BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Proton's Compact, known since late 1999 as the Satria, must be one of the motor industry's best-kept secrets. New car buyers are immensely loyal to the Malaysian company's products and it's easy to understand the reasons why. The Compact/Satria, for example, is a medium-sized family hatch at a supermini price. Used car buyers are now also beginning to see many of the attractions of Proton ownership. The company offers long and comprehensive warranties on all its new vehicles, a sure sign that reliability and durability are more than just sales talk. Used buyers have realised this and are beginning to discover the bargains that exist. Protons can still take a little effort to track down, however, unless you go through a main dealer.
Models Covered: November 1993 to October 1999: Compact: 1.3 three-door hatch [GLi, LSi] / 1.5 three-door hatch [GLSi] / 1.6 three-door hatch [SEi, Celebration] October 1999 to date: Satria 1.3 three-door hatch [Li] / 1.5 three-door hatch [LXi] 1.6 'S' three-door hatch [LXi,Sprint] / 1.8 three-door hatch [GTi]
Costing several thousand pounds below Western European competitors, Protons are relatively plush, easy to drive, hold their value and never let their owners down. In short, they get the job done better than anything else even close to the price. Proton's first models, the Mpi Saloon and Aeroback, were launched here in March 1989. It wasn't until the arrival of the Compact in October 1995, however, that the rounded look with which we now associate Protons first appeared. Until October 1999, the 1.3, 1.5 and 1.6-litre three-door hatchbacks remained largely unchanged but they were then re-christened Satria and joined by a range-topping 1.8GTi model with twin cam engine and Lotus-tuned chassis. In 2000, Proton rearranged the mainstream model designations, confusingly adding 'S LE' to the trim levels and adjusting specifications slightly. In early 2001, this approach was dropped, a five year warranty included on all models and the 1.6-litre model given a sportier look and re-christened 'Sprint'. If you couldn't stretch to the GTi, a £9,299 Sport model was introduced in summer 2001 that gave all the looks with an insurance-friendly 86bhp 1.5-litre engine.
What You Get
The Compact has always been, according to Proton, a car with more to recommend it than simply a competitive price and plenty of gadgets. Standard specification is a particular strongpoint of virtually any used model you're likely to come across. Tinted glass, a Blaupunkt stereo cassette, smart cloth upholstery, 50/50 split rear seats, headlamp height adjustment and engine immobiliser are just a few of the features fitted to many of the later models. GLSi models have central locking, a sunroof and a driver's airbag and the SEi has power windows and mirrors plus air conditioning. At the wheel, there's little to fault, unless you have a particular allergy to plastic. Everything falls easily to hand and, provided you have no difficulty operating a payphone, it won't take you long to get the hang of the ergonomically laid-out controls.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
As usual with Protons, not a great deal. Owners tend to be careful drivers, attracted by the no-nonsense nature of the car and about as far removed from the boy-racer style of driving that it's possible to be. Always peruse the service history log, plus make all the usual checks for corrosion, interior wear and tear (trim doesn't age well) and the reliable operation of all the equipment.
(Based on a 1995 1.3 GLi approx) A new clutch will be in the region of £100 and a full exhaust about £170 (excluding catalyst). Front brake pads will set you back about £38 and £33 for the rear, while an alternator will be around £310 and a replacement starter motor about £140. It will cost you around £185 for a radiator and about £100 for a headlamp.
On the Road
Normally, affordable cars with power steering are pretty uninspiring, but this one feels quite responsive. You could say the same for the handling. Nothing to write home about, but safe, predictable and vastly superior to the first generation of Protons. Given that the "zesty" 1.6 model makes 60 in just under eleven seconds on the way to 116 mph, it's probably just as well. At the pumps, the Compact's true strengths can be clearly seen. In the 1.3, you can expect to average between 35 and 40mpg on a regular basis. Opt for the remarkably smooth optional automatic gearbox (three-speed on the 1.5, four-speed on the 1.6) and the figure drops to just over 30mpg.
A complete car competitively priced and comprehensively equipped.