable. Both Suprima S and Preve has good rear legroom and long distance journeys for rear passengers offers less fatigue.

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Safety

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This is the part that I’m really proud of Proton since the Suprima S is the first Proton model to be fitted with 6 airbags. Aside from that, it has the following safety features:-

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Executive variant

  • ABS
  • EBD
  • BA
  • ESC
  • TC
  • ISOFIX & Top Tether Mount Point
  • Front Active Head Rest
  • Anti-trap Power Window (Driver side only)
  • Immobilizer
  • Rear parking sensors

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Premium variant

In addition to the Executive spec,

  • Front parking sensors
  • Hill Hold assist
  • Reverse camera
  • Auto headlamp
  • Electronic gear shift lock

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Specification

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Executive

  • Fabric seats (water repellent)
  • Leather door trim
  • Steering wheel with audio switch
  • Manual folding side mirror with LED turn signal
  • 7″ LCD screen Proton Infotainment system with DVD player, integrated DSP, Bluetooth, USB & iPod connectivity
  • 4 speakers
  • Built in GPS
  • Driver’s seat height adjustment (manual)
  • Projector headlamp with LED position lamp
  • Rear LED light guide
  • Tailgate remote release
  • Rear spoiler
  • 4G in Car Wifi

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Premium

In addition to the Executive unless stated otherwise

  • Leather seats instead of fabric
  • Leather door trim instead of fabric
  • Leather wrapped steering wheel with audio switch
  • 6 speakers with 2 tweeter at A-pillar instead of 4 speakers
  • Daytime Running Lights (DRL) instead of LED position lamp
  • Push Start/Stop button
  • Auto cruise
  • Auto front wiper

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Ownership and Maintenance 

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The new Suprima S retails for RM76,688 for the Executive and RM78,688 for the Premium (deduct RM350 if you opt for solid colors instead of metallic) and comes with 5-years warranty and 5-year free road assist.

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Should you consider one? Without a doubt, one would be hard-pressed to find another C segment hatchback that offers the size and specifications of the Suprima S (just as it is for the Preve when it comes to a C segment sedan). However, in today’s escalating fuel and general living costs, the relatively higher fuel consumption (as well as the 17″ tire replacement if one goes for the Premium) may not be as economically viable as other options out there. One can of course argue that the vast difference in price compared to the American and German hatch accounts for years of saving if one takes in how far the car can travel per full tank of petrol. It’s not like Protons in the past where safety is compromised especially since it is rated 5-stars in the NCAP safety rating.

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Personally, I find it rather amusing that most manufacturers first launch a hatchback (or at least launch it together) before following up with a sedan version given us Asian’s have an affinity towards sedans. After all, many subscribe to the belief that bigger is better; more room for the family to grow into (yours truly being one of them). It’s rather smart of Proton to differentiate the Preve with the Suprima S by having a more sporty (if one can call it that) interior, improve on its engine response and a shorter length to make it easier to park around town. The Android based headunit might appeal to tech geeks but coming stock from the showrooms, the headunit is locked and adding new apps is not possible unless it’s hacked in some way (which is just a matter of time, I feel).

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If I have a budget of around RM80k and need a C segment (be it sedan or hatchback), I’d still go for the Preve with it being the cheaper car, cheaper to maintain/run and a boot that makes traveling with it more versatile. The Preve would lose out in the number of airbags but it has rear fog lamps which makes more visible when driving in the rain (especially compared to the LED slits that makes up the Suprima S). Others like GPS I can use my smartphone and playing a DVD while driving can be quite distracting even if it is just your kids watching a show. The only thing that would be truly missed is the reverse camera which is crystal clear. The shame of having an engine that sounds rough when pushed is a compromise I am willing to make in view of those above.

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Ultimately, the Suprima S is still a long way off before it can take on any continental makes, be it German or American. While suspension-wise it is a huge improvement over Protons of the past, the steering response, accuracy, engine performance and balancing it all with good fuel economy is far from what’s seen in the Internal Testing Source chart. But then if you only have so much to spend for a hatch, there aren’t that many choices out there unless one is willing to compromise on the size of the car. From that perspective, the Suprima S would be on the top of your list.

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kensomuse

Though working in a field completely unrelated to the automotive industry, kenso has always had an interest in dabbling into the automotive industry, particularly business related aspects such as sales, marketing, strategic planning, blah blah blah. You can probably find better sources of technical specifications elsewhere if you dig long enough in the internet as this blog talks about the real life ramifications of who, what, where, when and why of the automotive world and focuses on relevant information to potential buyers.

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9 Comments

  1. sudonano
    August 26, 2013 at 6:32 pm — Reply

    Small typo there:

    “your balls’ would would ‘fail you long before the limits of the car is reached.”

    Otherwise good writeup.

    I did notice poor finish in the Suprima too at the SS14 Proton dealer. The bumper was not fitted properly in the front. Also, the A pillar airbag cover was actually coming off a bit. Not to mention the rather shallow boot.

    I still wonder how they could say this is better than the Focus and the Golf. Really.

    • August 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm — Reply

      Thanks for the spot, error corrected. Incidentally, that one model I managed to test is the same SS14 dealer you went to.

      • sudonano
        August 26, 2013 at 9:43 pm — Reply

        Oh coincidence!

        Was there on friday. The poor build of the showroom unit itself put me off the test drive.

  2. sutheshkumar
    August 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm — Reply

    I have tested the Suprima last Saturday. Personally for a Proton I think it is a good effort. But……

    – the plastics despite being softer, still needs improvement.
    – the steering is nice to hold but feels a tad bit weighted for me. My dads Focus is super smooth.
    – the brakes like you said, is rubbish. Makes me wonder the handling test claims.
    – I am quite surprised with the CVT7. It is wayy better than the CVT6 is Saga and quieter as well. But the whinning noise, I think after an hour of journey I will curse like a sailor.
    -The space, front, back and boot is amazing. My dad is equally amazed.
    -my testunit has a blurred camera but it is really2 a gem to use.

    But the biggest drawback is when I was driving, the plastic panel form the lever came off when I changed the gears. The SA (a really well versed girl. Kudos to her!) told me that the car is 2 weeks old and there has been many who tested it. As my dad mentioned to her to glue it back as it might bring some negative feedback to people, it made me question one thing. 2 weeks some wear and tear already been surfacing, what am I to expect when the car is a year old?

    Otherwise I think it is a great car. Or maybe you should get a Kia Rio instead.

    • sudonano
      August 26, 2013 at 9:45 pm — Reply

      Get a Kia Rio. Really. Or the clearence Forte six speed. Showroom unit, with 20km on the odo, and you tell me the airbag cover is coming off the A pillar on the driver’s side? :O

  3. Fuel Cell Phone
    August 26, 2013 at 10:20 pm — Reply

    Quality issue noticeably in the interior’s fit and finish issue makes me remember my test drive of the Preve

    Seriously, dunno when P1 can really improve overall quality of reliability of their products

  4. ernie
    August 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm — Reply

    the glove compartment jammed when i tried to open it at the platinum show room. had to pull it open.then i tried another showroom and same thing. it keeps getting stuck.
    so, if they cannot get the glove compartment right, what about the rest of the car?

  5. ericmaxman
    August 31, 2013 at 10:16 pm — Reply

    There is a foglight. Try tracing the wires being the foglight

  6. Fraz006
    September 1, 2013 at 3:43 am — Reply

    Small2 things.. Haha, i know this before i bought saga blm and inspira. The interior small2 things have very high possibility to tercabut, longgar or whatever.

    Thats what proton still is so far, sadly. But, to me they are just small matter, tercabut pasang balik, longgar ketatkan. But, all the important stuffs(safety, ride, power, transmission), i can see/feel the seiousness since blm zaman already.

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