14 December 2011

Proton Saga FLX SE 1.6 - brief driving impression

Proton Saga FLX SE 1.6 has been introduced to expand the range of Saga model by providing customers with a vehicle that has higher engine capacity while at the same time maintaining the mission d'etre of Proton Saga model as an excellent value and affordable car. Powered by the familiar Campro 1.6l with IAFM, the Saga FLX SE comes exclusively paired with the CVT gearbox. To further signify its sporting intention, and to attract the glimpse from the young, the car has been thoroughly fitted with all-around, contrasting skirting, attractive 15" alloy wheels shod in low profile 195/50 tyres. The spacious cabin has been suitably upgraded too. The car has been available from Proton dealer nationwide since 1 December 2011. The price for the new pride is just RM49,449, making it a very propositional value against the fellow national rival, the new Myvi SE/Extreme.

Exterior Styling
The new SAGA FLX SE exterior is as per the Saga FL launched late last year. However, to justify its positioning at the top of the Saga range, and a sporty model at that, the exterior has been suitably beefed up. 

The fog lamp surround and front bumper lip are satin brownish in color. In both Solid White and Fire Red color on offer, the skirting sets a nice contrast with the main body, setting up a unique, lithe appearance. This is accentuates further by the adoption of larger and sportier looking set of alloy wheels, which stands at 15" of diameter.
The rear of the SAGA FLX SE has been added with the duck-tail spoiler, similarly contrasting skirting elements, as well as golden-smoked rear combi. 1.6 SE badging completes the rear makeover. 

The body added-on accessories did light up the dowdy exterior to certain amount. The low-profile 195/50 tyres with thin spoke made the stance more athletic, and the both front and rear lips gave the side profile a light wedge silhouette , lending some air of aggressiveness in its appearance.
Interior Styling
The interior of Proton SAGA FLX SE has been upgraded in typical Proton "SE" fashion, which means leather and in this case, fiery red stitching. The steering wheel rim has been upholstered in leather, with perforated section on the outer edge. Steering button control for audio systems is included too. The accents on steering wheel boss and button panel are satin black in color.More after the jump.

While looks are subjective to individual, I personally felt that the stitching is a bit too loud in its application. The close distance between the thread makes the red over-powering. 

The gear knob is wrapped in the same leather treatment. The gear gate remain unchanged from the Saga FLX. The centre console has been colored in contrasting satin silver. It did bring some shine to the audio system, which was previously an all-black affair. However, the silvered air-cond housing together with the 3-switch panel did, in my opinion, look slightly of out place. Anyway, if Proton original intention was to create a "contrasting" element, they are probably succeed in doing so!

However, the amount of leather applied in the cabin is undeniably generous. The seats looked sumptuous, inviting and comfortable enough to lure one into the driving position. The ergonomics is as per Saga BLM from year 2008, no surprise change here. The controls are familiar in their placement and operation. 

Similar to the upgraded Saga FLX, the SE model gets an all-around power window. The rear door trim however still have the visible cover, a hole left by previous manual window winder. However, the small fabric section on the door trim has been trimmed in leather with consistent red stitching. All in all, the makeover did lift the interior ambiance a bit compared to the bare-bone Saga FLX.

The Drivetrain
The Saga FLX SE is powered by the CAMPRO IAFM 1.6engine producing 108bhp@5750 rpm and 150Nm@4000rpm. The engine is paired with the CVT gearbox with 6 preset ratios. The car has a healthy 14bhp and 30Nm over its smaller powered siblings. The Saga FLX SE also have some added performance advantage over the smaller-engined FLX, with 12.5 seconds century sprint and 165 km/h of top speed, which is 2 seconds less pedestrian (its all relative terms here) and 10 km/h faster compared to CVT-geared 1.3Saga FLX. Fuel consumption is rated at 6.7 l/100km, slightly more than the referenced FLX at 6.3.

How does it drive?
With the limited mileage available for test drive the car, initial impression on the CVT-equipped driveline are it is indeed a smooth operator, although not that butter-smooth as I would expect from CVT. The gearbox is also not one of the quietest around. The whining can still be heard, especially under heavy right foot at low rev. The change is as expected from CVT, seamless it is.

The wider tyres, thinner side wall and bigger wheel did make the steering feel more "connected" and the action of front tyre "threading" around the road can be felt, less muted than the stock Saga FLX. But it is far from being firm. The car is not sporty as its outlook might portray, but more of refined family saloon with sportier outlook.

However, my personal impression is that, the smoothness of the CVT is somewhat marred by the dated chassis architecture of the Saga. The main switchgear that falls to one hand, namely the steering wheel and gear knob, are lifted from the Satria Neo, itself was launched back in 2006 after a long gestation period. The  driving feeling, felt a bits 90's. It felt really crude compared to contemporary car, it totally lack the sophisticated feel of the new Myvi. Perhaps its the steering wheel, perhaps it the sticky gear shift, but the whole driving experience feel a bit oldies.

Admittedly, Saga was build on Savvy architecture, dated sometimes in 2005, where engineering development dated much earlier. It really feels it. But it is excusable as this is not an all new car. But the age really make it present. However, I was told that the Saga R ( with Saga MPV in tow) is already in the inception, so as a car to soldier on for a couple more years, it is quite acceptable.

I think Proton should do a Waja for its next global car, P3-21A, albeit minus the QC problem of an old. They should swallow a brave pils, and take a plunge into a modern bin of parts. The steering rack, the door latch, the switchgear and button are among the examples of parts that need modernism, if they want to have a "feel-good-factor" in the perceived quality section. Those new parts, although initially might seems expensive as heavy re-tooling is needed for an all-new parts, could be carried over for the next 10 years,  gradually reducing its price and amortization start to pay off.

Coming back to the Saga FLX SE, at RM49,449, it represents a good motoring value in terms of bang per buck. This is perhaps the second cheapest 1.6l sedan you can buy right now. If you are in the market for something with sporty outlook, with the power of 1.6l to carry you around, this is a good value choice compared to the more expensive, smaller-bodied, and smaller-engined Myvi SE/Extreme. But, be warned that the afore-mentioned Myvi feels more sophisticated in terms of cabin NVH refinement, slick switchgear (especially the slick auto gear shifter), better steering feel (artificially weighted electrically-assisted unit) and faster as well with top speed exceeding 180 km/h. The choice is purely down to preference.

If you fancy what you see here, head to your nearest Proton showroom.

Small gallery of official photo of the Saga FLX SE can be found below: