There's more to Proton's GEN-2 than its small pricetag. Steve Walker reports.
Ten Second Review
Proton's GEN-2 is a family hatch with lively handling and a choice of rev-happy petrol engines. It's never going to be a big seller but distinctive looks and an original interior design make it stand out from the crowd at the budget end of the market.
A low price is no longer enough to guarantee respectable sales in the family hatchback sector. There was a time when undercutting the class leaders by a grand or two would be a sure-fire way for budget models to turn a profit but today's car buyers are demanding, and getting, more. Better quality, more innovative design, increased desirability and superior warranty packages. Modern budget hatchbacks must deliver all this on top of that attractive value proposition. It's a tough call but Proton hopes its latest GEN-2 can rise to the challenge. Whereas Proton models of old bought in design and engineering expertise from other companies, the GEN-2 is a proper in-house project. 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 has benefited from the input of the renowned Lotus chassis engineers but curiously, Proton is also at pains to point out that the revised interior on the latest GEN-2 was penned by the Lotus Design Studio. A car boasting of interior design by Lotus is rather like a fancy restaurant proudly announcing that its chef was trained at KFC, salubrious cabins not really being a Lotus forte. On climbing inside the GEN-2, however, there's plenty to admire.
There are only two petrol engines available at the moment - of 1.3 and 1.6-litres in size - and neither are bad units. The 1.6-litre 110bhp CAMPRO unit has been developed in collaboration with Lotus and produces reasonable torque 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 1.6-litre GEN-2 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. Proton are also offering the GEN-2 in ecoLogic guise, which runs on LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and could potentially cut the car's running costs in half. This model costs the same as a standard petrol-driven model.
Design and Build
The Proton GEN-2's trademark seats with their integrated head restraints remain, as do the 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 bold design of the hatch 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 to reveal a 850-litre luggage capacity.
Market and Model
The latest versions benefit from 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 benefit from a smarter cloth interior, whereas those opting for the 1.6 GSX model can expect leather seats. Other nice touches include automatic central locking, a remote-operated boot release and (at last) door-mounted window switches. Outside, the flagship GEN-2 GSX model gets a more attractive rear spoiler, plus front and rear skirting, with restyled alloy wheels and race-inspired black-backed headlamps completing the look. There's also a more aggressive bumper and grille on all models. All models get twin airbags while the GSX gets side airbags, that tailgate spoiler, body coloured door mirrors and door handles and (in automatic form) cruise control. All models also get air conditioning, an adjustable steering column, electric front windows, power steering, reverse parking sensors and audio controls mounted on the steering wheel. Entertainment is provided by an integrated Blaupunkt radio/CD player with RDS and a four way speaker system. A Bluetooth hands-free kit which works through the audio system can also be fitted as an accessory.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.6-litre GEN-2 produces a combined fuel consumption figure of 39.2mpg and its CO2 emissions of just 172g/km are competitive. Go for the smaller 1.3-litre engine and you're rewarded with economy that's only slightly better at 40mpg and emissions of 166g/km. All of which helps make the case for the 1.6-litre car.
Overall, the Proton GEN-2 is a commendable effort from the Malaysian marque which should encourage more potential customers to head for their dealers. Upon reaching said showrooms, those potential buyers should be impressed - and not just by the car. A recent national dealer survey saw Proton's dealers rated as second only to Lexus for helpfulness, which shows how the network has been pulling its socks up in recent times. As for the GEN-2, well it's priced at around £4,500 less than an equivalent Ford Focus and it isn't £4,500 less of a car. Which really says all that needs to be said.