PROTON has launched three new models to our market - the Prevé GXR, Exora people mover and Suprima S hatchback - with talk of "The beginning of a new future for our brand," said Kaye Amies, chief operating officer of Proton Cars Australia.
In short, the Prevè GXR - a turbocharged version of the super cheap Prevé - makes a bit more noise but not much else; the Exora is blessed with cabin space but functional looks, while the hatchback Suprima S is the standout.
Decent spec, reasonable looks and a chassis that ain't half bad. Trouble is the price of this Proton has crept up into the territory of some very competent rivals.
Proton tells us the Suprima S name is derived from "supreme" but the general cabin feel falls short of backing this up.
It's not unpleasant, it just feels like the designer has been inspired by a circa-1995 look and refused to compromise.
The layout at least is clean and uncluttered, and a touch-screen infotainment system with 17.7cm monitor looks good and gives an air of that Suprimaness.
Our GXR test vehicle had firm but comfy leather seats, but the steering wheel felt thin, while the mix 'n match hard plastics of the dashboard and door trims ranged from faux carbon fibre to a style we can only describe as a plastic Star Wars figurine finish.
On the road
Proton has always milked its Lotus association, and the Suprima S proudly carries its "Handling by Lotus" badge on its hatchback rump.
The Suprima S certainly shows signs of decent chassis fettling.
If any Proton demanded a more satisfying steer than the rest of the range it's this Suprima S - as a turbocharged sporty-looking hatchback it's aiming for a younger demographic, and that "S" bit in the name stands for Sport.
The Suprima S has nice weighty steering, is pretty precise when thrown into the turns and doesn't suffer body roll to the same degree as its sedan stablemate Prevé.
Sharing the same engine as the Prevé does the Suprima S no favours.
Even with its turbocharger, albeit a low boost one, it only just reaches 100kmh in 10 seconds so keeps it away from true hot hatch territory.
For those of you who fondly remember Proton's high-point Satria GTi, the Suprima S is no successor with this powerplant.
With only 103kW it never delivers unadulterated performance, throttle response is average and the four-cylinder sings in the higher rev range.
The CVT auto gearbox with paddle shifters isn't a bad thing, but we'd suggest the manual version (available in 2014 for $2000 less) would suit the Suprima S better.
What do you get?
This is the most comprehensively equipped Proton seen on Australian shores, and does boast more kit that anything else at this price point.
An ANCAP five-star safety rating comes from six airbags, electronic stability control, seat-belt pre-tensioners and a lightweight reinforced safety structure.
A 17.7cm LCD touch-screen with built-in DVD player and Bluetooth can't be sniffed at, while hop into the pricier GXR model and you get leather, parking sensors, reversing camera, climate control, cruise control, engine start button and WiFi capability.
Here's where the Suprima S has a spot of bother. The sub-$40k hatchback segment is a crowded one - 23 models from 18 different manufacturers - and is chock-full of very good metal.
Of the many, the Hyundai i30 ($19,590), Mazda 3 hatchback ($20,330) and Toyota Corolla Hatch ($20,990) are all tough opponents, but these prices will climb if you start adding a similar spec to the Suprima S.
With a low boost turbocharged engine you wouldn't expect the fuel economy to be bad at all, but a quoted 9.1 litres/100km isn't thrifty for a small hatch.
To be fair to Proton, we achieved this economy figure on our enthusiastic test drive, so perhaps Proton is just a bit more honest with its figures than its rivals?
A massive plus point is the Suprima S's five-year warranty, roadside assist and five years of free servicing up to 75,000km. No other manufacturer in Australia can match this, so big thumbs up to Proton for backing itself here.
Much like other Protons in the stable, don't expect a decent resale value here, so if you buy a Suprima S, try to make it for keeps.
Cabin space is impressive for a small hatchback, with a surprisingly good amount of room for rear occupants.
The rear seats can be dropped to make best use of the hatch boot, and positively, the Suprima S loses nothing to its rivals in the practicality department.
The most desirable looking Proton since the Satria GTi? We think so. Proton has gone for a safe style rather than anything groundbreaking, which is probably for the best in this saturated market.
It has shades of sportiness to it, so Proton's target market of 25 to 40-year-olds may well warm to the Suprima S's contoured lines, attractive alloys and Turbo badge.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
What we liked: ANCAP five-star safety rating, decent specification at this price, a more satisfying steer than other Protons, warranty and free servicing.
What we'd like to see: A more refined engine with a bit more poke, improved economy.
Warranty and servicing: Five year warranty and roadside assist. Servicing is also free for five years or 75,000km, with servicing intervals annually or every 15,000km.
Model: Proton Suprima S GX and Suprima S GXR.
Details: Five-door front wheel drive compact hatchback.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder generating 103kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 205Nm @ 2000-4000rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic with seven ratios and paddle shift (six-speed manual available in 2014).
Consumption: 9.1 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $20,990 drive-away Suprima S GX, $25,790 drive-away Suprima S GXR (includes current factory bonus reduction). The 2014 manual will cost $2000 less in GX and GXR form.
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