18 December 2011

Turbocharged Proton Exora Bold CFE - driving & design impression

The updated Proton Exora MPV has been announced to the public on last Friday, 16th December 2011. The home-grown MPV is very much-awaited, as countless spyshots of the so-called "Exora Turbo" were spied around the Klang Valley and it is, no beat behind the bush here, a known fact that the CPS-powered Exora main Achilles point is, well, its CPS engine. MPV of this size, in any part of the world, is rarely been powered by a small capacity engine. For comparison, Proton Exora is longer than Honda Stream and Toyota Wish. Those Japs stalwart were powered by a minimum 1.8l lump. I am going to start my Proton Exora Bold Premium review with a conclusion. It is worth to note that the Exora is barely 2.5 years old. The significant aesthetic updates and the entirely new drivetrain it received signify Proton intent to improve its product based on increasing customer expectation.

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There isn't a need to scroll down the article to find out how the Exora Bold has been summed up. In a nutshell, in a sense, the updated Exora is what  people (carrier) love the most. It is spacious for 5 adults, plus 2 more can be seated in the 3rd row without major complaints. The storage space is abundance. Practicality is second to none at this price. Driving it is a breeze. It feels very car like, with none of van-like kind of blind spot and cumbersome dynamics. However, it now comes with fangs. No more sluggish mid-range engine speed. It can be easily hustled to merge with faster traffic seamlessly. In a phrase, Proton Exora Bold Premium is now a complete MPV. Period. Check out the driving impression down the articles.

At RM79,998, it is very hard to find a rival worth mentioning. The packaged of spacious interior, full supply of aircond in the cabin, good handling, well-suppressed NVH and a very well-equipped cabin amenities makes the Exora Bold punched well above its price. With the new, more powerful heart, Proton has makes the other competitors (Perodua Alza, Toyota Avanza and Innova, Nissan Grand Livina) appear half-bake. Other than the brand, there's no single aspect of these competitors where the new Exora can't matched.

Exterior Design
This is not the first time the Exora styling was updated. The first one was in July 2010, just 15 months after the lunch where the Exora was given a tweak in its styling. Skirting was added on all model, bar the Base, to enhance the look, reducing the ungainly appearance from certain angle. The light grey of the cabin too has make way for more traditional Tempest Grey based on public feedback on their launch model.

For 2012, the Exora has been given a full styling makeover. The front end has been spiced up with the new front bumper, featuring a very prominent vertically placed air intakes on each outer edge, flanking the slight-smiley lower radiator grille. The headlamps, while continue to be housed in the same casing, has been given a smoked treatment. The previously floating aerofoil upper radiator grille has been ditched, and making an appearance is  the new signature grille for Proton, a formal-looking unit with hard-edge surrounding panel and a chrome garnish mounted close to the leading edge to the hood. The same grille outline was spied in the leaked P3-21A photo, so this is what we can expect in the future after all.

While some manufacturer (local rivaling brand included) sometimes goes crazy with creating "air-intake" with blanked, non-see through, plugged-off panel, the air intakes in the Proton cars has always been functional. Check-out the meshed grille in Proton Satria Neo rear bumper if you don't believe me. In the Exora Bold, the vents fed the radiator behind it. Both sides are not blanked off.

The rear end of the current Exora is a hit and missed affair. While it is tastefully done with nice placing of garnish and squared-off, low loading height bumper, the tail light detailing marred the experience. While there is a need to insist on the presence of LED in there, there's simply too many different arrangement in there, the chrome is loud too. For the Bold range, Proton simply smoked the whole thing, muted the entire "overdone touch" in one go. Great.

While the rear bumper is retained, it has been wrapped with lower skirting fitted with contrasting valance, similar in concept in Inspira, and has been visible in P3-21A spied car too. The squared-off front bumper fascia and rear bumper valence are complemented by the side skirting, and in the case of Premium version of Exora Bold, a new design 16" alloy wheel too.

All in all, the facelifted Exora is less ungainly looking than its forebear. The new front bumper design has actually removed the visual mass associated with the old Exora front styling with its angular bumper edge. The new radiator grille also make it presence felt, making the front end appears more elegant, with slight sporting intention projected by those great looking bumper and smoked headlamp. The rear end meanwhile appears lithe, and less visual mass at the lower section. The tail lamp is no longer distracting as the smoked effect has makes it more seamlessly integrated with the whole rear end design. Commendable effort here is indeed praiseworthy. 

More details after the jump including Interior Design, Drivetrain and Driving Experience.

Interior Design
The Exora Bold Premium is the highest line in the 7 seater Exora model ( the top line is the 6 seater Prime, but that's another story), and it gets a whole bucket of bell and whistle Proton currently has in its parts bin. For the Bold line-up, the tempest grey interior color scheme is retained. While the Executive version of the Exora Bold make do with Liquid Silver finished centre console (and fabric seat which I've yet to see), the Premium version gets the cubic motif instead, with silvered aircond vent, as well as fully leather-upholstered seats and door trims. While I am yet to see the lower-priced Exora Bold, the Premium range feels very premium indeed with its two-toned leather. The steering wheel is wrapped in similar material too.

The rest of the interior is what we know and love unchanged from Exora since 2009. The driving position is car-like, unlike my current driving, a sub-MPV which now feels van-like in comparison. The thick spoked steering wheel falls natural to the hand, with perforated leather offering gripper central region.
Front seat with the leather upholstery for Premium version
However, I can't help from feeling that a sliding second row of seat would fare much better. This is because, it would be great to have a certain degree of control in determining the legroom length of both rear row of seat. While the second row is more than spacious, the same can't be said about the last row. I know Proton traded it off with one-touch folding mechanism for second row, but the absence of the sliding mechanism is felt nevertheless.
2nd and 3rd rows are similarly trimmed

Liquid Silver aircond vent and Cubic motif center console for Premium

Gear knob operating the CVT gearbox

White illuminated meter binnacle
The meter binnacle of the Exora Bold is now white illuminated instead of red like current Exora. It is stylish and simplistic. Note that the speedometer is now read to 240 km/h. The level of detailing that goes into the designing of door trim is great to be seen. The leathered section is split into two-tone, where when combined with painted door inside handle and power window switch panel, give a nice contrast that break the monotone mood. 
Close-up on the leather trimmed front door trim
The boot space is comparable to other MPV of this size. The remaining length available with last row of seat deployed is further supplemented by under-floor storage compartment, which is covered by solid panel. This is commendable effort by Proton when rival Perodua Alza and Nissan Grand Livina also have the same concept, but their cover panel is no better than padded cardboard.
Engine and drivetrain
The Exora Bold Premium is powered by the newly introduced CFE engine. The light-pressure turbocharger is one of the innovation added to the new engine derived from the Campro family. Many people mistaken CFE as a Campro turbo, while it is much more than just simply that. 
The project started a while back under Project Pheonix tag. It aimed to develop a high-torque engine suitable for MPV application. Truth to the current trend in engine downsizing, the CFE was aimed to have a 1.8l to 2.0l level of performance without incurring the high fuel consumption penalty of higher engine capacity. However, Proton started off with the base 1.6l anyway. Adding a turbocharger is not simply a bolted on job. Due to the higher combustion pressure derived from larger volume of air fed in, the loading on the cranktrain and engine structure are increased. The conrod, crankshaft, strength of cylinder block+head+bedplate as well heavier duty for coolant and lubricant flow are all need to be re-look and re-sized accordingly. 

Proton has long been criticized for sticking to 4 speed automatic transmission, while the rest of the world (except maybe the low-end Toyota) has moved on the 6 speed tranny. While the chase to the number of forward ratio could be endless, it is better to be one up on the rival. No? There's no higher number of gear than what CVT can offer. CVT basically offer infinite number of gearing due to its nature of operation. In this case, Punch gearbox was chosen, and it a global brand name as far as CVT is concern.

The Exora Bold packed 138bhp@5000 rpm and 205Nm@2000-4000 rpm of power and torque respectively. The CFE is slightly smaller in cubic centimeters compared to CPS engine, 1,561cc against 1,597cc. While the lower price Exora Bold soldiers on with CPS + 4AT drivetrain, the turbocharged Premium version can reached 100km/h in less pedestrian 13.3 seconds (against 15.7 second of CPS + 4AT combo) and reached 185 km/h of top speed ( up from 165 km/h of aforementioned drivetrain combo).  Fuel consumption suffers a little with quoted 7.8 l/100km compared to 7.4l/100km of the CPS engine.

Driving Experience
I have the chance to test drive the Exora for a short few kilometers, but the route has an uphill U-turn, downhill sweep, straight highway and high-speed sweeping.

You may have read my review on the Saga FLX SE 1.6 CVT, which I deemed a bit crude in its control panel feel. No such problem for the Exora though, it feels thoroughly up to date. The driving position is very, very car like. The view outside the car is great too, covering over A-pillar, shoulder line and D-pillar views. It does not feel like a high-seating too much, and judging the car edge is never been easier.

The thick steering spoke feels natural to my palm. The gearknob can be grabbed nicely, the motion along the gate is smooth and does not feel sticky. 

Upon first few throttle application, the car feels slightly heavy and does not jolts ahead easily. However, by familiarizing with the pedal modulation, the car can be moved quite quickly off the line. I intentionally switched off the audio and slow down the aircond to hear the car more. 

The noise suppresion is good. However, the CFE and CVT combo is not the quietest drivetrain combo. While not really intruding, the sound of the engine and gearbox can be quite vocal under heavy acceleration.  However, under normal driving circumstances, the engine and gearbox are suitably muted and refined. The CVT gearbox is smooth, subjectively smoother than the one I sampled with Saga FLX SE. Perhaps the tuning is the different here. 

I tested flooring the gas to the carpet, and the Exora Bold gained speed rapidly. While the CPS Exora can feel sluggish, the CFE-powered is much more powerful. You can feel the presence of the 205Nm of torque right at 2000+ rpm. I took a tight U-turn under the flyover, accelerate quick after that and later, joining the 3-lane highway from the slip road and confidence enough to join the traffic on the fast lane. High speed composure is a given for this car. Steering feel is nicely weighted at that speed too. Perhaps a blast through the back road of Kuala Kubu Bharu would be great, but that's not the whole point of this car. Anyway, the steering does inspire confidence. It feels direct-acting to the front wheel. Combined with superior view outwards the car, the Exora can be placed round the corner with confident.

Proton worked hard these days. To give its car a major facelift within two and a half years complete with the engine is not an easy job. Gone are the days they were cruising with the same model for years and years. The Exora is now a truly up to date MPV. The silky new drivetrain has added a new dimension to the Malaysian-made MPV making it thoroughly a best buy at the moment. Forget the foreign made with superior brand priced up to RM 150k, this is the MPV you'll ever need!

Summary of specs
Length: 4,592mm
Width: 1,809mm
Height: 1,691mm
Capacity: 7 seater

Type: 1,561cc inline-4 turbocharged gasoline
Compression ratio: 10.5
Max power:138bhp@5000rpm
Max torque:205Nm@2000-4000rpm
Fuel tank:60 litres
Spesific fuel consumption: 7.8 l/100km

0-100 km/h: 13.3 seconds
Top speed: 185 km/h

Suspension (F/R) : McPherson Struts/Torsion Beam
Brake (F/R) : Vented Disc/Disc
Tyre: 205/55 R16

For the details on other variants available for the updated Exora, refer to my launch post <HERE>