Thursday, August 24, 2006

The latest Protons don't fit me PROPERLY

Now Proton has been around since 1985. Started out basically assembling Mitsubishi Lancers throughout the 80s and the 90s. By 2001 the proudly Malaysian designed Waja came out and Proton proudly called it an "Asian BMW". Far from it actually, but an average, not a wastefull effort nonetheless. Ergonomic flaws abound, such as having a bit of plastic holding up the meter hood on the dash; which looked like a coin holder but couldn't hold anything shaped like a coin if it's existence depended on it. Of course the little piece of plastic was just there to hold up the meter hood on the dashboard as without it, the hood may drop off after a week's use. A design flaw in the dash that's still not corrected to this day. I wonder how the designer of the Waja's interior can sleep at night. However, at least the Waja had decent performance, albeit somewhat draggy in the automatic form, and had loads of space. But it looked as dull as a dishwasher.

Then came the Gen2, which didn't look as dull as a dishwasher. In fact it looked pretty good from the outside. Curves here, there everywhere. It looked great. Great enough for most people to have a go in it. Unfortunately when this happened, you found out that the driving position took you back to the days of Alfa Romeo in the 1970s. You sit low and outstretched with a steering wheel that it also too low to get comfortable with. Upon exiting the car, you'd find that the steering rake adjuster kept getting in the way of your left knee on the way out. One day, after 3 years of ownership, you'd realise that your left knee may have a large callous or that you'd decide to hammer that piece straight into the steering collumn after suffering from a soccer like knee injury caused by your good looking GEN2. Of course the GEN2 handled great. But you couldn't drive as fast as you wanted due to the ridiculous driving position and seats that gave you no support whatsoever. But it looked good, and that was enough for some Malaysians to come out and purchase this car.

The Savy however has a decent driving position, handles great but where ever did Proton find so much cheap plastic to build this car? There is no tactile feel to it at all. It just feels like hard plastic. And that isn't good.

However the Satria Neo did it in for me. It's a nice 3 door warm (not hot as there's no Satria GTI version yet) hatch that looks Ford Focus like from certain angles. You'd find it hard not to like the nicely haunched shape that tells you that it is something quite special. Something like the Gen2, it warrnats you to have a go at it. I wanted to have a go at it. So upon launching I walked down to the nearest Proton dealer (I was in Malacca at the time and the Proton showroom was within walking distance from the hotel I was staying) to have a look.

I couldn't fit in it properly. For some unknown reason Proton made it for hobbits and dwarves. The seat was perched high, the steering low, the door sill too close to the side. Then when I went again to the Proton Edar showroom in Mutiara Damansara for another look, to give it another feel of the car, I experienced the same.. The seat was perched high, the steering too low and the door sill too low. I even hit my head on the door sill comming out too fast from the Satria Neo. Note that no one in history has hit their head exiting the earlier Satria.

Let's list the flaws of the Satria Neo and the excuses given to date as stated in a local daily.
The Seat is too high.
According to the Motoring section of the New Straits Times on Sunday about three weeks back, Proton said that the earlier management wanted to keep the low roof. Yes, of course you can blame someone else, but the current management launched it. The blame is also theirs.
According to the Motoring section of the New Straits Times on Last Sunday, The Satria Neo's ECU is located under the driver's seat making it impossible to lower the seats. Now how big is the Neo's ECU? The size of an IBM SERVER? Could it be so large as to fill the entire cavity under the Neo's seat? As far as anyone knows, a vehicle's ECU is about the size of a personal computer's CD ROM drive and its not huge. Excuses are so unbecomming.

Note that when I sat in the Neo, I could'nt see anything when I put down the sun visor. I was perched too high up for it to actually help block out the sun. It actually helped block everything. I also note that if you went to your friendly heighbourhood accessory shop and ask them to put that strip of tinting on the front of the Neo you'd be looking through that strip before you see anything else. And some people put stickers there. He'd be bending down after putting it.

You also see above the top of the wiper sweep due to the high seats. That would help you get through a Malaysian thunderstorm. Not.

The list goes on and on. The plastics are at best, cheap , the steering like the Gen2 NEEDS to be shot and burnt, the air condition vents need some real tactile feel in them and the glove box is obscenely small. Yes, the argument is that at least it has one compared to the Gen2. Maybe Proton should move the ECU there instead of under the seat.

Now I heard that the Satria Neo is a stonkingly good drive. But how am I to drive it if it doesn't fit me properly? I already got turned off by the ridiculous driving position. The only time i'd drive it was if a friend bought it and I had to steal it from him to save him from the misery. Just imaging owning that car for 9 years and having to put up with the appaling driving position for so long. (9years is the maximum loan amount available to Malaysian buyers and some may own a car for that period of time). However, there is a disclaimer here. People under 5ft 6in may not suffer any of the pain described above. Hence the statement that the Neo is for dwarves and hobbits. I think the designer for this car is frodo baggins.

Its not that I don't like Protons. I just don't like badly designed cars. Period.

2 comments:

zooie said...

Dear Riggy..

I am proud to be Malaysian and have to say that this is a great place to live, apart from the heat. If we had the four weather seasons, Malaysia would be perfect.

However I cannot agree with you more when it comes to our national carmaker - PROTON.

While the Wira was a re-badged and slightly facelifted Mitsubishi Lancer, it was still a decent car to own and drive. For me everything after the Wira sort of went downhill. In fact most people still prefer the Wira to the current models.

First there was the Tiara. I won't even bother commenting on this one.

Then comes the Waja. When it was launched, there was so much hype and hoo hah with Proton proclaiming to have spent soo much on R&D. Really? Did they really pour in all that money and effort into designing and developing that car? If so, I honestly can't see where the money went into.

The car's styling is as bland as anything. Heck even some washing machines these days look far better. Then there's the interior. True to Proton form, it was cheap plastics all over and if you notice, there's even a handle on the driver's side. Why the powers to be at Proton deemed it necessary to have one for the driver escapes me. Did they think that drivers needed something to hang on to? There were other issues as well. For one, the first batch of cars had very dodgy gearboxes, many of which broke. You'd think that with all that money spent on R&D, they would've at least been able to roll out a marginally better car. One that worked.

The Gen-2 was definitely a step up in the right direction - looks wise anyways. I'd have to agree with you that the interior build quality was, well simply appalling. The plastics used were even worse that those in the Waja. Everything from the door handles to the dash to the center console was rubbish. Even the rearview mirror squeeks like cheap plastic when one adjusts the mirror. I kid you not as i test drove one of them. And yes the steering wheel is positioned too low and the seats too high. Maybe Proton thinks Malaysians are all vertically challenged people.

Then there was the performance. The engine and auto gearbox was just atrocious. I reckon my mother's blender in the kitchen was smoother and delivered better power.

Then came the Savvy. It even came with an option of a so called tiptronic auto gearbox, which Proton put in so much effort into giving it an apt name - AMT, Automatic Manual Transmission. Talk about originality. The Savvy, quite frankly doesn't even deserve commenting on.

The Neo. When it came out I thought to myself "wow! nice looking hatch". I was even contemplating getting one. I went to a dealer and test drove an auto unit. While the build quality is a marked improvement from the Gen-2, the materials used could still be so much better. So could the seating position. Again i have a feeling that Proton thinks that there are no tall people who buy their cars. When seated in the drivers seat, i think i hardly had 2 inches of head room. The handling was pretty good but again the auto gearbox spoilt it all. Its sluggish, slow, un-responsive. In a word - Rubbish.

No wonder the presenters on Top Gear ridicule them. I really wonder when Proton will come out with a car that is capable of competing in the global market. Something that is of decen built quality and something that actually has half decent performance. However i fear that that may not be anytime soon, not even with birth of the R3 division.

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