"The Savvy Style is an unusual mix of budget and slightly incongruous brilliance"
Let's start by having a look what else £7k will buy you. A Chevrolet Matiz is within reach as is the base specification Citroen C1. You could also run to a Daihatsu Charade, the entry-level Fiat Panda or a 1.0-litre Kia Picanto. Take your pick from either the Perodua Kelisa or Kenari or the budget Smart fortwo Pure 50. Those looking for a more chi-chi image will doubtless turn to the Toyota Aygo 1.0 or the Volkswagen Fox 1.2. Then there's the Savvy. Where our 'Style'-trimmed model scores in terms of value for money is that, firstly, it's not the cheapest car in the range - it's actually the best equipped - and, secondly, it has a 1.2-litre engine where most rivals sport a 1.0-litre powerplant. There's another convincing reason why the Savvy deserves serious consideration. It's quite comfortably the best to drive of the whole lot. Some cars take time to grow on you whereas others impress right from the outset. The Savvy falls into the latter camp. You'll only need to drive one fifty yards to figure out that this little five-door hatch has quite uncommonly good steering and gearchange quality. How good? The steering offers more feel and accuracy than a Honda S2000 roadster or a Renault Clio 197 hot hatch while the gearchange is sweeter than that found in performance cars like the Subaru Impreza WRX or the Alfa Romeo Brera. Both the steering and gearchange at first feel shockingly out of place, the equivalent of popping the Savvy's bonnet and finding a Porsche flat-six under there instead of the 1.2-litre 74bhp unit.
The flipside of injecting such excellence into the Savvy's driving manners is that it ups the ante for the rest of the dynamics to an unreasonable extent. Taken in isolation, the ABS-equipped brakes work very well but, you know, they don't feel as punchy as a Porsche Boxster's. Suddenly you find yourself being overtaken by unreasonable expectation. The 1.2-litre engine is willing but not especially smooth, being rather resonant up to 5,000rpm and thrashy thereafter. It's probably the weakest part of the Savvy's DNA but it is enough to make it one of the quickest sub-£7,500 cheapies, getting it to 60mph in 12.2 seconds and then on to a terminal velocity of 106mph. Living with the car on a day to day basis shows up its qualities and quirks. It's far better equipped than any £7k car has the right to be and it's not always the more obvious things like twin airbags and the remote central locking that impress. The air conditioning blows strong and cold. The tyres aren't some crummy no-name make, instead being Goodyear Eagle NCTs. There's a useful pair of rear parking sensors to make pinpoint reversing simplicity itself and the door mirrors are big and clear. That's not to say there aren't minor annoyances. The central locking's propensity to re-arm itself after 30 seconds can confuse and when you're approaching the vehicle with an armful of shopping bags, it would be convenient to have some form of external tailgate release. Instead you'll need to put all the bags down, walk round and open the door, lean over and pop the tailgate release lever and then commence loading. The 50/50 split/fold rear seats are easy to use but the back rests can pop out of alignment if you attempt to force them flat. The Savvy is packaged very well with plenty of legroom for one six footer to sit behind another - rare in this class of car. Rear headroom is adequate as long as you don't measure anything above six feet tall - the only real difficulty coming when trying to extricate big feet from the rear footwell. The rear seats could also be a little more sculpted given that there's not a central fifth berth and that the door pulls sit right where a passenger's elbow rests - siting them further forward would probably have been a smarter idea. The front seats offer good lateral support and there's no shortage of room up front even for taller drivers. The blue cloth and yellow dial combination of our test car didn't find universal favour but the dashboard design and layout is sound. The Clarion stereo is not only punchy but also features buttons big enough to be operated by a grizzly bear, handy when you're driving and don't want to hunt for a microscopic control. There's silver coloured trim on the stereo, the centre console, the steering wheel and the door pulls which livens up the ambience a little. The trigger grip handbrake, the audible bleep when you slot reverse, the ten-spoke alloy wheels , the honeycomb design rear light clusters, the high level rear brake light and the sporty centre exhaust all display a depth of thought and design that are so often missing on a car that competes in this price bracket. The Proton Savvy Style may not be the first name you put on your sub £7k shortlist but on any objective basis, it deserves to be one that gets serious consideration.
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance CAR: Proton Savvy range PRICES: £7,495 - on the road INSURANCE GROUP: 3E-4E CO2 EMISSIONS: 134g/km PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 13.9s / Max Speed 99mph FUEL CONSUMPTION: (urban) 30.5mpg / (extra urban) 51.3mpg / (combined) 41.2mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Driver & Passenger front airbags / ABS WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: (length/width/height) 3710/1643/1480mm