Like the GEN-2 but wish it had a boot? Proton is nothing if not accommodating. Jonathan Crouch reports on the four-door Persona saloon model.
Ten Second Review
The GEN-2 hatch has done much to revive Proton's fortunes in the UK, but the Persona saloon version will probably remain a niche player. Like the hatch, it's good looking, handles well and is very cheap. Interior build quality shows that in this corner of the market, you tend to get what you pay for.
Let's take the common assumption that you can't buy a bad car these days. If that is indeed the case, a great car two years ago will still be a very good car today. It's exactly this problem that budget car manufacturers are up against. Proton's GEN-2 Persona might wear a very low sticker price but a two year old Ford Focus saloon will be more affordable still and there would be few dissenters when it came to identifying which was the better car. Still, there is a quorum of buyers who want a new car with all the peace of mind that brings and if that is indeed the case, the GEN-2 Persona makes a strong case for itself. Proton is always quick to remind anyone who'll listen that it now owns Lotus and that the famous British sportscar manufacturer has had a hand in developing the handling packages on its current models. The GEN-2 Persona has benefited from the input of the renowned Lotus chassis engineers and Proton is also at pains to point out that the revised interior on the Persona was penned by the Lotus Design Studio.
Unlike the hatchback model, which offers a choice of two engines, choosing what powerplant you get with your GEN-2 Persona is a whole lot easier. Basically, there's just one engine offered and it's the top spec 1.6-litre 110bhp CAMPRO unit that has been developed in collaboration with Lotus. This produces reasonable torque (148Nm) in the mid and upper ranges but you'll need to resort to the gearbox to make rapid progress at lower revs. Fortunately this isn't too much of a hardship as the standard manual gearbox is a slick system. The GEN-2 Persona will cover the sprint to 60mph from rest in 12.6 seconds and run on to a top speed of 118mph. Although the GEN-2 will doubtless sell on the basis of its looks and value proposition, a great deal of attention has been paid to how the car drives. Quick witted steering and an alert feel are Lotus trademarks and the GEN-2 isn't found wanting in this department. The ride is firm without lapsing into harshness and float over longer undulations is well suppressed. Factor in a chassis that corners without a great deal of understeer or body roll and you have a setup which will be more than adequate for most of the target market. The more demanding minority may well find themselves wishing for a little more engine so good is the ride and handling. There is also a GEN-2 Persona ecologic model available which runs on liquid petroleum gas and can reduce fuel bills by around 50 per cent and costs exactly the same as the petrol-driven model.
Design and Build
The GEN-2 Persona benefits from many of the updates visited on the GEN-2 hatch. This means you'll find seats with integrated head restraints, and vertically stacked air-conditioning knobs on the centre console with their fetching metallic finish. The latest models feature darker plastic for the dash and door trim inserts and buyers have the option of specifying leather for the seats. The steering wheel is massively more sporting looking than the apologetic tillers seen in most cars of the Proton's ilk as is the instrument panel with its twin cowled binnacle and metallic look to the dials themselves. Everywhere you look, there are neat design touches, from the unorthodox handbrake grip to the semi-circular door pulls. Plastics quality still marks the GEN-2 out as a budget offering but there's little else to give the game away. The exterior detailing shows a number of well-judged contemporary features from the sculpted headlamp units to the well integrated boot and the coupe-like window line. This sporty styling does have a knock-on effect inside where headroom is an issue for tall passengers in the back seat but otherwise, interior space is adequate with the split-folding rear seats lowering flat to give internal access to a well-shaped boot..
Market and Model
Equipment levels are competitive, but Proton has rather confusingly specified the GEN-2 Persona in a way unlike the hatchback models. In terms of the amount of kit you get, the one Persona trim level sits somewhere between GLS and GSX hatch models. You can count on twin front and side airbags, body coloured door mirrors and door handles and (in automatic form) cruise control. Then there's air conditioning, an adjustable steering column, electric front windows, power steering, a CD stereo, reverse parking sensors, a rear boot spoiler, chromed number plate surround and audio controls mounted on the steering wheel. There's also a Blaupunkt MP3- compatible CD player. Proton periodically offer some quite generous discounts. An automatic gearbox tacks another £800 onto the price but unless you're using your GEN-2 for the dullest of urban commutes, we wouldn't bother. You won't see the investment back come trade in time.
Cost of Ownership
In the past, Proton hasn't fared too well in terms of retained value, the brand being seen as a rather low-rent commodity but the company hopes the association with Lotus and the development of fresh models like the GEN-2 will start to change that. It hasn't filtered through so far and you'll need to budget for the fact that this GEN-2 Persona will probably only be worth around 26 per cent of its new value in three years time. This rather offsets the decent 39.2mpg fuel consumption figure and the modest Group 7 insurance. Carbon dioxide emissions of 172g/km aren't great, this figure being higher than a BMW 325i.
Look at what £11,000 buys you in the new car market and it's easy to get a little depressed. You'll need another £5,000 to get yourself behind the wheel of the entry level Ford Focus saloon, so perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh on this Proton's shortcomings, these being poor CO2 emissions, an interior of mixed materials quality and the lack of a diesel engine option. Balanced against its qualities, of which we would identify a decent chassis, clean styling, great steering, strong equipment levels and that aggressive asking price, it's fair to say that Proton has done a good job with the GEN-2 Persona. The demand for compact saloons in this country remains rather small and there's a curious market mechanic at work that says that these models usually only sell to more mature buyers in top line trim levels. As such, the GEN-2 Persona will have its work cut out. We wish it luck.