Decent start off in owning cars, with the exception of the high maintenance cost
Exactly 12 months ago, I was urgently requiring a replacement vehicle for my aging Nissan, which was breaking down practically everywhere and anywhere deemed fit. As my job then required me to travel, I knew that my trusty steed needed to go. And so, the hunt began for a new car; something cheap and cheerful as our British counterparts would say.
I have loved sedans from the first time I knew; heck, my first ride was in the form of an old Volvo 240. So I knew that I would only be content if the next ride was nothing short of a sedan, which is exactly what I got when I walked into the Proton dealership one fine February afternoon. In the middle of the showroom, like the rose among the thorns, stood the newly-launched Proton Saga FLX. It instantly caught my eyes, for it had everything I was looking for; the price was right, going at RM 45,000 for the executive variant, added in with the standard safety features of most cars today: the twin airbags and the accompanying anti-lock brake system (ABS). Most importantly, it was a sedan, a rather spacious one indeed. Its skin was covered in an impressive shade of gold, which I immediately fell in love with. The interior of the Saga was alright, I suppose. What would one expect from a cheap and cheerful car like this, right? I wasted no time in giving in all the necessary documents and paid the required fees for the car. 2 weeks later, I was greeted by the sight of a spanking new, gold-coloured Saga patiently waiting at the front door of the dealership. I was over the moon then, as this was also my very first new car. I was determined more than ever to take care of it.
The Saga came packed with a few little extras courtesy of the dealer. As I drove out of the dealership, I told myself that I was going to have a great time with this ride. I was also quite certain that maintaining this vehicle would be inexpensive, just like my previous car. How wrong I was to think such.
The cost of maintenance was electrifying. It was like another version of Jeepers Creepers horror movie gone wrong. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the quoted price for my 5,000km maintenance - RM 250, for a local car costing twenty thousand less than the price of its nearest Japanese competitor. It was then I found out that the prices would only skyrocket higher over time, and we Saga owners would be at the mercy of the dealerships at least till the warranty gave out. True enough, my next scheduled service cost me an added RM 40 on top of the previous amount. My heart would ache whenever I walked in the service centre, knowing that I would soon be separated from a whole lot of cash in exchange for the standard maintenance my car would receive. The following two services really burnt a hole in my pocket - each costing me nothing less than RM 400!
Checks with a relative who owns a 1.3 litre Japanese car, and another who owns a 1.8 litre Korean car, revealed that no more than RM 300 was charged for each service. And that car was a much older than mine. The cost of the upcoming service, scheduled to be executed at 40,000kms, will be a staggering RM 950! With that kind of amount, one can actually buy a brand new smartphone or even pay their car’s annual road tax and insurance. Here, I’d need to pay that amount for a service. That is the kind of money a Volkswagen owner would happily pay for a 15,000km interval service.
By the way, here’s a little something I’d like to share with you regarding the dealers who represent the Proton service centres. Their prices differ. One shop may charge you more, while the other may charge you less, simply because the dealers are allowed to add in certain parts to affix/change during your service, which may not be necessary at the time. In short, the dealers do not standardize their prices with other dealers, allowing them to independently decide how much they wish to charge unsuspecting owners. I feel bad for the owners. Oh wait, I’m one of them! Shoot!
Okay, that was for maintenance. Moving on to the next problem, which would be those damned rear brakes problem. I think most of the Saga FLX owners can somehow relate to this issue. Ever noticed that whenever you hit the brakes, you will not only get the car to slow down, you will also be “entertained” by an unpleasant sound courtesy of the rear brakes? It just goes “tak tak tak tak tak” depending on how long you jam those brakes. And I must say it was absolutely irritating. I didn’t need this kind of music from my car. I’ve got my in-car entertainment (ICE) for that. I could make better tones than what those brakes had in my mind. I sure did suffer with that stupid sound for a good 3 months. Note that the sound appeared just one month into the ownership of my car, softly at first, then irritatingly louder as time passed, to the point that I had to blast my player’s volume up to not hear it. My first two trips to the Proton HQ were rather futile, as the technicians only serviced the brakes and resolved the problem temporarily. And I was told that this problem was a norm among the Saga FLXs. The issue was only resolved when I went in for a third time, this time to completely replace those damned brakes. Since then, the problem never reappeared, till today, that is. Thank goodness for that!
Yet another problem we Saga owners are plagued with is the stupid air-rushing-in the-car sound. Somehow at higher speeds, you could hear the wind coming in through the window like as if the windows weren’t properly shut. What’s worse is the fact that external sounds such as a motorbike’s exhaust can be so clearly heard, even though each and every window is properly shut. Heck, even the engine was audible from the cabin. And it appeared to me that the only way one could fix this problem would be to install sound insulators, which would cost a fortune! Personally, I think the clarity of external sounds could have been due to the car’s thin metal structure and hollow doors. Come on, you’ve got to agree that the door, no, the car itself is too soft in structure density. It is what a lot of us would refer to as a “Milo tin” body. But then again, it’s RM45000, so I suppose that is what that kind of money would get you. Double it and it would be a whole different story. But I’ve learnt to live with that fact, thanks to my ever faithful ICE, which would only allow me to hear music and nothing else (considering how loud I prefer my music to be played).
Alright, so I know what most of you guys are thinking: Why did I buy this car if I knew that it would somehow be problem-riddled? Answer’s simple. I had to, simply because it was the only new car I could get my hands on at that time for that price, and the quickest one available, too. Plus, the Saga came with something no other locally-manufactured car came with: a CVT gearbox, further affirming my decision to buy it. You see, this car may have some issues with quality; it may not be the best-looking one; neither could it be the cheapest to maintain. However, just like any other cars, this Saga does possess some plus points.
I enjoy driving this car, as it handles fairly well on corners and gives you the confidence to drive at 140km/h without worrying.
I was pleased the MP3/Bluetooth player and its four speakers, as it produced good sounds for me to enjoy while driving through traffic jams or highways.
It came with a few cupholders to store those pesky McD cups.
I liked the CVT gearbox, as it was quieter than the conventional 4-speed automatic transmission.
The meter display was bright, and the front headlamps and fog lights produced powerful lights that spread far on the midnight tarmac. Fuel consumption was pretty okay for a 1300cc car, for it had outdone the consumption of my old 1300cc manual Nissan. It was adequately powered, and could fit my plus-sized family comfortably, no matter where we travelled.
The air conditioning was amazing; the blower could blow out powerful blasts of chilled air into the cabin, and by nightfall, it would be as cold as the highlands.
It sure went fast on the open road. Once, I managed to push it to its top speed: an amazing 182km/h. Take note that the official brochure lists the Saga’s top speed at 155km/h.
And at least Proton gave me a proper full-sized spare tyre instead of the stupid, is-this-a-joke kind of a spare. And it’s a Continental tyre, which I feel is slightly better than the Goodyear tyres my car is currently running on.
In the past one year, I have driven this car to many places; anywhere from as near as the neighbourhood store, to as far as distant states such as Johor or Perak. And I’m planning to go even further next time around. I have gone through all kinds of roads, good or bad, and the car has performed pleasantly well. Absorbers aren’t too shabby either.
What I disliked about the car were its hard brakes to start with. Sorry to disappoint you ladies, but a gentle tap will not suffice for this car as it may have for your cute little Vivas. These brakes are hard, and if you don’t jam ‘em hard enough, you’d probably end up kissing another car’s bottom. But don’t fret, it does loosen up after some time.
I disliked the fact that the CVT wasn’t really as silky smooth as how it was portrayed to be. It does jerk, on idle or when it starts rolling. But I’ve learned to live with that. I also felt a little disappointed with the car’s turning radius, as it could have been improved.
I hate the fact that I still have a little difficulty judging my fuel tank’s requirements. Most of the time, I end up overestimating. On other times, what I pour in doesn’t seem to be enough. Weird fuel tank I’ve got here.
I am saddened to know that until my car hits 100,000kms, I will remain at the mercy of Proton dealers to service my car and charge me till my pockets burn. But I think I’ll rat out to the external mechanics before it touches that mileage. It’ll be more cost effective. At least I won’t cry every time I exit the service dealers, which would be about once every 2 to 5 months. I drive a lot, so my mileage is a little steep in numbers; 31,500kms for a period of 1 year.
Please, do not brand me as a Proton hater. I’m not exactly a hater, but I’m not really a big fan either. I do feel a sense of pride when foreigners ask me about Proton or praise the looks or the comfort of my Saga. However, I personally feel that this company has a lot more hidden potential to explore and manipulate, so much so that if used to its max, will help bring them to greater heights and recognition nationally and globally. Sorting out the quality issues and standardizing the service pricing for all dealers would be a wonderful start. And seriously, we don’t need that many service dealers. Just open more 3S centres like the ones in HQ or Balakong. It would be much appreciated.
Strange as it may seem, I have actually grown fond of my Saga, and have learnt to forgive its flaws. I am happy to be able to drive my car with certainty that it will continue to serve me well for the time being, until the time comes for me to upgrade it. So for those of you who would like an entry sedan that is cheap and cheerful, you may go for this car. Sure, the maintenance would be a little higher than your average local car, but if you’re comfortable with that, and want a car for pretty much the same reasons as I did, then sure, go for it. It’s the car to start off with in life. It’s your first car. It only costs RM 40,000 to RM 45,000. And it sure beats walking! You’re the consumer. YOU decide what you want.
If I have offended anyone at any point of my review, please accept my humble apology, for I am merely sharing my thoughts and feelings as a consumer of Proton. I genuinely hope that this review has been of some help to the rest of you folks, and once again, my sincerest apologies if feelings were hurt, for I meant no harm. Take care, and have a wonderful day ahead of you. And do feel free to drop in any comments or grouses you may have. See ya!
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 22nd March, 2013