REVIEW DATE: 12 Jan 2006
Here's A Really Cheap Car That, Well, Doesn't Feel Like One. June Neary Checks Out Proton's Little Savvy
I've always fancied a Lotus - and something tells me that Proton's Savvy is about as close as I'm going to get to it. Proton, for anyone who doesn't know (and there's no reason why you should) owns Lotus and uses the Hethel company's engineers to develop its Malaysian products. That doesn't mean a line-up of practical family cars that handle like sportsters but it does mean that you might be surprised at how well the company's cars drive. I was. The Savvy is the smallest model Proton has yet produced, competing in the growing 'Citycar' sector popularised by rivals like Ford's Ka and more lately by newer models like Volkswagen's Fox.. It undercuts both on price and on road manners - and looks quite sassy too. So far, so good.
I thought the Savvy a neatly proportioned car, measuring as it does 3710mm in length. To put that into perspective, this compares with 3456mm for the Citroen C1 and 3495mm for the Kia Picanto, both key competitors, so the Proton is slightly bigger than the city car norm, coming half way between these tots and the 3917mm of a supermini like a Ford Fiesta. This in my view is precisely the sort of size a car of this kind should be. It means, for example, that access to the back through the rear doors isn't as cramped as in certain Citycars, helped in no small part by a generously stretched wheel at each corner stance. I did think however, that Proton might have made the car a little wider, an area where it loses out to rivals like the C1. You certainly wouldn't want to sit three adults across the back. But then when would you want to do that in a Citycar anyway? The interior is better than the usual stuff you tend to get in cheap Far Eastern cars. Practical but predictable touches include cup holders next to the hand brake and a rear bench that splits 50:50 to reveal a reasonably spacious luggage bay. There's not much colour choice though: just three hues are offered, Stratos (metallic blue), Midnight (metallic black) and Magma, (solid chilli red). Everybody's got their own ideas on exterior styling but for what it's worth, I thought that of the Savvy to be pretty sharp. Look around the car and there are some careful detail touches. The neatly styled front lamp clusters for example - and the tidy way the rear wiper has been integrated. The V-shaped indent on the tailgate corresponds to the front grille, although the body-coloured grille works a lot better in black than it does in red.
The only engine on offer is a punchy 1.2-litre petrol unit good for a reasonable 74bhp. Proton aren't into diesels but you wouldn't anyway find much point in paying the usual premium for one in a car of this kind likely to travel short urban distances. Rest to 60mph occupies 12.2 seconds - quite a bit more rapid than I was expecting for a car of this type, as was the 106mph top speed. Cars of this kind have come a long way since the only thing you could reasonably do in them was go to the shops. Credit for the handling is duly passed on to Lotus. They have engineered a completely new and very strong rigid chassis (platform) and ensured a good power to weight ratio. As a result, Proton has a powerful and enjoyable small package. Whether it's 'stronger' than the German and Italian marques that the Malaysian's benchmarked it against is another question altogether.
If you'd asked me before this test, I'd have hesitated on this one. As it is, I can give an unqualified 'yes' if my need was simply for an inexpensive urban runabout.