Test drive: Proton Persona 1.6 Premium

The Iriz, on which it is based, wasn’t all that great, but Proton has done more than just stick a boot on…  

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A few years ago, the powers that be implemented strict rules on auto locks amid concerns of car doors jamming shut in the event of a crash, thereby trapping occupants and reducing their chances of survival. This called for more tech to be invested into something so conceptually simple. Meaning, more expensive bits that turned auto locks into a feature which were increasingly reserved for premium cars.

We’re talking about cars that are commonly equipped with lights that switch on automatically when it’s dark, indicators that blink five times with just a nudge of the stalk and instrument cluster graphics that tell the driver exactly which door isn’t shut properly. Cars equipped with oh-so-helpful little details that are easily overlooked, but hardly ever seen in anything remotely “entry-level”. Cars like the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, and… Proton Persona?

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Proton has hardly ever been lauded for incorporating fancy tech of any sort into its cars. And the new Persona still struggles to break the mould with evidence of cost cutting in most of its touch points, from the faux leather wrapping its steering wheel to the air-con toggles that feel like plastic bottle caps. But there is plenty of merit hidden beneath these unconvincing materials. And it goes beyond the aforementioned features, all of which come standard in our Premium-spec tester.

[Read our Proton Persona First Impressions drive report here]

The national carmaker’s latest tagline says “It’s in the Drive”. And we agree that’s where the Persona truly proves itself as a talented B-segment sedan, even when stacked up against competition above its pay grade. We say this because the powertrain, which is made up of the 1.6-litre VVT engine and Punch CVT also found in the not-so-great Iriz, feels so much more improved despite little change to the hardware. In fact, the only significant physical modification is the switch from four-point engine mounts to three.

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How Proton’s ECU guys have managed to put a real punch in the once dreadful CVT is remarkable. Compared to the Iriz, the Persona exhibits a newfound eagerness in low rev ranges which complements the nimbleness nicely carried over from the hatchback’s platform, especially on city roads. Take it to the highway and you’ll get to enjoy Proton’s signature chassis stability (thanks Lotus) at the higher speeds the modest 107bhp mill is capable of, but not without a fair share of noise from the engine bay and beyond.

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We are talking about a sub-RM60k car aimed at the masses after all. And for all the performance, practicality – the Persona’s boot is tremendously spacious for a car its size – and even the tech it offers at this price point, its imperfections in build quality and ergonomics aren’t entirely unforgivable. It’s definitely worth a test drive if you’re looking for a bargain car that drives like a proper one should.

Engine: 1,597cc, 4-cylinder DOHC VVT, 107bhp, 150Nm
Economy: 6.1L/100km
Performance: NA
Weight: 1,210kg
Price: RM59,800

Still a work in progress in terms of quality, but impressive driving dynamics and generous kit count keeps it well in contention

Author: Daryl Loy