BY ANDY ENRIGHT
To many buyers in the budget family saloon sector, the Proton Impian is still something of a mystery. The name, which allegedly means 'dream come true' in Malaysian hardly endears it to those bred on Vectras and 406s. Still, it could have been worse. It was originally slated to be a Waja. As a used prospect, the Impian is a gem. Tracking one down is another matter.
Models Covered: 4 door saloon 1.6 petrol [base, X, GLS, GSX]
The Impian was a hugely significant milestone for Proton insofar as it represented them shaking off the shackles of their origins. Protons up until this point had been based around recycled Mitsubishi models, much as Daewoo started out with warmed over obsolete GM models. The Impian, though still powered by a Mitsubishi-sourced 1.6-litre engine benefited from Proton's ownership of Lotus in offering a sweet handling compact saloon at giveaway pricing. Launched to surprised critical approval in July 2001 it then sold like hot cakes in the Kalahari. In late 2004 the two trim levels were renamed GLS and GSX. A facelift in late 2006 altered the Impian's appearance both inside and out. The front grille was redesigned as were the rear light clusters. The cabin was also spruced-up, Proton clearly feeling that the 2005 tinkering didn't go far enough. This time the entire fascia was altered although the wood trim on the GSX still seemed about as appropriate as a rendition of "Burning Love" in a crematorium. The chrome ringed dials are a neat touch though.
What You Get
In the here and now, the gap between a £12,000 budget family saloon and something like a Mondeo or a Vectra is most evident in terms of interior design. Whilst being workmanlike and ergonomically sound, from a design perspective, the South-East Asians have never quite hit the bullseye. Perhaps this is being overly charitable. Never quite hit the dartboard may well be a truer assertion. Certainly the Impian isn't going to appeal to those with an eye for a classy cabin, although the LX model packs in a fair amount of buttons to press. For a flagship model, some of the fittings are unacceptably poor, but for the most part the quality and build integrity is way ahead of anything the company has yet produced. Rendered in some fairly unappetising hues, the Impian features seats that need to be reappraised to fit the British frame and a stereo system so loud you'll be envy of every Nova-driving teenager in the neighbourhood. With traction control, ABS and four airbags as standard, the Impian won't lack showroom appeal. Couple that with a tidily styled body and the Proton has a fair bit to recommend it.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Not much goes wrong. Look out for thrashed ex-company cars; interior fittings are not of the highest quality.
(Based on a 2001 1.6X - approx) A new clutch will be in the region of £175 and a full exhaust about £450. Front brake pads will set you back about £45 for the front set and £38 for the rear, while an alternator will be around £185 and a replacement starter motor about £140.
On the Road
Whisper it if you will, but the Impian is impishly good fun to drive. The first thing you'll notice is how well the suspension suppresses the usual bump and thump of the average British road surface. Up the speed a little more and the story remains the same. The Proton still feels supple at speeds which the engine is quite unhappy with, the body control admirable, utterly bereft of the soggy front under damping or high speed float that would affect a VW Bora driven at similar velocities. Impressive stuff. Likewise the handling is well up to scratch. Grip is good, the front-wheel drive chassis holding on doggedly before lapsing into mild understeer, the lightweight engine helping keep your cornering line tight and true. It's vaguely puzzling as to how this unassuming looking saloon can be quite this competent until a recollection comes whistling out of the blue, hitting you like an airborne anvil. Lotus. Owned by Proton, the consulting genius of Lotus was used to develop the handling characteristics of the Impian and boy, does it show. Compared to an equivalently priced Hyundai, Kia or Daewoo, the Impian is leagues ahead in terms of driver appeal. The steering is pleasantly weighty and the whole effect is not hugely dissimilar to a basic Mondeo, which for any who have been lucky enough to pilot the Ford will attest is high praise indeed. Indeed, having driven the Lotus-fettled Satria GTi, the promise of a sporty Impian holds some allure, though that may be some way away yet. Outright performance isn't in any way outstanding, the 102bhp Impian hitting sixty mph in a leisurely 12.2 seconds before running out of puff at a deafening 116mph. Fuel consumption is unexpectedly impressive for such a modest powerplant, the Proton returning an average of 42mpg.
The Proton Impian may not be the first, or indeed even the last, name on your shortlist of possibles but it's worth a look for a number of reasons. Not only is it an affordable way to get a nearly new car, it also promises to be reliable and will certainly be fun to drive. It's a hugely likeable car and one with some character. Impressive stuff.