People movers once ruled the roost and it was thanks to Toyota with the Tarago and LiteAce. Of more recent times, SUVs have grabbed the crown, to the detriment of driving standards. Proton offers up a slightly different alternative to A Wheel Thing with its compact sized people mover, the Exora. Again it’s split into two trim levels, the GX and GXR. It’s powered by the same engine (103kW/205Nm) as found in the Suprima S and Preve’ (amortising costs) and is lobbed into a car weighing just under 1500 kg. The engine is again bolted to a CVT with six programmed manual shift points. There’s an immediately noticeable lack of the noise found in the Suprima’s engine bay, replaced by a low volume, high pitched, almost turbine like buzz. It’s perceptible but not nearly as intrusive.
The Exora’s external styling is not unattractive but it is unusual. Head on, it has a semblance to a Honda Jazz, in profile a Jazz blending into a compressed Tarago, looking very much like the late and unlamented Suzuki Liana hatch. From the rear, it’s a highish looking roofline that belies the overall smaller size of the vehicle. There’s a tall pair of LED tail lights that frame the rear lift door, allowing access to the third row seats as well. The nose has driving lights pushed to the bottom corners and framed by two vertical slats, with the sloping nose providing both aerodynamic looks and a measure of pedestrian safety. The rear hatch opens up quite high, enough for most people to stand underneath comfortably.
The inside of the Exora is stylish and smart. There’s a roof mounted DVD player, roof mounted fan speed and air vents for middle and rear seats, plus the ability to fold the seats flat to allow for a bigger loading area. The seats themselves are cloth in the GX, black and red leather trimmed in the GXR, are comfortable, if lacking a measure of support and fitted for the Isofix child seats in the rear, whenever the legislation is eventually passed. Floor mats are unusual in being that shredded rubber, almost scourer style. The flexibility of the Exora is certainly family attractive; what isn’t attractive is the use of the utterly dated red dot matrix display Clarion head unit for the audio system. A Wheel Thing is all for cost savings but this detracts from the overall level of quality and presentation otherwise found in the Exora. Naturally, there’s Bluetooth and external media player connectivity, safety in the form of pretensioning seatbelts, airbags aplenty, stability control and more, providing a four star safety package for ANCAP. There is also a reverse camera fitted, with the image popping up in the rear vision mirror. On pressing the unlock button on the fob, the Exora emits two chirps, not unlike a reverse beep from a truck. It’s a left hand mounted indicator stalk and the click as you move up or down is….well, it doesn’t sound like there’s premium plastic inside the shroud nor is it fitted for high beam flash, it’s on or off. Aircon controls are of the old dial style; sadly, so is the heating function. Wound up to full heat on a cold winter’s day it barely felt as if it was producing any heat at all. Another oddity was the central locking, activating at speeds anywhere from 20 to 80 km/h.
On the road the Exora immediately exhibits one trait: chronic understeer. Riding on comparatively narrow 205/55/16 tyres is one thing (and their grip level is ok) however the half turn of a steering wheel to have one third of the front end go where you think it should, especially with a vehicle designed to be a people mover, is another. In the hands of an experienced and trained driver, it wasn’t the most comfortable handler and in certain turns needed a lower than expected approach speed and rejudged approach angle. On the freeway it was also prone to wandering, requiring constant attention and correction plus there is a moderate amount of body roll. The front suspension is a touch soft, in that it easily bottomed out, at slow speed, by simply going over a kerb. Ride quality, however, is decent, with plenty of compliance and absorption of most minor bumps. Under acceleration, the Exora is seat of the pants quick, thanks to the CVT and constant linear delivery of the turbo’s torque, however a glimpse of the speedo says otherwise. It’s the conundrum that seems to be be part of the Exora, it’s a politician’s promise, saying much on one hand and not delivering a great deal on the other. Also, unlike the Suprima S, there’s no paddle shifts; not a deal breaker but with this kind of transmission, it should be offered with that option. It also means that the advertised “six step” CVT is effectively restricted to whatever the CVT and engine combine to offer.
What the Exora does well is offer a niche alternative; not everyone wants or needs a large people mover or a SUV, with the bulk and running costs associated with having such a vehicle. With a thrifty, frugal 1.6L turbo (Proton quote a combined 8.3L/100 from a 55L tank)pulling a loaded up with shopping and average family nicely, a decent turning circle, useable space and the DVD in the roof, it’s certainly family friendly. The steering and handling need tightening up though, from a driver’s point of view. Being currently rated at four stars for safety rather than five will put some people off, however the canny will know that four is plenty enough in real terms. There’s five year free servicing, five year road side assistance AND five years warranty tossed in for nix. Priced in the mid $20K range for the GX, closer to $28K for the GXR, it has price on its side however some will happily spend a few extra thousand for a SUV. They may be missing out.