FAMILIES are expensive propositions. From the moment those little cherubs arrive, they become a money funnel.
But there is a new family-hauling brigade which is more pleasing to the bank manager while also ticking the vital boxes for practicality.
Proton offers the cheapest seven-seater on the market, with drive-away pricing and free servicing for five years.
Starting from $25,990 for the GX and $27,990 for the GXR we tested, the Exora is not perfect, but being cheap doesn't necessarily mean sacrifices.
Grey was sexy when E.L James wrote about it, and Proton has adapted all shades with the interior.
The GXR has leather trim and it helps create a more up-market tone in a cabin plush with plastics. That's not a bad thing in family-focussed machinery - plastic is easy to clean and simple to keep looking good.
Getting inside is made easy by wide-opening doors which extend almost 90 degrees. The back door is especially large to make getting into the third row easier.
Perched high, driver and front passenger have a good view of the road. The seats are somewhat flat, although the Exora doesn't really invite you to start attacking bends like you're in a sports car and they were comfy enough on longer highway stretches.
Apart from the Clarion stereo, which is old-school and does require some analysis, all the operations are simplistic and basic.
Nothing flashy, circularly dials control the air-con while the driver's instrument display has a tacho on the left and a speedometer on the right with only the odd digital light in the centre.
There are steering wheel controls at your thumbtips for stereo, phone and volume controls although they aren't backlit so night-time operation is a challenge.
With the phone connected via Bluetooth we had to turn it up full-bore as there was a lot of nasty feedback through the system.
On the road
With a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, the Exora is reasonably adept. Don't expect a seven-seat slingshot and you won't be disappointed.
The performance is adequate, sometimes wanting up steep hills, although it doesn't require too much urging in traffic and sits on the highway reasonably well.
Call for rapid acceleration and the four-potter in combination with the automatic continuously variable transmission can generate a fair amount of noise without much result - that's typical of the older style CVTs. You just have to wait until everything catches up before it gathers breath and responds to the right foot.
Attack a corner with excess enthusiasm and front-wheel understeer arrives, along with body roll, although anyone expecting more prowess from a people-mover is shopping in the wrong aisle.
Things sound tinny when on the road and the Exora could do with some additional insulation, although it's okay over most surfaces and only pronounced over coarse bitumen.
What do you get?
Proton has thrown a whole heap of kit at the Exora, including air-conditioning for all three rows, reversing sensors, a roof mounted DVD player with USB/SD card slots as well as CD/MP3 player with Bluetooth phone connectivity. GXR models gain leather trim, a reversing camera and some extra exterior trinkets.
Both models have dual front airbags and side airbags (front row), stability and traction control, along with ABS brakes, but the lack of a rear curtain airbag and poor results in frontal crash tests only adds up to a four-star ANCAP safety rating.
Big players in the people-mover field are the Kia Grand Carnival (from $38,990) and Toyota Tarago (from $48,990), but given the Exora is smaller it's better to shop it against the Kia Rondo (from $29,990), Dodge Journey (from $32,400), Ssangyong Stavic (from $29,990 drive-away) and Fiat Freemont (from $25,990).
No servicing costs for five years or 75,000km, that's a boon for families. And it has roadside assist for the same period.
Some wear and tear is not covered in the servicing, like drive belts, wiper blades, brake pads, bulbs, fuses and tyres, so check with the dealer about all inclusions.
Fuel consumption should average about nine litres for every 100km.
There are four cup holders in the centre console, along with slots in each door capable of housing larger bottles.
Up front there are some good console spots for mobile phones, wallets and keys, as well as a dual glovebox. There is also a hook for handbags on the passenger side.
Each row has an air-conditioning vent, and there is reasonable space to fit five in the rear. The third row is best suited to kids.
Folding the seats is simple, just pull a strap and the third row falls into the floor, while the second row can do the same at the flick of a lever and there is an excellent flat load space.
GXR models gain daytime running lights, chrome exterior bits and a rear spoiler - because you're going to need downforce. It looks a little like an old Honda Odyssey in profile, but without the same panache.
What matters most
What we liked: Rear DVD player as standard equipment, wide door openings, drive-away pricing and free servicing.
What we'd like to see: More user friendly stereo, back-lighting on steering wheel controls, improved safety.
Warranty and servicing: Backed by a five-year 150,000km warranty with roadside assist. Servicing is free for five years or 75,000km. Service schedule is annual or 15,000km.
Model: Proton Exora GXR.
Details: Seven-seat front-wheel drive people-mover.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 103kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 205Nm @ 2000-4000.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 8.3 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $27,990 drive-away.