"The Savvy has the capacity to silence the cynics"
Having just stepped out of a Jaguar XK Convertible, I figured the Savvy would make a fun contrast, in effect going from the sublime to if not the ridiculous then the ridculously cheap at any rate. Wearing its £7,295 price tag lightly, this top of the range Style model actually looked pretty good finished in black. There was something aboutr its stance and features that was redolent of the original Renault 5, no bad thing in my book. Waving goodbye to heated seats, satellite navigation and an automatic gearbox smoother than a Stephen Fry segue, the Savvy was nevertheless far from basic. Some of the interior plastics left a bit to be desired but first impressions were good. Unlike so many budget cars the Savvy at least benefits from an interor that has been styled rather than cobbled together from disparate third-party supplier catalogues and the ergonomics are notably better than its bigger brother, the Gen-2. With alloy wheels and air conditioning, it's a long way removed from a typical econobox. My first move was to plug in our Mio C210 portable satellite navigation system. Having found the Jag's guidance invaluable, I didn't want to go without a helping hand, especially as a road tester's job often takes us to rather far flung points. The Mio is a decent unit that's dependable, rugged, inexpensive and which can be removed from the car easily, thus removing temptation from potentially light fingered types. Firmly suctioned to the Savvy's windscreen, this £199 gizmo managed to give the car a real upmarket feel.
The first thing that strikes you when you drive the little Proton is how good it's steering is. Whisper it if you will, but the Savvy is impishly good fun to drive. The steering has a reassuring heft, welcome in this age of anaesthetised electrically-assisted helms. Likewise 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 at which the engine seems quite unhappy with, the body control admirable, utterly bereft of the soggy front under damping or high speed float that would affect a comparable small Volkswagen 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 1.2-litre 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 Savvy and boy, does it show. Compared to an equivalently priced Hyundai, Kia or Chevrolet, the Savvy is leagues ahead in terms of driver appeal. It's a neatly proportioned car, measuring 3710mm in length. This compares with 3456mm for the Citroen C1 and 3495mm for the Kia Picanto, so it's a little bigger than the city car norm, coming half way between these tots and the 3917mm of a supermini like a Ford Fiesta. This means that access to the back through the rear doors isn't as cramped as in certain city cars, helped in no small part by a generously stretched wheel at each corner stance. Where the Savvy isn't quite as good as rivals like the Citroen C1 is in terms of interior width where it breaks the tape at 1345mm. Needless to say, you wouldn't want to sit three adults across the back. Still, there's a reasonable amount of luggage space, with perfectly flat-folding 50:50 rear seats contributing to a 909 litre boot capacity when they're flat. Although only one engine is available at the moment, it's a pleasantly punchy 1.2-litre unit that makes 74bhp. This translates into the ability to hit 60mph in 12.2 seconds which is very good indeed for a vehicle in the city car class, as is the 106mph top speed. This is a car with genuine motorway ability although engine noise can be a little wearisome on longer journeys. The stereo system is reasonably loud if you feel the need to drown out the sound of induction. As a second or even third car the Savvy makes a lot of sense. Normally I'd recommend buying something like a used Ford Focus if you're looking to spend this sort of money but if you're running a number of cars, the ease and reassurance of buying new can't be discounted. The choices in this corner of the market aren't too good but amongst them the Savvy deserves serious consideration. I've been offered a car swap by some curious members of the road test team but I've turned 'em all down. The Savvy can be our secret.
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance CAR: Proton Savvy range PRICES: £7,295 - 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