The new Proton Suprima S

It’s been a while since Proton came out with a medium-sized hatchback to complement its sedan line. At the start of this decade, after the Waja came the Gen2 and then the focus changes to small hatchbacks (the Savvy and Satria Neo), perhaps in the hope that the company could draw the younger generation of buyers. But hatchbacks have limited appeal in Malaysia and fortunately, the Persona was developed, followed by the New Saga and then the Preve.

While hatchbacks won’t sell in bigger volumes than sedans, they nevertheless provide a ‘sporty’ alternative in the range and certainly, if Proton is looking at growing sales in Europe, a hatchback would be important. And now the company has one – a bodystyle variant on the Preve platform which is called the Suprima S. Not associating the hatchback with the Preve sedan suggests that the Suprima may be the start of another model line.

When the name first leaked out, there was a lot of puzzlement about its origins and inevitably, some jokes too (which is the case with some car names). Was it inspired by a special soup from Rima’s Kitchen? Or did someone in Proton suggest it because they ordered a certain pizza so many times? The simple answer is that it was coined from ‘Supreme’. Presumably, the Proton lawyers have done the necessary searches in potential markets to ensure that the name can be used, as they are now doing with the names suggested for the next model in 2014. However, this new model will probably need a different name  if it is to be sold in Germany (Mr. Google will tell you why).

Anyway, enough of talking about the name and let’s look at the new model. In profile, it has well balanced proportions without the bulbousness that some hatchbacks tend to have. The roof line is fairly flat, while the  high waistline and narrow glasshouse gives a sporty flair to the car. Definitely another fine effort by Azlan Othman and his design team at Proton.

The ‘face’ of Proton models has long since departed from the theme which was inspired by the wau (the Malay kite) and handle of the keris which was used for models during the first half of the previous decade. For the Preve and Suprima, the design language is called ‘Proton Wings’. It is most evident in the frontal presentation which shows nice detailing, clean but distinctive.

The rear end also has a neat presentation, again without any bulbousness. The character lines give the impression of a carved piece of sculpture while the chunky lighting elements incorporate LEDs as a ‘light guide’.

A comparison of dimensions will show that other than being 107 mm shorter than the Preve, the other dimensions are similar. However, depending on the version, there’s a 35 to 55 kg greater weight for the Suprima and this is contributed by the glass area (glass is heavier than steel) and probably additional reinforcements needed at the rear end due to the larger opening.

Spirited performance is still maintained as the Suprima gets the most powerful CamPro engine which is the turbocharged 1.6-litre unit which produces 138 bhp (140 ps) and as much as 205 Nm of torque. That can take the car to 100 km/h in a claimed 9.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 190 km/h. Fuel consumption, according to factory tests, is 11 kms/litre so the 50-litre fuel tank should be good for at least 600 kms on outstation journeys where there are no jams. There’s no manual transmission available at this time and customers get only the 7-speed PROTRONIC CVT.

The Suprima rides of the same platform as the Preve so it’s MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link location for the rear wheels. It’s only to be expected that the ride and handling are superior, something which Proton can boast of with lessons learnt from its subsidiary, Lotus Engineering. However, over the past few years, what used to be called ‘Lotus Ride and Handling’ was changed to ‘Proton Ride and Handling’. Curiously, for the Suprima, it’s back to ‘Lotus Ride and Handling’ and there’s even a prominent badge on the rear end to shout about it (wonder if they still have to pay Lotus a royalty fee for each badge, as they did with the Satria GTI).

Perhaps, the new owner (DRB-HICOM) has decided that since they’re pumping so much money into the UK company, they might as well make full use of its name. Certainly, in overseas markets, the Lotus name will enhance the product’s image, as it did when companies like Toyota and Isuzu put the badge on their sporty models.

While the platform is already known, the big story for the Suprima is the safety engineering and it is comparable with European products in the same class, equipment-wise. Like all  modern cars, the bodywork is strong and forms a safety cell around the cabin. Hot-formed ultra-high tensile steel parts increase the strength in certain areas of what Proton calls RESS – for REinforced Steel Structure.

But that’s not all – a first is the provision of more than two airbags in a domestic Proton model and in total, the Suprima has six: two front, one each on the side of each front seat and curtain airbags which will drop down, inflate and cover the side windows from front to rear during a side collision. Of note is that the six airbags are standard on both versions. ISOFIX points are provided on the rear seats for compatible childseats, making it easier to install them.

The Suprima already has a 5/5-star rating in the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), the same as the Preve. The thing is, it has not actually been tested by the ANCAP organisation. Proton clarified that the rating was not just being able to meet the ANCAP target but actual cars had been sent to MIRA in the UK and the MIROS crash test lab in Melaka for tests. As both the facilities are internationally recognised, their results are also accepted by ANCAP. Thus, the results were good enough to rate the maximum score and on this basis, Proton is advertising the Suprima with ANCAP 5 stars.

That’s clear enough and better than in the past when some models had been claimed to achieve a certain number of stars and advertised as such but had actually never been tested by the organisations concerned. Few people noticed the fine print saying that the crash test results were only achieved on internal tests using the criteria set by the NCAP organisation. There is a difference and unless the organisation actually tests the model, a claim cannot be made, except in the case of the Suprima as explained.

As for Active Safety, the list is also impressive for a Proton (and perhaps long overdue): ABS with EBD and Brake Assist would be is expected but the Suprima also comes with  Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control. The more expensive Premium version also comes with Hill-Hold Assist which is great if you still have nightmares remembering trying to pass the driving test where you have to start off on a slope and not roll back. This feature keeps the car in position until it is time to move forward without having to use the handbrake lever to hold it.

Inside, it’s pretty much the same as the Preve though the dashboard seems to have undergone a bit of refreshment as it somehow looks cleaner. The cheaper Executive version is fairly well equipped but for an extra RM3,300, you get a lot more which makes the Premium version better value for  money.

With the Suprima Premium, there’s leather upholstery instead of fabric and convenient features such as auto-folding door mirrors, paddle shifters for the CVT, cruise control, auto-wiper and a button to start/stop the engine. You also get a rearview camera and 6 speakers instead of 4.

Since trying it out on the Inspira, Proton has forged ahead with the ‘connected car’ and Suprima’s infotainment system comes with 4G/LTE connectivity and wi-fi hotspot so that everyone in the car can surf the Net while travelling. That’s going to be wonderful for the younger ones and no longer will parents have to hear the dreaded ‘are we there yet?’ question! The system uses an Android OS so operating it will be familiar to most people. And, of course, it does come with a DVD player, Bluetooth and USB/iPod ports.

The rear accommodation is generous and headroom remains sufficient even for tall people. The rear headrests are the ‘saddle type’ which keeps them low when not in use, avoiding obstruction to the driver’s view through the rear screen. Seated at the rear, the passengers won’t realise they’re in a hatchback but when the occasion arises, one or both backrests can be folded down to extend the cargo floor. With both rear backrests down, the cargo volume can be increased by 38%.

At the launch of the Suprima this morning, Tun Mahathir, the ‘Father of Proton’, said he hopes that this new model will ‘correct the public perception that the company produces sub-standard cars’. Actually, Proton’s R&D and engineering capability can be considered world-class and impressive for a company of its size. If necessary, the company can develop a model entirely on its own, as proven with the Waja 13 years ago, so it’s cars are not ‘sub-standard’ in that respect.

What has had a serious impact on customer loyalty and respect has been build quality and this is one of the things which contributed to Proton being overtaken by the younger Perodua. Build quality is crucial to ensuring that a customer will stay with the brand and in the past, bad experiences drove people away. Even motoring journalists, trying to help Proton, often passed on the message that ‘this new model is built better than any previous model and even the power window system has been tested to twice the normal service life’ and has not failed’. And the promise of higher quality proved to be a false one as owners started to complain about problems.

As a product, the Suprima is a nice new model which offer great value for money – especially in the area of safety. It adds a sporty alternative to Proton’s line and comes at a time when Proton has to be more focussed on exports and having an extra model to put in showrooms overseas is important.


[Chips Yap]