BY JONATHAN CROUCH
For some time, Proton was one of Britain's fastest growing marques, selling sensible and affordable cars to sensible, cost-conscious people. The new car model range has increased too, with the family-sized Persona/Wira bringing the Malaysian marque a steady stream of value-seeking buyers, whose needs can't be adequately served by the smaller Compact/Satria three-door hatch. With sales of all these new Protons registering healthy gains until the end of 1999 (sales have nosedived so far in 2000), the number of low-mileage, pampered examples entering the used market increased at almost the same rate - great news for used family car buyers on a budget.
Models Covered: 1993-to March 2000: Persona saloon and five-door hatchback, 1.3 [LSi, Celebration] / 1.5 [GLi, GLSi, Celebration] / 1.6 [XLi, Celebration, SEi] / 1.8 [SEi, EXi, Celebration] / 2.0 diesel [SDi] / 2.0 turbo diesel [Tdi, Celebration] March 2000 to date: Wira saloon and five-door hatchback, 1.3 [Li] / 1.5 [LXi] / 1.6 'S' [LXi, Lux] / 1.8 [Lux, SRi] / 2.0 turbo diesel (five-door only) [TD] September 1997 to date: 2-door coupe 1.8 [Coupe, Celebration, Evolution 16v]
The Persona was first introduced in November 1993 as a four-door saloon and five-door hatchback with a choice of 1.5 or 1.6-litre engines. The 1996 model-year saw the first major changes with a package of styling revisions and the introduction of a 1.8-litre engine, as well as a new 2.0-litre diesel. For the 1997 line-up, the company introduced new four and five-door price leaders, featuring the 1.3-litre engine from the three-door Compact range. As for the plusher end of the Persona range, a 2.0-litre turbo diesel replaced the original non-turbo unit in both four and five-door body shells, while a special edition 'Penang' appeared, with standard air conditioning. A new two-door Coupe variant, based on an old-shape Mitsubishi Lancer coupe never sold in the UK, was launched in September 1997 with a twin camshaft, 16-valve 1.8-litre engine also made under licence from the Japanese company. It was very well equipped and the specification included Recaro front seats. A limited-edition Evolution 16v version with body kit arrived in April 1999. The range (except the Coupe) was renamed Wira in March 2000 and the line-up revised with new Li, LXi and Lux trim designations. A twin-cam SRi version also appeared. However, old stock remained on the price list so you'll find Personas registered later in 2000.
What You Get
There's flush-fitted glazing, side impact protection beams in all the doors and body-coloured bumpers across the range. Power steering is standard on most models too. The Malaysians are keen to point out that the Persona is actually larger than most of its direct competitors - its overall length is actually somewhere between a Rover 400 and a Vauxhall Cavalier - meaning that five adults can be accommodated pretty comfortably
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Not much goes wrong. Look out for diesel models with a taxi history and loose trim; interior fittings are not of the highest quality.
(Based on a 1995 1.5 GLi - approx) A new clutch will be in the region of £160 and a full exhaust about £335. Front brake pads will set you back about £45 for the front set and £38 for the rear, while an alternator will be around £165 and a replacement starter motor about £125.
On the Road
On the move, you won't set the road alight (unless your in the twin cam Coupe) - but you won't be disappointed either. The saloons and hatchbacks are far more refined than their predecessors and respectably quick. Even the baseline 89bhp model manages 0-60mph in 12.1s on the way to a top speed of 108mph. Around town, you should manage about 30mpg and about 40mpg on the motorway; expect a range of at least 400 miles between refills.
There are faster, quieter and more frugal competitors for your used car pounds of course, but they're all pricier. Proton motoring makes a lot of sense.