PROTON will not die wondering. The Malaysian carmaker is deadly serious about making a play for market share at the bargain-end of the motoring spectrum; dropping prices, offering free servicing and packing more features into its cars.
With an influx of Chinese brands circling, now is a vital time for Proton to lift its game and grab a foothold in Australia.
We drove the Preve last year in entry-level form, but now this GXR turbocharged variant has arrived to provide some much-needed shove and bring the compact sedan's performance more in line with key competitors.
Sizable internal dimensions enable the Preve to join an illustrious group in this genre we like to call super-smalls. Like the Nissan Pulsar, Mitsubishi Lancer and Holden Cruze, the Preve offers impressive cabin space.
Four adults are an easy fit, with generous head, leg and knee room. Space in the back depends on how long-legged the front passengers are, but most would have little difficulty climbing inside and finding comfortable accommodation for a long journey.
Being the top-spec model, this GXR gets a few more bells and whistles than its stablemates.
The interior looks dated, somewhat 1980s, but the piano-black finishes as well as the quality German-sourced Blaupunkt stereo and sat nav system raise the tone. A leather-clad steering wheel also improves the overall cabin appeal.
Driver instruments and cabin operations are all simplistic and require minimal analysis, but the primary trip computer could do with some updated graphics.
On the road
Our previous experience in the Preve left us underwhelmed with the engine performance.
This turbocharged unit is vastly improved. Probably still not what you would expect from a sport model, it performs more like a modern-day four-cylinder.
Plant your foot and the Preve will respond in a linear manner but there is little chance of it throwing you back into the seat. Even in sport mode.
Partnered to a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel to access seven programmed ratios, the turbocharged donk can take some encouragement and calls for eager acceleration can be met with just noise as the CVT and engine work to catch up with driver intentions.
Handling is quite good, with the suspension developed by Lotus (Proton owns the British performance brand). Throw the Preve into a corner and it performs better than anticipated with surefooted traction, and it took some reasonable effort to find typical front-wheel drive understeer.
While the GXR's overall performance was improved over the base-mode GX, it still lacks polish.
There is hefty road noise, our test offering stalled several times when first started in the morning, and we had to press a button each time we got inside to wake the electric folding side mirrors because they don't open until about 5kmh.
What do you get?
On the standard inclusions list are reverse parking sensors, automatic rain-sensing wipers and LED headlights, push-button start, cruise control, climate controlled air con, satellite navigation, cool Blaupunkt touch-screen stereo with auxiliary and USB ports as well as Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, leather-wrapped steering wheel and five-star safety rating courtesy of a suite which includes six airbags, stability control, reversing sensors and anti-lock brakes.
There is a fair bit around for this money, albeit not with turbocharged engines, but also worth a look with similar performance characteristics are the Hyundai Elantra (from $20,990), Nissan Pulsar ST (from $19,990), Mitsubishi Lancer (from $19,990), Kia Cerato (from $19,990) and the new Mazda3 (from $20,490).
There is little argument about the ongoing value proposition. Free servicing for five years or 75,000km and a warranty of the same period or 150,000km.
Expect to get fuel consumption of about nine litres per 100km, which is getting thirsty for a four-cylinder.
Depreciation isn't good, so be prepared to lose value rapidly. Although given the warranty and servicing plan, it offers ample peace of mind for five years.
Good boot space is aided by a back seat which folds 60-40. It made a perfect hauler for a birthday party, where it swallowed a table, chairs, eskies and a heap of other trinkets with room to spare.
There are two cup holders in the centre console as well as two in the fold-down armrest in the back. Up front there are some good nooks and spaces for essential items and each door also has a pocket.
The Preve is a conspicuous offering, yet the GXR gets some extra bling courtesy of the "turbo" badging, rear spoiler and 10-spoke 16-inch wheels to give it a sporting edge.
Without doubt, Proton has packed a lot into the Preve GXR for the drive-away price of just below 23 grand. But the package still isn't alluring enough.
At this price it's within reach of rivals such as the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra, which are better value even without free servicing.
This turbocharged four-potter delivers pretty similar performance to the non-turbo variants offered by the competition, and the Preve GXR needs to raise the bar in just about all areas to be on an even playing field
What matters most
What we liked: Much improved performance over the base model Preve, Blaupunkt stereo and sat nav system.
What we'd like to see: Reversing camera, electric side mirrors which open from start-up, leather trim, more off the bottom line price to make it competitive.
Warranty and servicing: Five-year/150,000 warranty with roadside assist. Free servicing for the first 75,000km or five years.
Model: Proton Preve GXR.
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive small sedan.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 103kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 205Nm @ 2000-4000rpm.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with steering wheel paddle shifters.
Consumption: 8.6 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $22,990 drive-away (includes $1000 factory bonus).
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