Proton Australia makes no bones about it; the new Proton Exora is quite simply the cheapest seven-seat vehicle on the market. During the launch out of Sydney, the marketing people did talk about style and luxury and all the usual things that excite buyers, but made it clear that value for money is by far Exora’s biggest feature.
Which is smart thinking; those who need extra seats are likely to be in the early stages of their lives, with small children, a big mortgage and a modest income. Offer them a seven-seater for just $25,900 driveaway and they will beat a path to the showroom, avoiding the possible dangers of buying a used people mover that’s been mistreated.
Even better news is that this is no stripped down special – the Exora GX has air conditioning to all three rows, a roof mounted DVD player, an audio system with CD/MP3 player, and Bluetooth. There are steering wheel mounted audio and smartphone controls. Additionally, the topline Proton Exora GXR ($27,990 driveaway) gets a reversing camera, cruise control, a rear spoiler, daytime running lights, power-folding door mirrors and a vanity mirror behind the driver’s sunvisor.
Making a box on wheels visually attractive isn’t easy, but the Malaysian company’s stylists have done a pretty good job. The Exora has a wide lower grille, large triangular headlights and a pair of air-slots at the front extremes. At the same time, good aerodynamics help reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Four conventional passenger doors are used. Access to the three rows of seats – set in a two/three/two layout – is easy. Though of course there’s the usual hassle of getting into the rearmost seats. Still kids just love sitting way back there so the area is seldom used by the grownups. There’s handy stowage space at all outboard seats, including dual gloveboxes in the dash.
Interior styling takes the neat and simple direction with a simple two-dial layout that’s easy to read. The gearlever is mounted in the lower area of the centre dash making it easy to slide from one front seat to the other. Which can be handy if you’re parked beside a busy road with cars whizzing by only centimetres away.
Boot space is pretty good and the floor is at the right height for ease of loading. Second row seat has a 60/40 split, the third row seat has a 50/50 setup. So there are plenty of different ways to arrange the interior to juggle passenger and luggage space.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
In a very European manner the Malaysian car maker uses a low-pressure turbo-petrol engine in the Exora. Displacing 1.6 litres, it produces 103 kilowatts of power and 205 Newton metres of torque.
The engine benefits from the efficiency of a CVT automatic transmission which is always in the correct ratio to make the best of the engine’s torque. The transmission has six preset ratios for the times when the driver feels the computer hasn’t selected the correct ratio for the conditions.
Major safety items are ABS, ESC and four airbags although only those travelling in the front two seats have the protection of airbags. Proton Exora has received a four-star ANCAP crash safety rating. Proton Australia says it’s pushing for all new models to get five stars.
British sportscar maker Lotus is a subsidiary of Proton – something about which the Malaysian company likes to boast. It does show, because the Exora feels neat and tidy on the road thanks to its competent suspension. You wouldn’t describe it as being sporty, but the handling is well-sorted and Exora could be safely driven at far higher cornering speeds than those ever likely to be attempted by owners.
Comfort, which is more important than handling to most car owners, is pretty good. Tyre noise was higher than we expected and road roar from coarse-chip surfaces was there as well. In a vehicle with this type of body and in this price range it is probably acceptable, but try for yourself during your own test drive.
You get a lot of vehicle for a minimum outlay in the all-new Proton Exora. And having bought it your budget is further protected by free servicing for the first five years or 75,000 kilometres. Exora has a five year warranty and five years free roadside assistance, both with a distance limit of 150,000 kilometres.