Recently, Verne and I had the pleasure of heading down to Proton’s test track again. This time, we were met with Proton’s newest addition to their car lineup; the Saga FLX. The differences (other than engine displacement) between the FLX and the FL is small but rather significant. For example, the engineer who was charged with developing the FLX told us that the CVT is finely attuned to the FLX’s 1.3 litre Campro engine, and that they have made some tweaks compared to the FL.
One of the most prominent differences is the stance of the FLX when viewed from the side; the FLX does not slant towards the front anymore. The suspension of the FLX is also reworked, and, as we found later, to particularly good effect.
I admit, I was not anticipating any surprises from the FLX, since CVT gearboxes aren’t particularly known for their sporty behavior, or urgency. The fact that the car isn’t sports oriented further dampened my spirits, further exacerbated by the brief downpour right before we met at Proton’s Centre of Excellence in the afternoon. The event for the day started with a casual hello’s and wassup’s with Proton’s PR team, and other familiar automotive journo’s faces. As usual, Verne and I were treated to food and refreshments. For this alone, I would give the car an A+. (Editor: No, you can’t). No? But they provided durian desserts, and fresh coconuts. (Editor: No!). Moving on…
The PR team started the event by introducing themselves and the development team, who promptly started their presentation on the FLX.
One of the project guys explained about the features of the new FLX, while the lead engineer gave us a brief about the technical specifications of the car.
One of the most significant aspects of the FLX is its fuel consumption figures; the FLX, despite being an automatic, is only a bit less efficient than its manual gearbox variant (difference of 0.3 l/100km). PROTON tweaked the IAFM on the CamPro powerplant, revised the cam profiling to fit the new CVT.
After the briefing, which Verne took additional attention in jotting down notes, we were ushered down for a safety briefing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear a thing about what this well-meaning but soft-spoken person said. I think he warned us not to crash and burn on the embankments. Set!
As Verne walked towards the test track, I promptly headed towards the nearest embankment, worried that I may not be able to capture those exciting banking shots.
As luck would have it, and to my relief, the weather brightened up (good for shooting cars), but remained cool for the rest of the day (good for staying conscious while shooting cars). To capture as many different angles of this otherwise aesthetically unexceptional car (its normalcy possibly due to the quantity of Saga’s on Malaysian roads), I had to bustle around like a hyena in heat. It wasn’t enjoyable, carrying my kit bag with me while I huffed and puffed along the track while the guys inside the test FLX’s stared at me.
I was, however, rewarded with some particularly appealing shots of the FLX for my efforts. After being satisfied with my panning and landscape shots, I walked back to the main staging area to meet up with Verne, and caught this photo of him.
Thanks to the efficient nature of the media drive, we were left with quite a lot of time, so I jumped into the FLX and gave it a go. The first aspect of the vehicle that caught my attention was the way the speed climbed on the FLX. It does a very decent job of raking in the kilometers. The engine sounds eager, and disengagingly noisy when pushed, but the CVT’s digital gearing is matched very well to the powerband of the 1.3 litre Campro. Power delivery is pretty impressive. From a cruising speeds of 60-80kmh, the FLX pulls strongly with seemingly abundant torque to hit 120kmh easily. This will certainly bode well for long distance driving and overtaking. I’m eager to see how the CVT coupled with a 1.6 variant later. With more torque and benefit of bigger capacity, it should translate to even better power delivery and most importantly a less stressed, quieter engine.
I also noticed that the suspension of the FLX to be firm, but not uncomfortable to drive. I found myself to be able to head into the entry of the embankment at the highest point without much difficulty, although the tyres were not as confidence-inspiring. According to Proton’s chassis engineer, some tweaks have been done to the suspension – revised and uprated handling with stiffer springs all round and a bigger rear anti-roll bar. If you noticed the saggy look of the Saga and FL, then you’d be chuffed to know that they’ve increased the bumpstop in the rear. As a result of these tweaks – the Saga FLX corners flatter and handles much more neutral, and thankfully, no more rear end saggy-ness.
I also had fun on the straights, trying to push the limits of adhesion on the rear wheels by flicking the car sideways. The FLX feels planted and more secure than the FL, if only by a small margin. It shows that the engineers are really putting in considerable effort to increase the standard of Proton’s vehicles. Then again, Proton has always created on-par handling cars.
Aesthetically, the FLX is very much the same as the Saga FL, interior and exterior-wise. One major difference between the FL and FLX is of course, the gear console.
The FLX has a button marked “SAT”, which is an acronym for Stepped Automatic Transmission. What this button does is it emulates the feel of a conventional auto ‘box when activated, and this is to cater for customers who are uncomfortable or unwilling to utilize the full CVT feel. For interest’s sake, the development engineer has remarked that the fuel consumption is negligibly higher when SAT is activated.
I think that Proton is slowly, but surely, ascending towards a respectable level in the automotive industry. What remains to be seen is the quality control of its vehicles, and how Proton will control the quality of its vendors in response to mounting pressure to compete on a level playing field with the world’s best.
With the current offering, at least they are heading in the correct direction.