"Unremarkable it may be but it does all the things a supermini should do and it does them well. .."
And it is of course the reason why superminis like Ford's Fiesta will continue to be British best sellers while arguably superior alternatives like Proton latest Satria Neo continue to be a rarity. Of course, not everyone buys so blindly. Take my own family: seduced by the striking looks and 'Handling By Lotus' badges of the little Proton, we decided to put one to the everyday test. Step forward my wife Katie and our three daughters Caris, who is 9, Ellie who is 7 and Amy who's 2. All four have developed an extremely acute perspective on what they like and don't like about modern cars. Both girls are picked up every day from school with snacks and (hopefully healthy) treats, so reduce the interior of any school run transport to that of an urban bus shelter within minutes. Crushed crisps, sticky fingermarks and soft drink spillages are par for the course. In vain, I've asked my wife to stick to fruit - but that's another story. Anyway, what did they make of the Satria Neo, day-in and day-out? Well things got off to a bad start by dint of the fact that at present, this car comes only as a three-door rather than a five-door model. Still, that's not Proton's fault and in any case, merit points were regained when a cursory inspection was made of the extras included on the 1.6 GSX model available for test. Even in standard form, the Satria Neo 1.6 GSX looks a comprehensive package for buyers seeking an economical supermini with a sporty edge and at £9,995 (including air-conditioning), it's not ridiculously expensive. Equipment includes an MP3 compatible Blaupunkt CD stereo with wheel-mounted audio controls, that air-conditioning, twin airbags and ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution as well as a fuel computer, 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and body coloured electrically adjustable and heated mirrors.
Not that the Crouch family kids were overly interested in all this detail. They were more bothered about the view out of the rear three-quarter windows (not that great) and the performance of the good quality stereo (very satisfying for a loud rendition of 'With Love From Me To You' - they're into the Beatles at present). My wife wasn't hugely gripped by the performance of the 1.6-litre engine (11.2 seconds from rest to sixty) but she loved the regular 42mpg return at the pumps. The interior fabrics and plastics didn't look that impressive at first glance but they did prove easy to wipe clean - which is far more important. Plus the flipping seat on the three-door was easy to manipulate. The silver metallic paint set off the car's lines beautifully. Striking but not too over the top, it really did show our Proton in a positive light. The car has a purposeful stance with clean bold lines around the front end and a tidy rear where the light clusters are positioned high up out of harm's way. There's nothing fussy about the detailing with the designers obviously preferring to keep things solid and chunky, two themes that are echoed on the inside of the vehicle. Space is definitely a key asset for the Satria Neo. There's plenty of room in the back for two six-foot adults and even if they were joined by a third passenger of similar dimensions, the squeeze wouldn't be unbearable. The boot too is remarkably large, harbouring more than enough capacity for one of my wife's regular really expensive trips to Tesco. As I've suggested, some might find the cabin a touch bland in terms of decor and design, especially at a time when rival supermini manufacturers have given their design departments free reign to dream up all manner of outlandish interior features. Luminous plastics, gaudy colours and curvaceous facias have been left on the drawing board, the Proton instead keeping it simple. Some will like the look, some won't but the build quality is impressive for a car at this price point. The main thing is that it all works and even a driver who is new to the vehicle should be able to locate the control they want almost instantly. This was certainly the case when my wife sat herself behind the wheel. She found that the driving position was excellent and that there was good scope for adjustment so that passengers of varying shapes and sizes had no problem getting comfortable. She awarded plus points to the chunky steering wheel ("which has a nice feel to it") and the positioning of the gear lever ("perfectly placed quite high on your left side"). On the road, both of us agreed that the steering, though not particularly accurate, had a reassuringly weighty feel and thought the gearchange to be superb with its precise short-throw action. The 1.6-litre engine generates 111bhp and puts a decent about of low down urge at the driver's disposal. Don't expect anything approaching hot hatchback performance, however, because the initial surge of acceleration soon tails off and the engine labours a little up to motorway speeds. There might not be much on offer by way of pace but the car is quite refined when cruising. The main sound inside the car is the road roar and this can become intrusive over time but the engine certainly doesn't make its presence felt too overtly. Overall, the Satria Neo does all the things a supermini should do and it does them well. The driving experience is good, there's plenty of space inside, it's solidly build and the Campro 1.6-litre engine delivers decent economy. At the end of the test, I asked my wife if she'd swap the Proton for a Fiesta - or indeed a Corsa, a Clio or any of the other obvious supermini choices. She declined. "I'll stick with what I know." she opined. Quite.
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance CAR: Proton Satria Neo range PRICES: £9,995 on the road INSURANCE GROUP: 7 CO2 EMISSIONS: 168g/km PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 11.2s / Top Speed 112mph FUEL CONSUMPTION: urban 28mpg / extra urban 61.4mpg / combined 42.8mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: twin airbags, ABS with EBD WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length 3905 width 1710 height 1420mm