As its bread-and-butter product, Proton would not be anywhere without its venerable Saga. When time came to give this critical rakyat-friendly offering a mid-life makeover, Proton had to tread carefully indeed.
Refreshing the Saga whilst also adding value to it wasn’t easy, more so after factoring in how big a fight its nearest rival, the Perodua Bezza, puts up. Nevertheless, after having a go at it on an overnight press drive from Shah Alam to Ipoh and back, Proton seems to have struck the right chords to make the Saga great again.
On the surface, Proton’s design team has given the Saga a light touch-up. Notable changes here lie in the redesigned front bumper and grille, newly added LED DRLs, sporty new rear bumper and trims, as well as the new 15-inch alloy wheels the Premium-spec offering pictured rolls on.
Much of these exterior changes were meant to give the Saga a more premium look and feel, and the same theme resonates on the inside too. On board, the Saga now sports new fabric seats with firmer padding and snazzy stitch patterns, but we’re certain the new seven-inch floating touchscreen unit will get many prospects excited.
Get the Saga going and arguably the most critical of changes finally comes into prime, that being its brand new automatic transmission. At long last, the noisy and laggy Punch CVT unit of yore has been punched out and replaced with a new four-speed conventional torque converter from Hyundai Power Tech.
Similar hardware to what’s primed in our favourite city supermini the Kia Picanto, it sports different programming and final gear ratio calibrated by Proton. The result speaks in volumes, or significant lack there of.
With the CVT unit its predecessor ran, there was plenty of lag and incessant engine noise to bear with, the latter especially under hard acceleration during overtaking and hill climbs. This new box is a far cry from that as it’s quieter whilst also being both smoother and peppier too.
At long last, the noisy and laggy Punch CVT unit of yore has been punched out...
Engine noise, in particular, only becomes a nuisance past 4,500rpm. Keep the needle below 3,500rpm and the Saga’s cabin is one very calm place to be in, the silence only broken by the air conditioning blowers and a slight amount of tyre roar.
Look past our tester’s snazzy new alloys and you’ll find larger, beefier disc brakes primed up front. Lifted from the face-lifted Persona and Iriz, these new and more responsive anchors add to the surefooted handling the Saga’s chassis already possessed from the start.
Surprisingly pleasant here too is the retuned hydraulic power steering, which has been lightened drastically to improve city drivability. It now takes less effort to turn, making the Saga less tiring to drive, and we know ladies will appreciate this.
Opt for the Premium-spec car featured here and there’s also the thumpy new hi-fi the aforementioned floating touchscreen is paired with. In short, there’s better sound quality to match the touchscreen’s brisk new Android-based interface.
Also worth highlighting here is the Premium variant’s addition of both traction (TCS) and stability control (ESC), along with hill-hold assist (HHA). These come on top of dual airbags and ABS with EBD and BA that’s already equipped across the board.
There are still some quirks to live with, namely the 1.3-litre VVT 4-cyl mill’s lack of pep and that annoying ‘tunnel’ impeding larger cargo when you fold the rear seats down. Beyond that, we found little to loathe with this refreshed Saga.
Overall, Proton hasn’t just made the Saga look and feel better, they’ve finally made it much nicer to drive and be driven in. Above all, the Saga has been made safer too, especially in the Premium-spec offering as tested, which commands RM39,800 (OTR excluding insurance).
Yes, at that price, Perodua and its rivaling Bezza finally have something to sweat about indeed.
You can see more of the refreshed 2019 Proton Saga 1.3 Premium AT in our dedicated Instagram Stories thread by clicking the following link: @topgear_malaysia - #2019ProtonSaga
2019 Proton Saga 1.3 Premium AT
|4-speed AT, FWD||n/a litres/100km||1,080kg||RM39,800|