The second generation Proton Saga has been a popular choice with motorists since its introduction in 2008.
The 1.3-litre entry level car is affordable, with key features such as a spacious boot and comfortable ride for five persons.
However, the fuel economy figures for the Saga’s four-speed automatic variant have hardly been its strongest point; Proton aims to address this issue with its latest FLX line-up equipped with a fuel efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Unlike conventional automatic transmission systems that use a set of gears to increase or reduce engine torque to the wheels, the CVT system uses two pulleys with variable diameters linked together by a metal belt.
As the diameters of the pulleys change, they will effectively alter the “gear” ratios in the CVT just as a conventional transmission moves from low gears to high gears and vice versa.
And the pulleys do this minus the mild (or sometimes not so mild!) jerks one would experience when a conventional transmission changes gears.
CVT systems are not entirely new in Malaysia having been offered in models such as the second generation Honda City, Mitsubishi Lancer GT, and Nissan vehicles such as the Sylphy and X-Trail. Even hybrid models such as the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius and Lexus CT 200h feature CVT systems.
The Saga’s CVT system promises 4% lower fuel consumption in an urban driving environment compared with its conventional four-speed automatic. During highway driving, Proton claims that fuel consumption can be improved to be 10% more frugal at 5.65 litre per 100km.
The Saga FLX is the second Proton model to get a CVT system after the Inspira. The system is sourced from Belgian company Punch Powertrain, which has produced CVT systems for MINI, Audi, BYD and Great Wall Motor.
Due to Malaysia’s warm climate, the Saga FLX CVT comes with an oil cooler to provide longer transmission fluid life and performance.
Proton’s decision to go into the development of CVT for its cars was made in 2008 when petrol prices breached the RM2 per litre threshold.
“There were other transmission systems that can offer fuel savings, such as the twin clutch or five-speed and six-speed torque convertor types, but Proton decided to go with CVT,” a Proton official said at a recent media briefing on the Saga FLX’s CVT system at Proton’s test track in Shah Alam.
At the event, we got the opportunity to sample the Saga FLX CVT back-to-back with the 2010 Saga FL variant fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission.
The differences between how the cars execute gear changes were very much evident, with the FLX CVT providing more refinement and smoothness.
Stepping on the accelerator of the Saga FLX CVT, the engine quickly revs to an optimal RPM before the CVT starts to “upshift” seamlessly to bring the car up to speed.
The “gearshifting” feel in the Saga FLX CVT is different from the FL, as there were no shifting jerks nor does one obviously hear the engine revving up and down with each gear change.
What we experienced was near constant engine rev and smooth gearshifting – the kind that makes cruising more comfortable.
|The CVT of the Saga FLX. Shown below is the oil cooler in front of the radiator.
Proton does have an option for those favouring a more aggressive driving style: It has equipped the Saga FLX CVT with a “Stepped Automatic Transmission” (SAT) feature to simulate the gear shifting pattern of a conventional six-speed automatic.
With this feature activated through a SAT button near the gearshifter, the transmission control unit will allow the engine revs to drop slightly during upshifting while inducing a gentle transmission jerk at the same time.
In addition, Proton said the Saga’s 1.3-litre IAFM CamPro engine has been tuned for smoother power delivery from earlier editions, although maximum power and torque output remain the same at 94bhp and 120Nm respectively.
Besides the CVT variant, the Saga FLX is also available with a five-speed manual transmission sourced from new German supplier Getrag, which promises smoother gear changes.
The FLX line also offers the new interior colour of Tempest Grey and larger fonts for speedometer/tachometer numbering.
Sold in Standard and Executive trim levels, prices range from RM38,598 to RM44,998. Executive trim lines come with dual front airbags, anti-lock braking system with electronic brakeforce distribution, fog lamps, rear spoiler, electric door mirrors, side protector moulding and one-size- up 14-inch alloy wheels.
The Saga FLX also gets a new colour of Elegant Brown in addition to the existing options of Tranquillity Black, Genetic Silver, Solid White and Blue Rock.
Proton Holdings group managing director Datuk Seri Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir said the national car maker’s intention was not only to provide consumers with affordable vehicles but also to produce vehicles with advanced technologies and safety features.
“We are committed to providing our consumers with better driving satisfaction and confidence,” he said.