Let's cut straight to the chase. The Proton Iriz 1.6 CVT Premium is a much better car to drive than the Proton Iriz 1.3 manual I tried earliet. Some of you may be wondering how can a CVT automatic be better to drive than a manual transmission? The actual answer is the car with the better overall package wins.
It's quite straightforward. Its the extras over the base bread and butter model that does it for me. In the Iriz 1.6 CVT you get the following extra – the 1.6liter (modified) CAMPRO is more powerful than the 1.3 variant (95hp/120nm over 108hp/150nm), the suspension is slightly firmer and sportier in the 1.6 (which rides slightly harder but actually makes the car less bouncy over most surfaces. I.e more suspension tuning here), you get 195/55/15 tyres over 175//65/14 and the Iriz 1.6 Premium interior gets better leather wrapped seats which seems more grippy than the base model seats as well as a leather wrapped steering wheel. All of this, and maybe more makes the Iriz 1.6 a better driver's car and a better buy even if it costs a whole lot more – RM62,888 (in the spec tested) over RM47,888 (1.3 Executive (M) tested earlier).
I suppose its the usual 'You pay peanuts you get monkeys' argument in play here. Of course it is. There never is such a thing as free lunches these days especially in the very tough small car market. But how much better is it?
You start up the Iriz 1.6 Premium with a start button instead of a key (Keyless Go feature) and like the entry model you get a pretty good driving position with the steering wheel (only allows tilt) nicely square to your chest. The seats in this Premium are leather clad and are grippy at the sides and are quite nice to seat in even after a couple of hours. And so after all the usual adjustments, you slot in the gear lever into 'D' and drive off.
The ride is firmish but not uncomfortable. Proton have done quite a good job here as usual (where you get good handling but usually sub-par finishing elsewhere) and the chassis grips well on most fast sweeping corners. The car resists understeer quite well and is predictable. Now you add the fact that you now have 108hp over 95hp it gets even more adjustable on the throttle. The Iriz isn't fast mind you. It is now slightly more sprightly instead of just pedestrian. The 150nm does not make itself felt and the Iriz 1.6 feels very linear and nothing thrilling in terms of acceleration. Of course you get the all too efficient CVT transmission helping you out but it isn't fun in terms of making outright speed, just decent forward progress.
Now the reason why the 1.3 manual isnt as nice to drive is partly down to the extra power of the 1.6 has and the fact that the manual gear shifter is too notchy for its own good. I can take notchy gear shifters, but this one is one of those shifters that feel that it has too much resistance when selecting any gear. It is a letdown as usually petrolheads would love a rifle bolt-like shifter, smooth and precise instead of having resistance spoiling each gearchange. So avoiding the gear shifter is a good thing. But there is a 'but' involved here.
The 'but' is that the CVT based transmission is super duper droney. It will hold 5,000rpm almost throughout full-bore acceleration. This means that if you are at the traffic lights, you press on the loud pedal and the Iriz 1.6 gets SUPER LOUD for as long as the accelerator pedal is fully depressed. Imagine going from 0kmh to about 140kmh in full throttle. You would need a good 11.1 seconds to reach 100kmh and say you took another 5 seconds to reach 140kmh. It would mean high revs for almost 20seconds. Even with soundproofing (and you must remember that this is an affordable hatchback and not a Mercedes S-class) those seconds would be a tad bit annoying.
Of course, CVTs are usually like that and rubber band-like in feel. But the reason that transmission is in the Iriz is that Proton needs to get better fuel economy figures and a CVT is good at efficiency. Even when coupled to an engine that isn't very efficient (yes, the CAMPRO derived engine is only slightly more efficient that before in terms of fuel figures). So it needs that CVT transmission to get fuel consumption figures closer to its competitors (it does not win and is still about 6.6-6-9l/100km (according to internal sources for mixed driving conditions) over compared to way under 6l/100km for the Myvi 1.5, Polo 1.6, Swift 1.4 and the newly launched Honda Jazz 1.5)
But that being said, if you drove it as a daily driver to the office and back the Iriz is very capable. At normal traffic speeds it is quiet enough to be very relaxed in it. The entertainment system is pretty good (with Navigation in this Premium spec) and again, the driving position is good. I suppose the grippy yet comfy seats and that leather wrapped steering wheel adds to the driver and car contact points. And that dashboard looks pretty good too (even with that fake moulded stitching). The only thing really wrong with an Automatic Iriz is the gearlock. It is bloody annoyingly loud. It is a loud 'kerlack!' when you start and stop the Iriz 1.6 Premium. When it comes to Proton, I truly wonder how they can make the hard things like handling and ride seem easy but make simple things like gear locks and some other stuff hard.
As for the rest of the car I have no complaints. Yes it is pricey at RM62,000, but name me any car with traction control (in all variants) as this price range and every other gadget that you'd want in a car. If you don't want most of the gadgetry like daytime running lights, auto fold mirrors leather, etc, the base 1.6 Executive CVT sells for RM58,000 but loses the driver interaction part a little with the lack of leather bits which I kinda like. I think at RM58,000 most Malaysians think that they'd rather buy the cheaper 1.5liter Myvi SE which comes in at RM55,000.
Most think that the Perodua is the better car in terms of quality if not for specs. If you add ride and handling, the Iriz beats the Myvi hands down. In terms of interior material used and its quality I have to say that the Iriz 1.6 is as good as the Perodua Myvi. It is public perception and the fact that Proton can still get a few things wrong here and there. Not in terms of build quality per se but on the design factor (like the loud gear lock mechanism and the overall styling of the car which looks like the car is an econobox with small wheels and a big body – you can read what I think of the styling in the Iriz 1.3 Executive Manual here).
So how do I conclude this article on the Proton Iriz 1.6 Premium CVT? can Proton make me an Iriz 1.6 CVT without the gadgetry BUT with leather seats and leather steering wheel and sell it to me for under RM55,000? That would be the price which I believe most people would have no problem in buying a 1.6liter hatchback from Proton.