Proton Exora, people mover for the hoi polloi

You ain’t T20 but have a large family. You surely cannot afford a luxury multipurpose vehicle (MPV), much less the Vellfire you fancy – so, thank you Proton, the Exora fits your pocket nicely.

Excuse my frivolity but how do you raise the level of excitability amongst the motoring public for an MPV that is aimed for the likes of the masses – you and me?

Some of the high-end MPVs you see with great ubiquity on our roads today (actually you will see just so many of them during the morning and evening school runs, clogging up both ends of Jalan Syed Putra in Kuala Lumpur, as students get dropped off at a school there) can cost up to a million ringgit!

For just under RM70,000 you can get the 1.6-litre Turbo Proton Exora – the latest upgrade launched in August last year, and is the model for 2023. You will detect the new Proton logo on the front and tailgate, and that ultimate badge of ‘currency’ – LED daytime running lights! Slap on side skirtings and rear spoiler with black roof and rear garnish, and you will tell one and all, that this is the new Exora.

Having got one for a test drive, and with the sight of so much boot space on offer, what could be an ideal drive than a road trip to the East Coast?

A friend – a little-known chef who has given up the good life in busy Kuala Lumpur for the even “gooder” (sic) one in Besut, Terengganu, had made an irresistible offer: “Razak – you misti marghi sini, buwoh banyok da gugor, yang kering atas pokok pung ada, tak termakang!

That’s me putting on my best Terengganu-speak impression. Let me offer you the gist in translation – this friend said I should come over pronto, when all the trees are fruiting but with only the squirrels and monkeys showing any interest in such bounty.

Together with my seaweed-researching colleague Faris, we decided to drive up – on a Sunday afternoon, spend the best part of Monday in Besut, and make our way back to KL to reach home base a little after midnight on Tuesday.

First things first – fill up the tank full. Be prepared to pay up to RM100 for a full tank that will take you from the Karak toll all the way to the LPT exit in Kuala Terengganu, a distance of some 440km.

Then, head for Karak, but here’s a little bit of a detour. We were still in two minds whether to take the Lipis-Gua Musang-Besut route (seven hours of driving on a mix of highway and interstate roads) or choose the East Coast Highway from Karak, exiting Kuala Terengganu and maybe drive for another 90 minutes before Besut beckons.

So, since I was ‘pilot-commander’ for the first part of the driving duties, I took it upon myself to follow the signage that pointed to Lipis, Mempaga, and Kota Baru, after the Bentong toll plaza, instead of staying on the LPT Highway.

What a mistake that turned out to be. Although it was a Monday, the road was bunged up with timber lorries! (Don’t you often wonder – Is there still timber to be felled and harvested up there in them ‘thar hills? Even if there is, I suggest M-A-D-A-N-I should be the saviour, preserving the pathetic remnants of our diminishing leftover timber cover!)

So, we chugged along slowly and was restricted to several numbingly sustained periods of playing ‘tail-the-timber-lorry’.

While the elements conspired against us, the Exora’s mettle came to the fore during this little ‘normal-road’ excursion. When the coast was clear, its turbo engine kicked in with great alacrity for me to ‘roar’ past the sheepishly apologetic lorry driver.

We stopped for a spot of lunch at Restoran Cendollily and decided to abandon using the Central Spine Road and opt for the less arduous LPT instead.

A little after 2pm, we found our way to the Lancang toll plaza, before entering the LPT for the highway leg to Kuala Terengganu.

Faris took over driving duties on this stretch – about two hours plus of pure highway driving. It started to rain but all felt quite comfy within the Exora. So, what did I do? I slept soundly – testament to the internal integrity of the Exora’s cabin.

Driving an MPV can pose a challenge to the timid, but the Exora, which is shod with 16-inch wheels, gives a reasonably comfortable ride and handling. It is still fitted with a 1.6-litre engine, but this time turbocharged, giving it power and torque far better than before.

Thankfully, we ‘Wazed’ ourselves to our final destination and arrived safely in a village called Kampung Pasir Akar. Having arrived well past midnight, the only thing left to do was to hit the sack.

The next morning, we woke up to the piercing scent of durians just hanging in the morning mist. Durians – there’s plentiful here – tend to fall to the ground when humans are asleep, so it was simply a case of stepping out of the house in your jammies and gathering in the night’s bounty. Suffice to say, breakfast was boiled pulut (sticky rice), grated coconut, and this morning’s durian(s) – burp!

The day’s adventure began with a trip to Lata Deru, which is just one of the many waterfall attractions in Besut. What is special here is the green reflection from the bottom of the deep pool, which, upon diving and closer inspection, simply shows the colour coming off the reflection of the sun against the leafy foliage which bounces back, giving the serenely turquoise green hue.

Lunch time – more durians to accompany plain boiled rice (try it and you might just get hooked), and fruit desserts comprising rambutan, dokong, binjai (a distant cousin of the mango) and, for the first time ever – buah cepu (a bit like mangosteen but more sour than sweet).

Having travelled so far from home base and subjecting the car to so many demanding driving situations on this trip, we therefore appreciated the whole host of safety features packed into the Exora.

It comes equipped with two front SRS airbags, Anti-lock Braking System, Electronic Brake Distribution, Electronic Stability Control, and Emergency Stop Signal. Best of all, no self-respecting driver nowadays will accept a car without reverse camera, which makes manoeuvring in and out of tight situations, a cinch.

Alas, we could have stayed one more night, but a last-minute change of plans meant we had to leave Besut before dusk to reach KL by midnight.

Reluctantly, we bid goodbye to our affable host and filled the rear of the Exora to the brim with the fruity bounty of Besut. We came armed with clumps of pandan and two bundles of charcoal, hoping to neutralise the smell of durians that would be the bane of some passengers. If you wondered whether this did the trick; I say ‘naahh’. Forget it and simply live with it!

The Proton Exora performed all that was required of an MPV for the common man, with its spacious rear, highway driving integrity (we did struggle with our conscience when we came upon some road signage indicating minimum speeds), interior comfort that allowed restful sleep while a partner continues driving, and getting from start to finish, safely.

It is not exactly the pinnacle of ‘MPV-dom’ but getting us to explore a corner of this country, which we otherwise would not have done; what more could you want?

Main image by Faris Budin

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