2013 Proton Suprima S First Impressions – New Shape, Old Bugbears
When Proton introduced the new 2013 Proton Suprima S hatchback, they were insistent that it was a new model, and not merely a 2013 Proton Prevé in a hatchback garb.
I did find that hard to believe especially considering that the Suprima shares the same P2 platform, front end, and cabin as that of the Prevé, but delve into its mechanical and engineering details and you would find that the Suprima sports a raft of improvements.
According to Proton’s engineers, the Suprima features a more responsive engine, improved refinement on the CVT’s part, and tweaks to the suspension to improve handling. Atop those mechanical tweaks are the inclusion of two additional curtain airbags, hill start assist, front parking sensors, and a new seven-inch Android OS powered multimedia head unit.
The Suprima isn’t an entirely new model as Proton claims, but it isn’t a straightforward “copy-and-paste” job between the two cars either, so have these improvements worked for Proton’s new model? To find out, I took the top range Suprima S Premium on a drive from Proton's headquarters in Shah Alam to Nusajaya, Johor.
Ride and handling - Improving the formula
After a long absence, the “Handling by Lotus” badge makes a comeback on the boot of the Suprima, and a well-deserving car it is forthe Lotus association.
For the purpose of my test drive, I will have to compare the Suprima’s handling to the Prevé, not because of their relation, but because the Prevé boasted one of the best handling characteristics of any car in its class be it Korean, Japanese, French or German.
When supple, comfort and sharp handling are often mutually exclusive characteristics; the Prevé didn’t just nail this balance perfectly but seemed to offer the best of both worlds.
And the same can be said about the Suprima, despite maintaining a similar suspension system, the Suprima feels more planted to the road,has amore responsive front end with a sharper and faster turn-in, and notably less body roll under hard cornering than its sedan relative.
Its old-school hydraulic steering wheel system is perfectly balanced in weight and responses while delivering a decent level of feedback.
Proton attributes this improvement to a more aggressive suspension tuning, which features a stiffer rear stabiliser bar, and increased shock absorber rates.
The ride is marginally stiffer than the Prevé, of which I’m not certain if it has to do with the increased shock absorber rate or the lower-profile tyres, though having said that, much of the sedan’s absorbent ride comfort qualities are still present.
Design - A fitting new shape
They say that a photograph will add a few pounds to your appearance, but the opposite is true of the Suprima’s rear. Pictures don’t quite deliver the Suprima’s visual impact clearly across.
From the back, the Suprima looks nothing short of spectacular. With a wide and squat, ground-hugging stance, it could almost be passed off as the work of a European design house.
Proton’s designers were particularly proud of its rear light clusters, which have been formed with a three-dimensional shape and features a classy LED light guide snaking between its main lighting elements.
Its front three-quarter view on the other hand, isn’t quite as successful as the rounded rump makes the Suprima look more obese than muscular.
Not just trimming a dress to woo a new crowd, Proton’s designers say the protruding rear light clusters have been aerodynamically honed to cut turbulence and improve aerodynamics, while the front grille adopts a honeycomb motif which not only sets it apart from the Prevé, but improves cooling efficiency by 14 per cent.
Powertrain - Still the same Achilles’ heel
For all the brilliance of its chassis design and suspension tuning, the Suprima’s credentials as a sporty hatchback are hindered by the same component that mired the Prevé’s appeal: the CVT gearbox.
Though it is essentially the same gearbox from Belgian supplier Punch Powertrain, the Suprima’s CVT is said to be less noisy than the one used in the Prevé thanks to the use of new components.
And true enough, the whining noise at cruising speeds has been eliminated, but under hard acceleration, the CVT still gives off a subtle electric motor sounding whine.
That said, hard acceleration is something that the Suprima still doesn’t excel particularly well at. Even if you slam the accelerator pedal at a standstill, the CVT will gently coax the power through to the front wheels, and whine away as the engine speed is kept high while delivering moderate progress.
You can flip the gearlever to activate the manual override mode and summon up the seven pre-programmed virtual ratios of the CVT, but changes between the ratios doesn’t feel immediate or direct.
Ideally, the CVT favours slower and more patient throttle inputs; maintain the engine speeds at a moderate range and the car will build its speed up discreetly and eventually.
That is a shame because behind the CVT’s sloth in engaging drive to the front wheels, the Suprima’s 140PS/205Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged CFE engine really delivers a satisfying and urgent torque delivery. Many won't know the engine's potential as the power delivery is dulled by the CVT’s initial slow take up of power.
Ideally a conventional torque converter or a manual would have made the engine feel more lively and responsive, but for now, we all have to play the cards we are dealt.
Interior - Ingredients are right, not the execution
While handling is a trait most welcomed and shared among Proton models these days, the interior fit and finish is one aspect about the Suprima that I still find lacking.
Though its dashboard is as flat and featureless as a chopping board, it lacks finish and its buttons don’t feel substantial enough to give you the confidence that it will continue working into the next decade.
Also, some of the trim pieces like the glove compartment lid and driver side storage lid didn’t ‘align with the compartment openings properly, and my test car flashed its “Engine Check” warning light for no discernable reason midway through my journey home.
But fit and finish issues aside, the Suprima comes trimmed with all the right materials that you would only find on more premium offerings in the market.
The dashboard for example, is cloaked in a nice soft touch material, the arm rest and steering wheel on the Premium variant sport perforated leather trim, and there is enough storage space onboard for you to empty the contents of your pockets into.
With its new glossy black highlights, the steering wheel looks gorgeous and it is nicely contoured to fit your hands and fingers.
While I wouldn’t recommend having leather seats in cars of its price range for generally being poorly made synthetic material that is uncomfortable in hot weather, the leather coverings on the seats of the Suprima Premium on the other hand feel soft and comfortable, the kind that you would find on more premium offerings in the market.
Kudos to Proton on that part, at least they still know how to fit their cars with things that makes life so much easier in our climate.
Practicality and features – Premium offerings at a budget price
Despite being a hatchback, the Suprima boasts plenty of legroom and headroom for rear seat passengers.
Even the boot was large enough for weekend away luggage for four. Not quite as large as that of the Prevé’s boot, but excellent space for a hatchback.
While I can attest to Proton’s claims that the noise levels in the Suprima are nearly equal that of the Volkswagen Golf at speeds of between 60km/h and 120km/h, I can’t say the same when the Suprima at speeds of 140km/h and beyond, as wind and road noise is quite present.
Nevertheless, though it is little short on refinement, the Suprima’s ride feels rock steady at high speeds, similar to what you get from Autobahn conquering European cars.
It is true that the Suprima comes with all the features you would expect from a RM150,000 imported hatchback.
Six airbags, electronic stability control with traction control, 4G in Car Wi-Fi connectivity, and a remote tailgate release, all come as standard. Top up another RM3,300 and the Suprima will come with automated headlights and wiper systems, an additional front parking sensor, reverse camera, leather trim, LED daytime running lights, and two additional tweeters for your sound system.
Furthermore both variants of the Suprima are equipped with the same safety features, which earned it, and the Australian-market Prevé a five-star safety rating in the Australian NCAP crash tests.
But for all its neat features, there are a few practical oversights on-board the Suprima. The new Android OS powered multimedia head unit for example is easy to use, has a slick interface, and comes with all the features you would ask for.However, if you switch off the engine and turn it back on again, the multimedia system won’t resume any activity it was previously doing, unless you prompt it, which can be a quite annoying.
Also, while its front parking sensors are a brilliant addition considering its sizeable nose, the feature has to be activated via a button on the dashboard, instead of automatically when you are travelling at slow speeds.
Looking at the Suprima S from an objective stand point of quantifiable numbers, it is extremely good value for money.
With prices starting at RM76,338, the Suprima offers the space and size of a C-segment car at the price of a non-national compact B-segment car and stuffed with features from premium car brands.
Even if you count in the lacklustre drivetrain and drab interior, the Suprima is still a very tempting proposition.
Once again, its superior ride and handling should be the cement to seal the deal, but sadly for all its merits in that department, it is offset by a number of shortfalls.
Shortfalls such as quality control, long-term build quality, lacklustre drivetrain, and the level of after-sales service will once again hang a big question mark over the minds of customers.
As car are often bought as an ‘getting from A-to-B’ means, rather than an instrument of driving pleasure, build quality and cabin design and ambience are starting to take a higher precedence in the qualities that consumers look for in their next car purchases. And Proton cannot continue to use the “Handling by Lotus” badge to defend their products and deflect scorn that is aimed their way for long.
Engineering-wise, Proton should be proud of the Suprima S, it is a better car in most respects than the Prevé, I just wish they built them better.
SPECS: Proton Suprima S Premium
Price: RM79,988 (Metallic), RM79,638 (Solid)
Engine: 1,561cc four-cylinder turbocharged CFE
Max power: 140PS @ 5,000rpm
Max torque: 205Nm @ 2,000 – 4,000rpm
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Acceleration (0-100km/h): 9.9 seconds
Top speed: 190km/h
Fuel consumption: 9.1L/100km (official combined), 12L/100km (observed)
Strengths: Ride and handling balance, looks, refinement
Weakness: Questionable quality control, sluggish and dull gearbox