REVIEW DATE: 20 Jun 2007
The entry-level 1.3-litre GLS version of Proton's GEN-2 family hatchback showcases much of its appeal. Jonathan Crouch reports
Proton's revival continues. Not so long ago dismissed as an automotive backwater, this Malaysian marque is now starting to make waves, mainly since the introduction of the GEN-2 Family Hatchback we're looking at here in 1.3-litre guise.
The latest versions benefit from a sportier interior with red trim on the seats, doors and steering wheel as well as a re-designed dashboard and handbrake. There's also a redesigned glove box for added comfort and convenience. Customers who choose this 1.3 GLS model will benefit from a smarter cloth interior and other nice touches include automatic central locking, a remote-operated boot release and (at last) door-mounted window switches. Outside, there's also a more aggressive bumper and grille.
So to the 94bhp 1.3-litre GLS entry-level variant we're looking at here. The performance isn't much different from that of the 1.6-litre models with rest to sixty taking 15.4s (as opposed to 12.6s for the 1.6-litre) and a maximum speed of 112mph (118mph for the 1.6). Unfortunately, the fuel consumption story is likewise (40.4mpg combined as opposed to 39.2mpg for the 1.6). What is different is the price - £1,000 less than the 1.6-litre version. That could make all the difference between getting potential buyers into the showroom and losing them to more established rivals.
Upon reaching said showrooms, those potential customers should be favourably impressed - and not just by the car. A recent national dealer survey saw Proton's dealers rated as second only to Lexus for helpfulness, which shows how the network has been pulling its socks up in recent times. As for the car, well despite the more affordable price, 1.3 GLS buyers still get the same specification as 1.6-litre GLS customers. And that means air conditioning, alloy wheels, a CD player with a 10-disc autochanger, twin airbags, remote central locking with an alarm/immobiliser, electric front windows and reverse parking sensors. Try asking for that little lot for under £13,000 from your local Ford or Vauxhall dealer.
"To sum up the Proton GEN-2 1.3 GLS is easy. Just get yourself a Ford price list and see how much you pay for less."
Otherwise the GEN-2 package is as you were. The chassis is shared with the Impian saloon and that's a good start. The Impian is one of the better handling compact cars and the dimensions, when translated to the GEN-2, give it a squatly purposeful, wheel at each corner stance. The exterior detailing shows a number of well-judged contemporary features from the sculpted headlamp units to the bold design of the hatch and the coupe-like window line.
Although the GEN-2 will doubtless sell on the basis of its looks and value proposition, a great deal of attention has been paid to how the car drives. Proton now own 100 per cent of Lotus and they want a return on that investment. Quick witted steering and an alert feel are Lotus trademarks and the GEN-2 isn't found wanting in this department. Factor in a chassis that corners without a great deal of understeer or body roll and you have a setup which will be more than adequate for most of the target market. The more demanding minority may well find themselves wishing for a little more engine so good is the ride and handling. The ride is firm without lapsing into harshness and float over longer undulations is well suppressed.
The cabin is a bit of a treat if you're used to acres of dull grey and boring details. It's styled by - you guessed it - the Lotus Design Studio and features a set of vertical air-conditioning knobs on the centre console support and a nice metallic finish that together really are a cut above the class standard in terms of aesthetics. The latest models feature darker plastic for the dash and door trim inserts and buyers have the option of specifying leather for the seats. The steering wheel is also massively more sporting looking than the apologetic tillers seen in most cars of the Proton's ilk as is the instrument panel with its twin cowled binnacle and metallic look to the dials themselves. Everywhere you look there are neat design touches, from the unorthodox handbrake grip to the semi-circular door pulls.
To sum up the Proton GEN-2 1.3 GLS is easy. Just get yourself a Ford price list and look at the £12,000 price tag attached to the cheapest, most basically specified entry-level Focus version. Were the Malaysian car to be a world away in terms of build quality and dynamics, the cost difference could be justified but it isn't. All right, so this Proton still isn't screwed together quite as well, nor is the quality of materials used quite as good - but there's not too much in it. Against that, the handling is just as good, the styling more attractive and the specification on another planet. All of which ought to be enough to elevate this car to a place on your shopping list, even if you were thinking of spending a good deal more than £9,000 on a Family Hatchback. Pricier isn't necessarily better.
|For GEN-2 1.3 GLS|
|OVERALL||6.8 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|