Allow me to present you a non-professional review of my first car – a Proton Saga FLX 1.3 CVT after driving it for a few months. Proton Saga is the very first Malaysia national car although technically speaking the current Saga is an entirely different car compared to the first Proton Saga. The new Saga, also known as Saga BLM, was launched in year 2008 and has been through two enhancements since then – Saga FL is a major facelift while the current Saga FLX has a brand new CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission) gearbox and previously absent ABS with EBD (Anti-lock Braking System with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution).
Why Proton Saga
It is affordable, at least in Malaysia (foreign cars are heavily taxed). I have considered its closest competitor – the Perodua Viva but have decided to choose Saga for its bigger size. Many friends asked me why not the Perodua Myvi? My view is that Myvi is in a different price range, which I would probably choose the bigger Proton Persona for that price range for the same reason why I choose Saga over Viva – the larger space. Viva and Myvi are nice choices if space is not a concern as these small cars should offer better fuel consumptions and are easier to drive around in crowded cities.
At the time of purchase, I have considered the Saga FL 1.6 as well but decided to go for the the Saga FLX 1.3 Executive for the CVT and ABS. I would have chosen the recently launched Saga FLX SE 1.6 though if it was available, it combines the best of FL 1.6 and FLX 1.3 plus a more sporty look with only ± RM 4,000 increase in price compared to FLX 1.3 (1.6’s ± RM 49,000 VS 1.3’s ± RM 45,000, these are the price for peninsular Malaysia at time of post and they could be changed thereafter).
Back to my Saga FLX 1.3, it has the modern (although this can be very subjective) external look inherited from Saga FL which pretty much remains unchanged other than the model name at the back, slogan on the plate number holder and a not-so-visible cooler for the CVT gearbox on the front. I find the outlook very acceptable for an entry level model and the LED rear lamp looks good at night. My personal favourites are the exhaust muffler engraved with the word ‘SAGA’ and the side mirrors with LED turn signal indicator. I got a rock blue coloured unit but I really liked the plum red of the FLX SE 1.6.
Comfortable room for back passengers and good boot space of Saga are the main reasons why I choose it over the similarly priced Viva. The boot comes with a lamp which is really useful at night. Also, the fabric seat finishing gives a high quality feel despite not it is not leather and it has a powerful air conditioner that is suitable for the tropical weather of Malaysia. However, unlike many other models, the air conditioner cannot be directed to leg room. The windows come tinted and there are four power windows just like the Saga FL but the back windows cannot be fully opened. As for entertainment, there is Clarion audio system that supports audio CD, MP3 CD, USB flash drive and aux in. The USB can charge and recognize the mass storage mode of my Android-running Samsung Galaxy S but there is a trick though – you must switch back USB mode after activating the USB mass storage mode on the phone. The audio control buttons on the steering wheel are real handy, it would be better if the repeat and random buttons are there too. All in all, it is a comfortable car for average Asians to sit in but the interior design feels a little outdated (again, this can be very subjective).
The Driving Experience
The main selling point of FLX is the CVT gearbox that promises smooth driving experience. It does, but not on low speed. The change of speed feels quite abrupt on acceleration from complete stop to start and on the release of petal during low speed although these can be avoided as you get use to the CVT behaviour. Also, I find the reverse gear is slightly less responsive compared to automatic transmission. It is another story for medium to high speed driving though, the acceleration feels real smooth, completely free from the power loss feeling of automatic transmission during gear shift as CVT uses a belt instead of gears. The belt ensures the right ratio all the time like there are infinite number of gear ratios. There is a SAT mode which could simulate a 6-speed automatic transmission by providing the over rev feeling. Power steering comes as standard and handling has been one of Proton’s strength, Saga FLX is no exception, it performs quite well in this regard.
I notice the car accelerates much smoother and brakes better after the first service (first 1000 KM mileage). So, to all the new Saga owners out there, quickly get pass the first 1000 KM or do your first service sooner.
I have been driving the car on a daily basis since day one. Occasionally, it is used to drive my family around while most of the time it is my daily commute to work. While fuel consumption of a car can vary greatly on different traffic condition and driving habits, I get around 12 KM/L (around RM 0.16 per kilometer with RON 95 priced at RM 1.90 per liter) with frequent heavy traffic jam. I am not sure how does that fare for a 1300 cc (1332 cc to be exact according to the official web site) engine with a CVT gearbox but I could tell that it is not astonishing.
Overall, I am quite satisfied with what I get but not too impressed. Feature wise it is good enough but the quality control is not quite there as I have a few minor issues with the finishings and whatnots, nothing critical but still a let down. The CVT gearbox has its own pros and cons too when compared to traditional automatic transmission and might need some time to get use to. Personally, I never miss automatic transmission except when reversing. As for the car as a whole package, it does pack with standard features that you can expect from a modern car such as dual SRS airbag, ABS and EBD. Perhaps added with a nice seat finishing, good space and air conditioner at the cost of higher fuel consumption and subject to the what seems like hit-miss quality control of Proton.