Friday, August 12, 2016

Short Test Drive: I've DRIVEN the All-New PROTON PERSONA 1.6 - Manual & Auto Tested. UPDATED with new pics

The all-new Proton Persona will be launched on the 23rd of August 2016. For now it will come in three variants - the 1.6 manual, 1.6 automatic and the 1.6 premium. The order books for the Persona will be opened sometime next week but Proton have not revealed its pricing for the car as yet. According to them, the car will be priced competitively. 

This car effectively replaces the current Persona but it is actually a car segment smaller. It is now a B segment car instead of a C segment car previously. The car is based on the Iriz platform but it has been lengthened and tweaked. The 1.6liter VVT engine is the same one fitted to the Iriz hatchback but there have been certain tweaks made to the ECU and the also on the CVT transmission so that it is more refined. This new car also features redesigned engine mounting and extra work done to further bring down NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) levels within the car.

Driving the Proton Persona and other impressions 

I was one of the lucky people who had a chance to view and test drive the car around Proton's Oval Semi High Speed Test Track. Much like the Perdana test prior to the launch, Proton decided to let us have a go so we can give more feedback on the car. No photographs were allowed, but the car is basically as per the leaked photos you see on the internet. 

When first viewing the car in the flesh you could tell that it is an Iriz with a boot. It has a contemporary swooping 2.5 box shape with the Proton wings on the grille and the chrome bar at the rear. It keeps with Proton's current design philosophy. The front A-pillar is a double A-pillar like the Iriz and it drops below the car's waistline much like the Iriz. It however has got some very nice touches here and there. The bodykitted 1.6 Auto Premium somehow looks the best of the bunch as the front lip spoiler and side skirts add some much needed proportion to the overall look of the car. This is typically what a sedan derived from a hatchback looks like. I personally feel that it has the heavy handed rear boot look and stance - not at terrible as the Nissan Almera (which is actually all boot, like Kim Kardashian which is all booty and nothing else.....of course, if you like booty, then I suppose its okay lah) and definitely more proportioned than the very, very popular Perodua Bezza (which is actually an A segment car instead of this B segment car - but you guys will compare anyway). If you compare the styling to the Bezza, the new Persona is larger. It is wider, longer and with just as much headroom inside.

The quality of the interior is typically like what you'd find in the Proton Iriz. This is not a really bad thing as it feels robust and should last awhile. Hard plastics dominate the entry level cars with the Premium model car getting a bit of leather here and there. From what I can tell the Persona Premium gets a bodykit, painted side mirrors and a better infotainment system with a reverse camera and all round park sensors. The basic models have the usual reverse sensors. All get dual airbags and the total ABS, EBD, ESC (stability control) and traction control. This car is very safe.

This car also drives impressively well for a B segment car. The tuning on the 4 cylinder engine which started out in life as a 1.6 liter CamPro now has variable valve timing added to it, a better ECU, better engine mounts (which make the car more refined) and best of all for the CVT Automatic, a step-up feel instead of the one fitted in the Iriz that loves to hold the revs at a noisy 5,000rpm whilst it accelerates. This one, in this new Persona will only climb till 4,000rpm and do it in stages - something like 2,500-3,000-,3,500-4,000rpm. So it does not deafen you with engine noise whilst waiting for the road speed to catch up what the transmission /engine is doing. So this little software tweak to the transmission really helps keep engine noise lower. That being said, the drone, or 'whooo' noise that you find in previous Proton CVTs is not present. This helps a lot.

It also cruises remarkably well at 130-140kmh around the oval track -  Both the auto and 5 speed manual (which tends to blip its throttle on full bore gearshifts - quite sporty actually as it keeps the revs on boil instead of dropping below peak power). It also feels long legged and feels like it was meant to cruise at these speeds. Tyres are 185/55/15 on alloy wheels (the Premium gets gunmetal grey whilst the normal ones the usual silver stuff). 

Grip levels around the test track and on the slalom (which I tried) was pretty good. The car feels planted at 140kmh. It also corners very well with the chassis reeling itself in if you overcook it. It will understeer when you push it over its limit like most front wheel drive cars. But that being said, the Persona like to hold its cornering line. Put your foot down, manage the electric assisted power steering which is quite meaty - mimicking a hydraulic system quite well if I may say so on this first few runs on both the manual and automatic.This is typically Proton. They seem to be able to make their cars handle a fair bit. 

NVH is good for a B Segment car. As I mentioned, it cruises quite well at speeds higher than the speed limit. I think whilst the 1.6 VVT engine is based on slightly older technology, it is still a 1.6liter engine. This means that it has the torque of a 1.6liter engine and this means performance. It also has that long-legged cruising capability that I like even though it does feel a little rough around the edges in terms of ultimate refinement to be the class leader in the B segment. What this car has is very good ride, good body control which means good handling. NVH levels are good when sitting at the rear and only the driver would notice (if he were someone like me - a car guy) that the engine could be a little bit less harsh. Which is already is as it is actually quieter than older CamPro based Protons out there including the earlier Persona. Of course, this is on a test track. I actually am curious how it will perform on the road. Soon I suppose.

So if you compare with the class leaders (in terms of drive quality not how many sold) - Honda City,  Toyota Vios or the Volkswagen Vento the Persona has as much space as all of them, looks similar to the City or the Vios, handles better than the City and Vios (handles as good as the Vento to the test speed of 140kmh). On NVH it is actually about industry average, which is not a bad thing. The Vento is quieter. The Vios is quieter but the City has some tyre roar. So the Persona is actually quite an effort.

Proton spent about RM140million getting this car produced. There is much effort in it. The engineer who chaperoned us around the track said that Proton focused on key areas like the NVH and quality issues instead of things they could do properly. They spent less time on ride and handling which was already better than the average compact car sold in Malaysia today. I think this is the way to go especially when it comes to bread and butter cars. It is more important to focus on refinement of a car in these lower segments to that the drive is as comfortable as it is enjoyable. The fun factor is still there, so they improved elsewhere. The car is also safer with all the safety features. It shows. 

Oh, like the car it was based on, it now has rear drum brakes instead of discs. Of course this is a cost factor. Look at its competitors and you find the same drum brakes even in a Volkswagen Vento. But anyway, Proton claims that the brakes stop the car from 100kmh-0 at least 5 meters shorter distance than the previous Persona. It also accelerates faster too 0-100kmh is in the high 10 seconds compared to 11.5-12 seconds previously(for both the manual and automatic). It also sips less fuel than the older Persona by 13% for the manual and about 10-11% for the automatic. So there are a lot of performance and efficiency improvements overall.

Flaws. A senior journo did notice that the rear parcel shelf was sitting slightly higher than the rear seat back. It did make the rear shelf look slightly awkward. Maybe more of a depression would make it look more integrated. You will see this in the car when it is launched. Not a deal breaker. The rest of the car is decent enough. Even the styling can't be faulted much. I find it a subjective matter but if you do want a comment from me, I think it still looks better than that Almera thingy. 

So it has contemporary styling, rides very well, handles well (up to the point we tested), has good safety features, ample poke from the engine. This could be the cheapest 1.6liter car you can buy with decent levels of refinement. The only question now would be the price of the new Persona (I predict it would cost similar to the outgoing model). That would be revealed on the day of the launch.  

Update: the all-new Proton Persona has been launched and is now available for booking at all authorised dealers. With 3 years Free Service (Parts & Labour) for bookings made by 30th September 2016!

UPDATE 2: The Proton Persona 1.6 Premium SE CVT Test Drive is HERE.

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