Last month, Proton announced that the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) gearbox will soon be a norm in their vehicles and what better way than to kick it off with their most popular model, the SAGA BLM. This month, Proton invited us out to their in-house oval test track to try out their CVT equipped SAGA 1.3 FLX.

Relevant Listings

First off, in the looks department, there’s practically nothing new about the FLX, except for the badge at the rear and a new colour tone – Elegant Brown. The real differences is that its engine noise isn’t as intrusive as before, the front end of the car feels a little more reactive and best of all, it should be less painful on your pockets.

The CVT equipped Proton Saga 1.3 FLX features a button just below the gear knob labelled SAT (Stepped Automatic Transmission)

The Proton Saga 1.3 FLX variant comes with a list of added features besides the driver and passenger air-bags, there’s now Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), but this time around its the CVT that’s on showcase here. The CVT comes with a button right next to the gear knob; labelled SATStepped Automatic Transmission.

Once engaged, the CVT then begins to feather the gearbox and throttle, giving you the impression that its changing gears and mimicking that of a stock automatic gearbox. Unfortunately, there’s no secondary remap of the engine’s ECU for a more sportier drive, instead it simply provides the illusion that that the transmission is shifting, which is something for some who’d very much prefer.

Proton claims that the CVT equipped FLX’s fuel economy to be as follows in comparison:

Proton’s Fuel Consumption and CO2 Comparison chart compares the the Saga 1.3 (M) with the Saga 1.3 FLX with CVT.

The CVT gearbox comes from Punch Powertrain, where their gearboxes can be found in the likes of Audi, MINI, Hyundai and Kia to name a few. We dare suspect it could be the VT2 transmission from Punch Powertrain, which has a maximum torque tolerance of 186Nm, where the SAGA’s CamPro IAFM engine only produces 120Nm of torque and 94bhp.

Punch Powertrain VT2 CVT gearbox.

The new CVT comes in weighing only 55kg in the FLX and is 15kg lighter than the stock 4-speed automatic transmission (70kg), which helps in making the front end feel a little more responsive. The CVT also chain driven, utilising a wet-sump clutch and does not require any additional maintenance, save the usual transmission fluid flush. Even then, Proton says that the CVT’s service intervals has increased by 20,000km from the usual 40,000km, which helps in keeping your maintenance expenditures lower, by lowering your service frequency when flushing out your old transmission fluid for new.

Proton FLX 1.3 CVT oil cooler can be seen just behind the grill on the right.

Although certain CVT gearboxes have been known to overheat in the past during the first phase of its introduction into vehicles, Proton has helped qualm some of these concerns by installing an independent oil cooler for it, where the transmission fluids will run directly from the gearbox to the oil cooler and back again. The oil cooler has been mounted vertically, in front of the radiator on the far right (when facing the vehicle’s bumper) and Proton assures that the CVT is capable of tolerating temperatures of up to 150°C whilst possessing a lifespan of up to 200,000km.

On full acceleration, the CVT was smooth on power delivery and will help to optimise your access to horsepower and torque, which is best at around 5,500rpm. However, the usual 4-speed auto tranny allows you access all the way to red-line at 6,000rpm. This doesn’t mean that you’ll only use less fuel, it also means that you’re now able to experience 500rpm less of engine noise, providing for some audible comfort, especially with the lack of sound proofing that exists in Proton’s ‘budget’ car.

With the inclusion of ABS+EBD as well a 15kg lightened front end, we did note a more sharper response that was dialled in and the rear does feel more planted than usual as we tried entering the bends of speeds between 110 and 130kmh. As we progressed onto higher speeds, it did require a little more steering input that usual, which meant that this car has the usual Proton Lotus tuned handling; predominantly under-steer.

What we’ve experienced thus far indicates quite an amount of promise in terms of fuel economy, reliability and cost effectiveness in owning a CVT equipped SAGA FLX. However, in terms of the SAGA’s next evolution, rumours are afloat that there could be an inclusion of a 1.6L CamPro engine soon to appear for better power-weight ratio which should transpire into even better fuel economy figures, but to expect a hybrid start-stop function to be included may be asking to for far too much, far too soon.