"The GEN-2 serves up and exciting driving experience that may not be the last word in refinement but is great fun on shorter trips"
If any model can, our 1.6 GSX model should show the Proton GEN-2 in a positive light. It's the top trim level and while the 1.6-litre CamPro petrol engine won't be the choice for economy-minded motorists, it's a free-revving unit that responds sharply to a dip of the throttle and emits a mildly sporty roar as you get up towards the top of the rev range. Proton have worked to instil a sporty element to the handling too. The expertise of Lotus cars was employed to tweak the dynamics of the GEN-2 and the car feels lively on the road with its pointy steering and firm ride. Much about the way the GEN-2 drives feels a little dated and it's conspicuously lacking the big car feel that has been engrained into the leading family hatchbacks over recent years. Still, that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's a certain rawness and old-school charm about the car that makes it enjoyable to drive. You can feel a lot more of what's going on beneath the wheels through the suspension and steering wheel than with other rivals, though this can get wearing on longer journeys. Still, it's fun on short ones. The car is a five-door family hatchback but it's on the small side compared to rivals like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. It's 4310mm long and 1725mm wide, where a Focus is 4337mm by 1834mm. The GEN-2 feels compact on the road too, more akin to a supermini that the larger family hatchbacks. It's easy to thread through gaps and park, although the high tail means rear visibility isn't the best you'll come across.
The GEN-2 isn't a common sight on the roads but neither is it an unattractive one. The shape is fairly middle-of-the-road but the GSX extras give it more of a purposeful edge. The exterior detailing shows a number of well-judged contemporary features from the sculpted headlamp units to the bold design of the hatch and the coupe-like window line. The sporty styling does have a knock-on effect inside where headroom is an issue for tall passengers in the back seat and the oversize front seats limit leg room behind but otherwise, interior space is adequate with the split-folding rear seats lowering to reveal an 850-litre luggage capacity. The GEN-2's interior design has a pronounced sporty edge and from the font on the instruments to the unorthodox stereo-controls, much of it looks good. Less impressive is the quality of the materials used and the door linings and dash constructed of hard plastics and a number of flimsy bits of trim dotted around the cabin. The titanium finishes on the gear lever and handbrake have already stared to wear on our model and the icon has faded from the driver's electric window button. It raises concerns over the longevity of the GEN-2's cabin if parts of it are looking tired after less than 10,000 miles. To be fair, Proton has recently been taking steps to improve the interior. Just after we received our testcar, a package of GEN-2 improvements were announced that included a sportier interior with red trim on the seats, doors and steering wheel as well as a re-designed dashboard and handbrake. There's also a redesigned glove box for added comfort and convenience. Customers who choose the GLS model will now benefit from a smarter cloth interior, whereas those opting for our 1.6 GSX model can expect leather seats. Equipment-wise, the GEN-2 has a lot to offer for a sub-£11,000 car. Electric windows, a Blaupunkt CD stereo, central locking, air-conditioning, all the essentials are included. There are also twin front and side airbags and ABS brakes with EBD, while the exterior look of the car is enhanced by a set of 15" alloys, front fog lights and a rear spoiler. So we come to the question of cost. At under £11,000, the GEN-2 1.6 GSX comes in significantly cheaper than an equivalently engined Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra. You'd be looking at £13,000 to £15,000 for one of those with a similar specification. The GEN-2 is patently not in the same league as these big players in terms of its quality but are its mainstream rivals £3,000 better? Our long term test has indicated that they may not be. The GEN-2 serves up an exciting driving experience that may not be the last word in refinement but is great fun on shorter trips. It's also well-equipped and distinctively styled, a good choice if you don't want to follow the herd into one of the volume selling alternatives. The quality of the interior raises concerns but the low grade materials are screwed together reasonably well and considering its compact size, the GEN-2 offers a decent amount of space for four passengers. Overall, the car is very likeable and worth a look at the prices Proton is asking. If you can negotiate a bit of a discount, so much the better.
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance CAR: Proton GEN-2 1.6 GSX PRICE: £10,995 - on the road INSURANCE GROUP: 7 CO2 EMISSIONS: 192g/km PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 12.6s / Max Speed 118mph FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 39.2mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin Airbags, curtain airbags, ABS WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: (length/width/height) 4310/1725/1435mm