My, has it been a crazy year! It certainly has been for Proton, which has launched not just a new marketing campaign and a new logo, but also three new cars. The national carmaker kicked its product blitz in June with the D-segment Perdana, then followed it up with two successive launches in August and September with the Persona and Saga respectively.
We’ve been waiting for these cars for some time now, and after driving them it’s clear that while these cars aren’t necessarily perfect, we are seeing flashes of brilliance, particularly with the deeply-impressive Saga. But now the focus is on the last car on the launch agenda, one that is entirely out of the control of the talents within the company – the Suzuki-derived Proton Ertiga MPV.
The rationale behind it is simple. The Exora may have been Proton’s first MPV, but it’s a larger vehicle targeted at a more discerning buyer, one who wants more sophistication in their vehicle, if not more space. Meanwhile, the lower end of the market is burgeoning, with competitors left and right rushing to meet the needs of families who simply want as many seats for as little outlay as possible.
Now, Proton finally has the car to grab a slice of that pie. Available in Executive and Executive Plus variants, the Ertiga wants to be what buyers will think of when they think of a no-frills people mover, and with significantly lower development costs, will likely be priced as such. But is there any substance behind it? We put it to its paces on Proton’s test track, to find out.
The Ertiga is different from the rest of the cars that Proton has launched this year, even the Perdana that’s based on the eighth-generation Honda Accord. As per the agreement with Suzuki, it’s pretty much identical to the Japanese-badged model, and bears nearly zero input from Proton’s engineers and designers. Same case with the Ertiga-based Mazda VX-1 too.
As such, the Ertiga is essentially a facelifted Suzuki Ertiga with the Proton badge. Not even the name has been changed, contrary to our own Danny Tan’s words at the start of the year: “the tiger-badged MPV won’t be called Ertiga, of course.” Famous last words, Danny…
Proton’s version wears the standard facelift’s milder front fascia, instead of the extroverted Peugeot-inspired face of the Ertiga Dreza. The Swift-style vertical swept-back headlights remain, but the grille is now wider to meet the lamps and gets a chrome bar running across. The front bumper has also been redesigned with a friendlier face and larger fog lamp surrounds, with chrome trim on the Executive Plus variant.
The side profile remains nondescript, with the upswept window line and pronounced wheel arches being the only flourishes. The Ertiga’s wheel-at-each-corner stance is thanks to its sizeable wheelbase – despite being 327 mm shorter and 114 mm narrower than the Exora, the length between the axles is actually 10 mm longer. In terms of height, the Ertiga is a modest 6 mm lower than the Exora, despite the sizeable 185 mm ground clearance, meant for the rough rural roads of countries like Indonesia and India.
As for its other competitors, it’s a bit of a mixed bag – at 4,265 mm long, 1,695 mm wide and 1,685 mm tall, with a wheelbase of 2,740 mm, it is 5 mm longer and 65 mm taller than its closest rival, the Perodua Alza, but the latter’s wheelbase is also 10 mm up on the Ertiga. On the other hand, the Toyota Avanza is significantly smaller than the Ertiga in almost all aspects, only marginally besting the Proton in height.
Moving on, the rear of the car gets the tail light extensions and chrome bar seen on the facelifted model. Proton’s head of design Azlan Othman said that there was no option to remove these polarising elements, because of the agreement to take the car as is.
However, the rear bumper is taken from Indonesia’s pre-facelift Ertiga, likely due to the need to incorporate a rear fog light for the Malaysian market. Five-split-spoke alloy wheels are standard and measure 15 inches in diameter, shod with 185/65R15 GT Radial Champiro Eco tyres; they are identical to the Suzuki’s but come with centre caps carrying the new Proton logo.
Step inside and you’ll find an interior that has been carried over wholesale, with the exception of the Proton badge on the steering wheel boss. The grey-and-beige colour scheme may not appeal to everyone, but what it does do is open up the space, making the cabin seem much bigger than it is. It’s a distinct contrast to the Exora’s all-black atmosphere, which is more stylish but also gives off a more claustrophobic feel.
The Swift-derived dashboard will be familiar to anyone who has owned a late-model Suzuki, with a simple, user-friendly layout. Everything is laid out exactly as you’d expect them to be – a clear, legible instrument cluster in front of the driver and twin air vents at the top of the centre console, followed by a basic radio/CD player and three big knobs to control the air-con. The seats provide a comfortable, if upright driving position, although only the Executive Plus gets height adjustment.
Build quality is decent – although you’ll be searching long and hard for any soft-touch plastics, everything is screwed solidly together and feels up to par with anything from Japan or Korea. More disappointing is the lack of storage space at the front of the cabin – it certainly appears that the Ertiga has been designed before the advent of the smartphone.
Aside from the shallow shelf above the glovebox, the only place you’ll be able to store items is in the sole cupholder ahead of the gearlever. Space between the seats is taken up by the handbrake, and there is no cubbyhole under it to stow your odds and ends, like the Saga does. There’s no armrest, either, nor a cupholder for the second-row seats.
Speaking of which, the middle row is a two-seater – hence making the vehicle a six-seater MPV – even though the bench very clearly has space for three. The Ertiga doesn’t have a provision for a three-point centre seat belt, so the lap belt has simply been taken out.
Proton contends that as such, second-row passengers will make better use of the rear armrest. It’s here where the car feels the roomiest – there’s acres of headroom, and the seats provide generous fore/aft adjustment (range of 240 mm, in fact), affording plenty of legroom.
Access to the third row is achieved by pulling a lever to tilt the second-row backrest and slide the whole seat forward. It’s simpler but less practical than the Exora’s one-touch-tumble seats, although the vast wheelbase ensures that there is at least a decently-sized hole to crawl into; once ensconced, you’ll find a cupholder and cubbyholes for each seat.
Legroom here is adequate even for adults, but the stadium seating – which provides an excellent view out for all three rows – does mean that headroom is at a premium for taller passengers. Still, it feels more spacious back there compared to the Perodua Alza.
As with most small three-row MPVs, boot space is tiny with all seats up, at just 135 litres; however, it expands to 400 litres with the 50:50-split third row folded (can be done without removing the headrests, unlike the Perodua), and the second row can be folded 60:40 for even more room. There’s also a false floor at the rear hiding even more storage space – the full-size spare tyre is located under the car.
Kit count is almost identical on both Executive and Executive Plus variants – standard equipment includes front and rear fog lights, rear parking sensors, USB connectivity, two 12V power sockets (including one for the second row), a rear air-con blower (with dedicated cooling coils, a significant improvement over the Alza) and four speakers.
Plump for the Plus and you get the aforementioned seat height adjuster, power-folding door mirrors with integrated LED indicators, chrome interior door handles, two front seat back pockets (as opposed to one), a multifunction steering wheel and two tweeters to make it six speakers in total. There’s no Bluetooth, keyless entry or push-button start, unfortunately, even though those items are available in countries like India.
Safety-wise, all models come with dual airbags, ABS with EBD and Isofix child seat anchors on the second-row seats. Electronic stability control is not available, which is probably the reason why there is no Premium-badged variant with that feature. Proton has said that the Ertiga gets a four-star ASEAN NCAP crash test rating.
Sitting on a stretched Swift platform, the Ertiga is powered by the hatchback’s K14B 1.4 litre naturally-aspirated VVT petrol engine. Proton is particularly proud about the mill’s metal timing chain, an item which won’t be introduced in its own engines until the brand new GDI and TGDI engine family goes into production, slated for the end of next year.
In this application, the engine produces 92 PS at 6,000 rpm and 130 Nm at 4,000 rpm. Power is sent to the front wheels via either a five-speed manual gearbox or – the first in a long time for a Proton – a four-speed automatic transmission; the Executive Plus is only available with the slush box. Zero to 100 km/h is accomplished in 11.8 seconds with the manual and 13.9 seconds for the auto.
In terms of fuel consumption, the Ertiga manages 5.7 litres per 100 km with the manual ‘box and 6.0 litres per 100 km with the automatic, both at a constant 90 km/h. These figures have enabled it to achieve the company’s first Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) certification. In comparison, the turbocharged Exora CFE CVT uses 7.8 litres per 100 km.
Away from the spec sheet, the Ertiga drives like many other MPVs, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With such a modest amount of power, the engine can struggle to move the people-mover around, especially fully-loaded with full-sized adults – even though the car itself is pretty light by MPV standards (1,175 kg for the manual, 1,185 kg with the auto; Exora weighs 1,480 kg).
However, the tiny mill is at least a willing participant, being revvy yet surprisingly smooth throughout. It’s also a fairly muted engine, and combined with a good suppression of road and wind noise, it makes this a very refined car at a cruise (engine pulls 2,900 rpm at 110 km/h). Directional stability is decent, too, with little effort required to keep it on the straight and narrow on Proton’s oval test track.
We also had the manual variant on test, but if you’re hoping Proton has secretly snuck in the sweet, slick ‘box from the Swift Sport, you’d be deeply disappointed. The stick between the Ertiga’s front seats is instead rubbery and a touch imprecise, although it has short throws; the clutch pedal also has a very short travel with little in the way of progression, while the throttle cutoff is a little sharp with the row-your-own ‘box. The gearing also appears to be a little short, with the manual maintaining 3,200 rpm at 110 km/h.
Moving off onto the ride simulation course, the Ertiga remains composed over broken tarmac and surface undulations, likely due to the longer wheelbase. It does, however, feel a mite firm sitting in the last two rows – the rear torsion beam has probably been made stiffer to account for the added number of passengers.
As usual, being confined to the test track means that there is no real way to sample the Ertiga’s handling. However, the steering, as with the majority of electrically-assisted systems out there, doesn’t deliver much in the way of feedback – although it is direct and accurate, and perhaps a touch heavier than the Alza’s, which is not a bad thing. The brakes, meanwhile, are impressive, with a strong and progressive pedal, and the car tracks straight and true even under hard braking.
So, at the end of the day, does the Ertiga have the substance to back its bargain basement positioning? The short answer is yes – Proton’s latest product combines the space and practicality that one expects from a budget MPV, with a level of refinement that is a noticeable step up from what buyers in this segment are used to. It helps shatter the notion that cheap MPVs are uncouth and raucous. The dedicated rear air-con blower is yet another big plus point too.
But there’s another side to this, and it’s the fact that the kit count may be a little too basic for young families, who might want a bit more in the way of gadgets and fancy toys. Nowhere else is this shortcoming shown up more than through the Alza, which is not only a proper seven-seater and has a larger, more powerful 1.5 litre engine, but is also available with a touchscreen infotainment system, a reverse camera and that all-important bodykit – although it has to be mentioned that ABS is only fitted on higher-end variants.
Ultimately, buyers interested in the Ertiga will have to check their expectations of superfluous fripperies at the door, and come to embrace the car’s focus on comfort and space. If Proton prices it just right, we have no doubt of the Ertiga’s ability to attract exactly those customers.
Proton Ertiga 1.4 Executive Plus