Drive – Proton Gen2 Used Car Review

23 Jun 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Drive – Proton Gen2 Used Car Review
Proton Gen

David Morley

Proton a sheep in wolf’s clothing

Malaysian brand Proton has really had its ups and down in Australia. From hilariously overpriced cars like the Waja to the quite sublime Satria GTi, Proton’s fortunes here have been as diverse as the cars it sells.

You only need to look at the brand-new Savvy to know the marque is developing its own persona. And that emergence of its own, globally competitive identity is backed up further by another model now entering the used-car market, the Gen-2.

Launched here in 2004, the Gen-2 represents the first of Proton’s ground-up designs. All the development and design work was done in-house, Proton’s previous models having mostly been loosely based on superseded Mitsubishi models. As an emerging car maker decades ago, Proton decided the smartest thing to do was to adopt older, proven Mitsubishi designs and build them under licence in Malaysia. (Hyundai did the same thing 10 years earlier, and look where it is today.)

A small hatchback, the Gen-2 is, in footprint terms, more or less a competitor for the likes of Toyota’s Corolla, but the Malaysian car has more personality and visual appeal. The sweeping roofline and bold front are quite attractive, and the Gen-2 certainly has its own face on the road.

But it’s on the road where the Gen-2 most completely betrays the fact that Proton is yet to get a real handle on what makes a global specification.

While the Corolla uses a 1.8-litre engine with 100 kW, the Gen-2 is stuck with a 1.6-litre engine producing 82 kW. The Hyundai Accent also gets a 1.6-litre engine with even less power, but that, too, is arguably a function of the parent company not understanding Australian buyers.

The Proton’s engine means it can struggle at highway speeds or when fully laden. The 7200 rpm red line is meaningless as the engine struggles to reach it and lacks pulling power where it’s most needed. The five-speed manual gearbox is the clear choice over the four-speed automatic.

This alone will limit the appeal of the Gen-2, especially for urban dwellers.

On the flip-side, the Gen-2’s handling was a highlight. Proton bought Lotus, and Lotus-developed suspension has featured on a few of its previous models. In the Gen-2’s cases, that influence has resulted in a good package.

The tyre grip is the most surprising element and considering that the chassis will never be overpowered by its engine, it feels secure.

The rest of the dynamic act is up to speed, too, and the Gen-2 corners with precision and stays flat in turns. The steering can feel a little over-assisted, but manages to load up in corners for some driver feedback.

Proton Gen

It’s nice to see, too, that Proton has thought about the braking package, fitting even the base-model car with four-wheel disc brakes. Less pleasing is the decision not to make anti-lock brakes standard on all models. Only the mid- and high-spec cars get ABS with brake-force distribution.

Speaking of trim levels, the Gen-2 range was split into three with the unimaginative names of L-Line, M-Line and H-Line (low, medium and high).

The L-Line got dual airbags, air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and a trip computer. The M-Line added anti-lock brakes and alloys, while the H-Line introduced fog lights, side airbags, parking sensors and a spoiler.

Inside, the Gen-2’s front seats lacked side support – a shame given the car’s handling potential – but the rest of the layout was pretty good.

The vertically stacked climate-control dials in the centre console were funky. Only the old-fashioned sports steering wheel let things down. Well, there was also the questionable integrity of the plastics and their fit.

Even when new, the interiors could be a bit squeaky.

In some ways, the Proton Gen-2 shows that what’s right for some markets isn’t for others.

The handling and general chassis balance are right, but the wheezy engine can let it down over long distances.

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