Before the Covid-19 situation became a global crisis, 2020 was supposed to be the year Proton’s collaboration with Chinese carmaker Geely really gets into gear, what with the commencement of the X70’s local assembly in Tanjung Malim and the impending arrival of a smaller crossover touted as the X50. But 2019, a year in which Proton sold more than 100,000 cars for the first time in five years, reminded us that the brand’s pre-Geely products are equally crucial to Proton’s overall appeal as a national carmaker.
Like the Exora, Persona and Saga, the Iriz was given an injection of new features during this period. The front end now looks especially fresh thanks to headlights transplanted from the Persona and a bespoke grille for the hatch while the bumpers, wheels and tailgate have also been lightly rehashed to positive effect. It’s really quite impressive how Proton has managed to elevate the overall look of the car so much with so little. And the same applies inside the cabin, which now packs an updated instrument cluster, black roof liner (fancy!) and GKUI-enabled touchscreen infotainment.
That last bit isn’t something we’re particularly fond of, though. On sunny days, the screen turns into a mirror that’s impossible to see through and the camera feed it displays when reverse gear is engaged isn’t at a very helpful angle either. The saving grace here is its ability to make out your verbal instructions upon hearing the words “hi, Proton”. The unit isn’t connected to the rest of the car (i.e. windows and AC) like the X70, but it responds to song requests and weather queries with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy and promptness given the Iriz’s RM50k price point.
Here’s the potential kicker: unlike the cheaper Saga, which has traded its CVT for a four-speed auto sourced from Hyundai, the Iriz soldiers on with the controversial Punch transmission. However, Proton’s engineers have clearly been hard at work here if the powertrain’s newfound zeal is anything to go by. A split-second hesitance upon the first dab of the throttle aside, the CVT harnesses the engine’s 108 horses and 150Nm with great enthusiasm and efficiency. The 1.6-litre VVT mill packs more power than a Toyota Yaris and more twist than a Honda Jazz, and it shows.
Clearly, there are some dynamic qualities befitting a spiritual successor to the Satria Neo in the Iriz, even if it isn’t a three-door hatch; the Iriz was initially conceived as a direct rival to Perodua’s dominant Myvi after all. Though the latter still leads the way in overall space and practicality, the Iriz is a close second that makes up for what it lacks in square inches with arguably the best NVH suppression in its class.
That the Iriz is roughly RM5k cheaper spec-to-spec against the Myvi is another potential decider – an obvious attempt to rattle the market on Proton’s part. That said, we’re still on the fence as to which hatch is best. And it’s a comfortable position we can thank the makers of the new Iriz for; the one-horse race that has been going on for far too long is finally a thing of the past.
Proton Iriz 1.6 Premium
Engine: 1.6L 4cyl NA, 108bhp, 150Nm
Transmission: CVT, FWD
Economy: 6.5l/100km (estimated)
Commendable effort on a facelift which manages to preserve the Iriz's unique identity while giving it a fresh look despite some obvious attempts to streamline it with the Persona for cost-cutting reasons. The powertrain has been refined, but the intrinsically unlikeable traits of a CVT are hard to escape.
It's far from perfect, but the new Iriz is arguably the most credible assault Proton has ever mounted on the Perodua Myvi to date.