No shame in rebadging, if it serves up a solution that would otherwise take too long – and too much – to accomplish. Such is the case with the Proton Ertiga, which features the Suzuki MPV with the same name as its donor. It’s the first vehicle to come about from the collaboration with the Japanese manufacturer, carried over virtually wholesale for deployment in this market.
As has been mentioned before, the idea behind the compact MPV’s introduction is simple enough. While the automaker has the Exora, not everyone needs a big people mover, and cost is always a paramount consideration at this level. With most simply wanting as many seats for as little outlay as possible, a B-segment offering fits that brief in the most suitable fashion.
Which is where the Ertiga comes in. It opens up a whole new front for the national carmaker, affording it the means to take on long-standing and established competition such as the Perodua Alza without having to go through the whole rigmarole of having to design and build one from scratch.
We take a closer look to see if the off-the-shelf fix measures up. It’s actually the second go with the Ertiga, but the first was very much limited in scope, confined to the automaker’s test track in November last year. This time out, we put the MPV through its paces via a more reflective road test.
First, a quick revisit of the vehicle and its specifications. No revelations to be found in those lines, though the unfettered, generic shape should hold up well over the long run. Compared to the original, the front end of the Proton derivative features a wider grille with a chrome bar running across the width. The front bumper has also been redesigned and features larger fog lamp surrounds.
The rear, meanwhile, gets a mix of elements from the facelifted and pre-facelift Suzuki model, and the Ertiga sits on five-split-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels across the model range, dressed with 185/65 GT Radial Champiro Eco tyres. A point about the centre caps, which wear the new Proton logo – fitment on the test mules didn’t look very flush or uniform, so that’s something to improve on.
At 4,265 mm long, 1,695 mm wide and 1,685 mm tall, with a wheelbase of 2,740 mm, the Ertiga – which sits on a stretched Swift platform – is 327 mm shorter and 114 mm narrower than the Exora, but has a 10 mm longer wheelbase. As for the Alza, it’s primary competitor, the Ertiga is five millimetres shorter and 65 mm taller, though the Perodua has a wheelbase that’s 10 mm longer.
The cabin is a dead ringer for that on the Suzuki, with everything brought over in bulk, the only change being the Proton logo adorning the steering wheel boss. You get only one flavour for the interior, and that’s a grey/beige colour scheme. While the bright tone choice lends a better perception of space, there are potential issues with going that route, but more about this later. The switchgear looks rudimentary in presentation, but is functional.
The drive presented a review of the rear dimensions of the interior through numbers. Past the rear aperture, you get 850 mm of available height, while there’s 1,180 mm of width pre-wheel well and 1,000 mm in between the wheel wells. Depth, with the third-row seats fully folded, is 1,000 mm, increasing to 1,820 mm with the second-row folded. With both rear row seats folded, there’s very decent cargo space to be had, at least to sight.
The Ertiga is available in three variants, an Executive manual (RM58,800) and automatic (RM61,800) as well as an Executive Plus auto (RM64,800). A recap on equipment. Standard across the range are front and rear fog lights, rear parking sensors, USB connectivity, two 12V power sockets (one in the second row), a rear air-con blower and a four-speaker audio system.
The Plus adds on chrome garnish for the front fog lamp surrounds and the interior door handles, a driver seat height adjuster, a multi-function steering wheel and two front seat back pockets (as opposed to one on the base Executive). Also on, power-folding door mirrors with integrated LED indicators and and two dashboard-mounted tweeters to bump up the speaker count to six. No Bluetooth for the audio kit, though.
As for safety kit, the Ertiga is equipped with dual airbags, ABS with EBD and Isofix child seat anchors on the second row. There’s no electronic stability control available for the cars here, but despite this, the model is still worth a four-star ASEAN NCAP rating.
Power comes courtesy of the Japanese automaker’s K14B 1.4 litre naturally-aspirated DOHC VVT petrol engine, familiar to all from the Swift hatchback. Here, it offers 92 PS at 6,000 rpm and 130 Nm at 4,000 rpm, paired with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission.
The output figures aren’t all that hot (for example, it has 14 hp and six Nm less than the Alza), but it’s still good enough to get the Ertiga from standstill to 100 km/h in 11.8 seconds for the manual and 13.9 seconds for the auto.
What it lacks in output, it makes up for in fuel economy. On paper, the Ertiga is able to accomplish 5.7 litres per 100 km (manual) and 6.0 litres per 100 km (automatic) on an European NEDC cycle run, which makes it the automaker’s first vehicle to obtain an Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) certification. It’s also the first compact MPV in Malaysia to gain the status.
On to the performance. The day-long drive of the Ertiga started with a fuel economy challenge, carried out over a 72 km-long route out from Proton’s Centre of Excellence to Bandar Malawati in Kuala Selangor. Cruising along for the most at speeds of 80-90 km/h on the motorway, the Ertiga felt smooth and largely poised, with the MPV very agreeable to the unhurried, light throttle approach we were taking with it.
As for FC numbers, based on the trip computer reading, colleague Durrani Shahrom and I managed to coax 21.7 km per litre from the MPV over the relatively short course. Unless you’re going to drive feather-footed and not encounter much traffic conditions on a daily basis, which is highly improbable, this figure isn’t anywhere close to being realistic.
On the challenge, some heavier-footed drivers were doing 17-18s, so based on this a real-world average somewhere in the 14-15s will be workable if you’re judicious with the throttle, which is what the final reading was when we rolled in back to the COE in the evening, having done more than 200 km. For the fuel challenge, we can only report our own numbers, because the final figures elsewhere were jumbled.
As expected, the steering has very little feel, but is light enough for urban work, and front seat comfort is decent. The second row seats, which can be slid backward and forwards as much as 240 mm, offer good legroom if there are no third-row occupants, with the ability to tilt the seat-backs being a boon.
Go with six, however, and it becomes a much tighter affair. To offer workable knee-room clearance on the very last row, second-row passengers will have to haul in the seats and have the seat-backs – fully – tilted up.
For short hops, this won’t be an issue, and the rear-most seats are definitely workable despite an apparent lack of headroom for taller passengers. Actually, that’s pretty much what they will be for, for short runs within the city, because you can’t seat six and attempt long-distance runs, not if you want to carry baggage, which presumably most do on out-of-town trips. If so, with 135 litres with the rear seats in position, those bags will have to be pretty small.
The Alza of course faces the same issue, and has even less space to boot (bad pun) with 83 litres, so one really can’t complain about what’s available on the Ertiga. If you do fold flat the third-row seating to accommodate luggage, this goes up to 400 litres, but then you’re essentially left with a four-seater.
Now, the second-row 60:40 split bench can actually seat three, but with no lap belt in place, that means the middle-most passenger goes without safety. Not that it has stopped most, truth be told. An alternative permutation for five and cargo would be to deploy one third-row seat and hope that half the available volume (about 200 litres) works.
On to ride and handling. Unlike the Perdana, where at least there was some tyre-tuning on hand, the Ertiga rides and handles exactly as the Suzuki it was designed as. The latter aspect is not expected to be a forte on an offering such as this, and it isn’t.
Keep it tidy and it’s all very manageable. Attempt corners at slightly higher speeds, however, and you’ll find quite a bit of roll and only average levels of grip, with a tail exhibiting a liveliness that isn’t all that reassuring. With no VSC present, even more so, and the latter is something that should be addressed.
The same can also be said about ride aspects. In an urban context and corresponding speeds there’s little to complain about, with secondary ride being quite clean. The primary takes a bit more getting used to, more from the second row on, the stiffness brought about by the torsion beam set-up being evident.
At national highway speed limits and beyond, second row occupants will have to contend with a fair amount of jiggle, amplified even further on the third row. Makes you wonder what could have been had Proton’s ride and handling boys been given the chance to work on the set-up.
Still, it’s not uncomfortable, the Ertiga; you just have to take a more measured approach with it, as was seen in the initial fuel economy part of the drive. In terms of civility, things remain largely intact running into the 90-100 km/h range, with 110 km/h being borderline in terms of NVH and overall ride refinement.
Press on into and above the 120 mark and you’ll find that while wind and road noise levels remain decent, the powertrain – and drivetrain – starts getting quite raucous, and not very pleasantly so. The mill loses serious puff too as the speed climbs, and though it’s possible to get the Ertiga to 160 km/h, questions remain as to how it will fare hauling more in the way of load, seeing as there were only two in our car.
No surprises with the four-speed Aisin automatic’s performance. You can feel the transitions and the lack of gearing becomes apparent as you move higher up the speed scale, but it works well enough in moving the MPV about in slower-paced urban applications.
Observations about the auxiliary air-conditioning for second- and third-row occupants. The ceiling-mounted rear unit – which has its own dedicated cooling coil – takes in air from the cabin via a series of front facing intake vents, and the blower becomes quite audible from the front row as a result of those apertures. No complaints about its performance though.
Finally, some thoughts about the beige part of the two-tone colour scheme that adorns the interior. Light colours undoubtedly make the cabin feel airier and bigger, and they always look great when new, but you can just see issues cropping up down the road.
The seat fabric aside, high contact wear areas look to be the arm rest fabric on the door card and side panelling on the centre console. Actually, many areas of the plastic trim look like they will not be able to escape inevitable scuffing (and the slow grind of gunk, over time), so unless you’re fastidious, keeping it all pristine will be a challenge. The level of wear will depend on how often you taxi people around in the Ertiga, but it’s unavoidable.
So, the follow-up report card on the Suzuki-derived Proton Ertiga returns a bit of a mixed bag of results. There’s certainly quite a lot of promise, but there are also shortcomings. While a day’s worth of driving doesn’t really reflect how it will shape up for most buyers over the long haul, there are some pressing points that look like they will unquestionably rear up.
The Ertiga is in its element approached from an urban context, neat as a people mover for city use and if you’re not in a hurry. Things are likely to become more challenging if you’re expecting to hustle along with a full load on open roads, so expectations will have to be tempered on this front.
Despite the shadow cast over it by the Alza, the Ertiga has a place in the world. It’s versatile enough for what it is, certainly for the automaker in plugging the slot in a segment it previously had nothing in, but whether the lack of pull and refinement when pushed will be an issue down the line will depend on the expectations buyers have of it.