Has Lotus involvement turn the Proton Savvy citycar into a tiny tearaway? No, but Jonathan Crouch thinks it's still worth a look.
Ten Second Review
Proton's Savvy is a citycar with its own distinct character. Unusual looks, a well assembled interior and a surprisingly lively driving experience all count in its favour but the biggest selling point is that low price. Buyers on a tight budget would do well to take note.
It was a line that merited reading again. "We'd like to think of it as my first Lotus," said Proton Group Chief Executive Officer Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel Tengku Ariff. While picking on the grammar of a man whose name I couldn't even pronounce may seem a cheap shot, it's indicative of a strange meeting of cultures that saw Lotus help in the development of the Savvy citycar. That this Malaysian industrial conglomerate works so closely with the Norfolk performance car manufacturer may come as a surprise to many who aren't clued in, but those with a little more savvy will know that Lotus was swallowed up by Proton way back in 1997. It was a smart move in many ways. Lotus were floundering financially but the brand equity would add significant clout to a Proton badge that was desperate for global credibility. The fact that many are still surprised at learning of Proton and Lotus' tie-up is something of an indictment of Proton's presence in this country which has been near to invisible. Proton has been quick to use Lotus in the development of all subsequent models including the Savvy. However, the link between this likable but unassuming city car and the scalpel sharp track weapons that emerge from Lotus's Hethel HQ is tenuous at best.
Is the Lotus influence coursing through the Savvy's every fibre? If you didn't know, you'd never guess there was any connection but small elements of the Savvy driving experience could be construed as hints of a Lotus hand guiding Proton's. The car handles neatly enough and there's a rewarding mechanical feel to the gearchange. The Savvy also resists body roll well considering its high, narrow shape. That's about it though. Only one engine is available, it's a pleasantly punchy 1.2-litre unit that makes 74bhp. This translates into the ability to hit 60mph in 13.9 seconds which is OK for a vehicle in the city car class, as is the 98mph top speed.
Design and Build
The Savvy is a neatly proportioned car, measuring 3,710mm in length. This compares with 3,456mm for the Citroen C1 and 3,495mm for the Kia Picanto, so it's a little bigger than the city car norm, coming half way between these tots and larger superminis like the 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 1,345mm. 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. The interior isn't going to win any awards for materials quality, but there's been an obvious effort spent on making it look a little more dynamic than the usual South-East Asian fare. Although the dash top air vent design is a little clumsy, there are some other nice touches. The centre console is neatly styled, as is the dashboard and the steering wheel. There are cup holders next to the hand brake and the rear bench splits 50:50 to reveal a reasonably spacious luggage bay. The exterior styling is pretty sharp and the detailing is a lot better than on many previous Protons. Check out the front lamp clusters and the tidy way the rear wiper has been integrated for examples of how Proton styling is evolving. The V-shaped indent on the tailgate corresponds to the front grille, although the body-coloured grille works a lot better in black than it does in red.
Market and Model
The Savvy comes in two different variants, the Street and the Style. Higher specification Style models offer air conditioning with a pollen filter and alloy wheels as additional standard items. Both models have the comprehensive warranty package which includes 3 year/60,000 mile warranty and 3 years' free RAC cover.
Cost of Ownership
The Savvy should prove as cheap to run as it is to buy. The car's simple, solid construction gives few causes for concern reliability wise and the 49mpg fuel economy means that visits to the filling station aren't going to cost the earth. The CO2 emissions figure of 134g/km may not be particularly impressive in comparison to the latest green machines but it you certainly won't put you up the road tax scale.
If Proton can get footfall through their dealerships, there's no reason why the Savvy shouldn't succeed. Proton's marketing analysts should be looking at the way Kia has risen to prominence and aim to learn a few lessons from that. Overall then, your impressions of the Savvy should be favourable. Ours were. Distinctive styling, a sharp driving experience and tough build quality all count in the Proton Savvy's favour. At the prices it's being touted at, you could hardly ask for any more. The Savvy's major problem is a lack of public awareness and if that could be overcome who knows?