Monday, October 24, 2016

TEST DRIVE: Proton Persona 1.6 Premium SE - A Trip to Kuantan and Back

This is a long time coming. This review of the all-new Proton Persona 1.6 Premium SE CVT and a few more car that desperately needed to be written. But due to a slew of new car launches and other events it has had to wait a fair bit. Anyway, the good people at Proton had managed to squeeze me into the Proton Persona media drive from the Proton Center of Excellence (COE) to Kuantan and back. Again, this was an opportunity to get proper highway and B-road (trunk road) experience on this newly launched B segment car. 

Photo: Aaron Lee

It has been almost two months since the Persona was launched and I must say that bookings for the car have already hit 15,000 units. Initial test drive reports, including mine, have stated that the car is good to drive, decent looks and at the price Proton is asking for it, I am not surprised that the Persona has started selling like hotcakes, or like the Roti Canai prepared by that cute little girl in Bidor or that Nasi Lemak Dara sold in Shah Alam. Now before I sidetrack and start discussing local cuisine cooked by young ladies let's head back to the Persona I was given to drive to Kuantan in. 

The Proton Persona I chose to drive was the Persona 1.6 Premium SE  CVT variant. The SE actually means Premium with the RM1,000 bodykit option actually. This is the top specced Persona with everything thrown into it. Outside it gets a bodykit and inside it gets every toy in the Persona options list. This includes leather seats leather steering wheel, a nifty infotainment system with SatNav together other toys built into it, park sensors, traction control, safety stuff, airbags, this, that and a whole lot of stuff to keep you entertained whilst inside it. 

As for the styling, it is a Proton Iriz with a boot. The bodykitted Persona 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. The Persona is also a car that looks better in some of its colours more than others - this maroon red and the chocolate colour makes it look proportioned. White makes the car look a little too narrow from the rear. 

But then again. It is an Iriz with a boot. So you get a very cabin-forward design in this 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. Whilst not at terrible some other cars out there, it does have that awkward angle here and there. It is however very contemporary and current looking I must say. 

Of course, the thing about this sort of packaging is that space inside is good. There is ample headroom and legroom everywhere. There is enough space to carry four people in relative comfort. Five, is a usual squeeze, but you won't feel like a sardine. And note that I said the word 'relative comfort' here. I must say that when we drove down to Kuantan and back the car is quite amazing for what it is.

The Drive Experience

The Persona is an Iriz hatchback that is suddenly brilliant to drive. The night before I the drive down to Kuantan I had to take out my 2012 Mercedes-Benz C180 for a forty-five minute run as it had been sitting idle for quite some time. And then, at seven o'clock in the morning or thereabouts, I had to drive to Proton's COE in one of their Proton Perdana 2.4 D segment sedan. I had that car with me for testing and had to return it on the day I had to join the media drive. So I basically drove two cars from two segments up - a premium compact sedan and then a D segment (full sized) sedan before sliding my chubby frame into a Proton Persona Premium for two days.

I must say I was not disappointed one bit. Alternating with another fellow automotive journo we took turns trying out the Persona  on the highway as well as the trunk roads and the roads around Kuantan and in traffic. There is nothing much to be said in traffic and in the city (or town). The Persona is quiet and refined in and around town. The car rides well and it is quiet. The CVT does its job efficiently and it has everything you need close by. Not much could be said when driving around town in the Persona except that it does it well and is refined enough. Low speeds. What more can be said except the electric power steering feels nicely weighted at low speeds and visibility from the cabin is good.

The eye opener is when you get to drive the Persona on the wide and open roads. I did mention that the car is refined and also stable at speeds above the national highway speed limit when I had a go with it at the Proton Test Track earlier. Everything I said is substantiated out on the roads. The car feels planted at 140km/h. At 150. At 160. Planted at 185km/h too.

We even managed to hit 200km/h on a downhill bit slipstreaming the lead car (an Inspira 2.0). It would max out somewhere close to 190kmh which is quite normal for a 1.6liter car with an automatic (CVT) transmission with a certain amount of horsepower and torque, BUT this isn't anything to shout about. What I would like to shout about is the high speed stability and high speed refinement that Proton had somehow built into this chassis.

It is nothing like the Iriz it was based on. It is much more composed and more refined (a word used often in this article). It also corners very well with the chassis behaving itself even if you overcook it. On long meandering corners that you get on the highway to Kuantan (and vice versa) it would just hold the line at whatever speed you are doing. On the mountainside stretches of the Karak Highway it will understeer when you push it to its limit but the Persona still likes to hold its cornering line. 

It may have narrow 185/55/15 inch tyres but they work well holding the Persona to the road. Everything is predictable right up to the point where it breaks traction. And then with the traction control,  or ESC which comes standard, it still reels itself in (we tested this out at a makeshift circuit in front of the Kuantan Stadium for all to see). Also note that the traction control isn't one of those overzealous ESCs that would cut power at every opportunity. It isn't intrusive. The Persona is forgiving at its limits.

The car is very stable in most road conditions (even in the rain - which it did on our trip back to the Klang Valley). You'd have to be a total nutter to utterly lose it as even the brakes seem to work well. We also managed to test it from 180kmh right down to 110kmh and we found out that the Persona brakes straight and true although there was a bit of freewheeling from the CVT when coming off the accelerator to hit the brakes. 

CVT equipped cars have less engine braking than other types of automatics but once you get used to it and how the car behaves, I do not see this as an issue as most CVTs lack a high level of engine braking (which is why CVTs are my least favourite automatic transmission). And I also do not condone driving at 180km/h or more in what is supposed to be a compact sedan for the family. We test this for you guys you know. So that you know that this is a safe and stable car for you to buy. Or not. Depending on the situation.

That being said, this CVT in the Persona is the kind that I like - it steps up its way to the most efficient torque or horsepower point. It does not just hit 5,000rpm and stay there till you've reached the speed you want the car to be at. Unlike some CVTs that hold high revs, this is more refined. 

Anyway, most of you have read over and over again that new Proton cars handle great. This is nothing new to most of you. What is new is the fact that the Persona is surprisingly refined all the way to the redline. I must give a big hand to the engineers who developed the Persona. The car is so refined for something that is priced at around or under RM60,000. 

Even the 1.6liter VVT engine that has its origins from Proton's CamPro engine is quite subdued. The overall harshness of the engine has been lessened by quite a degree. Quieter than even the Iriz. The noise levels at high speeds is also well controlled. Not much engine noise or road noise or wind noise compared when comparing to the best in this segment or price.

I was having a chat with my co-driver at speeds over 160kmh and we were not shouting. We were having normal conversation without the need to shout or raise our voices. Both of us also noticed that when we drove the car at 160kmh or more we did not go all sweaty or needed super levels of concentration too. It was all within our levels or concentration and tolerance. And all of this in a car that costs about RM60,000. A lot of bang for your Ringgit. 

The Persona has low levels of NVH for a B segment compact sedan. One of the best in its class. The only direct comparison I could make is that only the Volkswagen Vento is slightly better in terms of NVH and high speed handling. And this is from a company which has stretches of highways or autobahns with no speed limits. This small little Proton actually comes close at a price which is cheaper. 

Of course the plastics in the Polo / Vento are better, as is the overall feel, but I don't think the plastics in the Persona are terrible - good enough actually as you still get a good package slightly cheaper. And do remember that all of this explanation comes from a fella who just stepped out from two larger sedans and into the Persona for a long drive.

Proton has given us something good with the Persona. Lots of equipment, a good comfortable ride, splendid handling and now refinement that is closer to the German compact sedan than any other direct class competitor that would have come from Japan, Korea or even Malaysia (the Japanese B segment cars do not really come close in terms of high speed refinement - some are noticeably less stable at high speeds and noisier too). This is the best bang for buck car you can buy for performance and if you want high speed refinement. At RM60,000, I think the car gives you so much for so little (in the Malaysian car buying context). 

The Conclusion - Mostly good, and nothing really bad.
Now let's wrap things up. I like the Persona's ride, handling, decent engine performance as well as the fact that is has a CVT that is of a step up in nature. No holding peak revs all the way through. I also like the space utilisation for the passengers and luggage space. 

It is also a Proton designed and built by Proton that is actually fuel efficient. Most of the earlier Protons and even the previous Persona were not that comparably fuel efficient. We managed to hit close to the actual 6.1liters/100km on the economy run (most of the journalists managed an average of 6.0-6.9liters/100km when they were trying to drive economically) .  I also like the fact that all of this comes in at a price from RM46,800 for the entry level manual all the way up to this RM59,800 baby. There is value for your money here.

I now have to say that among the three new Proton cars launched this isn't the prettiest one. The new Perdana and Saga are more successful in terms of looks. Whilst modern and contemporary, it does look slightly awkward. Somehow Proton needs some way to make the car look wider than what is actually is. It is tall and upright with a very big bum. I mean boot (which is really big and useful if you need to carry lots of luggage). Practical, but not that pretty. The Saga is the nicer looking small Proton. But, it is smaller and less powerful and slightly less refined. So you get the picture. 

Inside, I also think that the rear parcel shelf isn't aesthetically pleasing to look at. It is too squarish and lacks any design to it. I would also wish that the chrome surrounding the rotary air-conditioning knobs were better finished as they look a bit too low rent. Or remove the chrome bits totally. So only when I start nitpicking there are bits here and there which I could try to complain about. 

There were also no pedal shifters for the CVT Automatic. Of course this car was built to a price and pedal shifters only add virtual gears to something that actually shifts more efficiently in full auto mode. But the Persona limits you to the option of the L gear in the gear shift if you want some modicum of additional control. Not that I missed it much. It is a car for the masses. A little more upscale than some like a Proton Saga, but it is not something that shouts out for pedal shifters.

But heck, this car is 100% designed by Proton. And prior to this car they came out with the Iriz. I was disappointed with that car. I am NOT disappointed with this Persona. As a B segment sedan, it does all that you could ask properly well and more. Quite an achievement from a company that only recently was marked as down and out. 

This is the small Proton that I would remember trying out right after I stepped out of much more larger and more premium cars. What more can I say after that?

Photo: Aaron Lee

PERSONA 1.6 PREMIUM CVT (with Bodykit)

RM 59,800.00/ Metallic 
RM 59,350.00/ Solid
(add RM1,000 for the body kit)

1.6L 4 Cylinder DOHC 16V VVT Multi-point injection
107HP @ 5,750
150NM@ 4,000

Rack & Pinion Motion Electric Power Steering

MAX SPEED: 185kmh (mean average maximum speed - tested)
0-100kmh : 11.5secs 

Fuel Consumption : easy to hit 6.8-7.9liters/100km if you drive economically (when the green coloured ECO light comes up on the meter cluster you know you are driving efficiently)

Equipment list comes after the photographs below:

The Persona PREMIUM comes with the following equipment:

Electric Headlamp Levelling
Remote Trunk Release
Push Start Button
Passive Keyless Entry
USB/AUX Jack/Wifi Enabled
No. of Speakers2244
Bluetooth Connectivity
ECO Drive Assist
DVD Playe
GPS Navigation

5 star ASEAN NCAP rating
ABS with EBD
Brake Assist (BA)
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Traction Control (TC)
Hill-hold Assist
Front Airbags
Side Airbags
Curtain Airbags
ISOFIX & Top Tether
Dual Pre-tensioner Seat Belt
ImmobilizerWith Alarm System
Reverse Camera


  1. Good write. Now I'm considering trading my Suprima S with this. I'm looking for a more refined and low fuel sipping car but still fun to drive. How do you rate this against the Suprima S premium?

    1. I would buy this over the Suprima S Premium. This is even more sorted that the Suprima for the moment. The performance in the Suprima is only slightly better but right now, I think this car has better long term reliability (Suprima = turbo hose every 40,000km, weak engine mounting at the transmission side and slightly dated infotainment system inside). And this saves petrol over the suprima. And is cheaper.

    2. Thanks for the insight. Test drove the Persona and it is much more comfortable to drive than the Suprima. Seats are more supportive. A very good car for the price!

  2. nice review, if compared against mazda2 which one is better in terms of handling, power delivery and NVH? haha

    1. Handling..hmm..close..quite equal. Mazda2 is nippy because it is slightly smaller and lighter but it is small inside compared to the Persona. Mazda puts looks before space.
      Power delivery about similar because the torque levels are similar and the CVT, whilst not great is darn efficient. The 6 speed auto in the mazda 2 is good and smooth but since you're asking about power delivery and not smoothness, it is similar. NVH? The Japanese still tune their cars to be quiet up to around 120-130km/h. So above that speed the Persona wins in terms of high speed refinement.

      Don't get me wrong. The Mazda 2 is a brilliant little car. Nothing wrong with buying one but at close to or around RM90K approx... you're buying a tiny car for much money. I have a cousin and a close friend who recently bought the Madza and love it to bits. The interior feels a class higher. And people who buy the Mazda will never look at a Persona. Most of the time.

    2. I recently test drove the Mazda 2, Honda City FL, Persona 2016, and VW Vento 1.6 MPI. I must say Mazda 2's handling is the best among these cars with the Vento quite close behind. The Persona 2016 is not bad at all, but it's nowhere near the Persona Elegance's handling capability.

      I'm not sure about you but personally I find the Persona 2016 is a let down in terms of the steering feel (too light at low speed) and the throttle response from standstill and low speed (when it glides in town). It kills the fun and to me the throttle is quite unpredictable for my short drive. Other than this, it's really worth for the price it's asking.

    3. The Vento is my preference as the Mazda loses its composure at speeds over 150kmh and is noisier at speed too. The new Persona has a light steering at low speeds is not an issue to me as I think many would prefer a light steering at parking speeds. The old Persona may handle better but the overall nvh levels are higher in the newer Persona. And since its still stable at near the max speed. It would actually be more comfortable on a high speed dash over long distances. So I rate the new car as having the better overall package than the newer car.


  3. How is it compare to Suzuki swift. Since Proton do collaborated with Suzuki, I hope one day there are Persona that will perform like Suzuki Swift Sport 1.6l, maybe , by tweaking the ECU, increase compression ratio, installed with sport exhaust to achieve ~ 125 hp. Plus replace rear brake with disk, moderate sport absorber and little wider rim size & re tuned CVT. I really missed to get Suzuki swift sport since no longer on sale & Suzuki has left but if Persona NA sport materialized, why not. Apa pendapat tuan Reza, Terima Kasih

    1. Hi,
      This is not a sports hatch. So in terms of handling and smiles per miles the Suzy Swift Sport is still better. If you compare with the base 1.4 Swift. I would take the Persona bcauseof the extra engine performance and besides, the Swift is no longer on sale here. 1.6 has more torque and high speed refinement is close (and the cvt is better than the 4 speed auto in the 1.4 Swift I have to unfortunately admit).

      Why do you need to replace the rear brakes? It must be looks as I do not see it having a lack of stopping power. Better pads and maybe proper steel braided hoses would suffice. I did do a emergency braking from 180 down to 110kmh didn't I?
      No need to upgrade the shocks also. The damping is good enough for another 20-30 horses. I would go up to 16inches and spend money on a set of Michelin PS4s (kalau ada saiz). Bloody good tyre that.
      Retune the CVT? Why? It's already efficient as it is. And refined.
      If I wanted to spend money on this car it would be 205/45/16 inch tyres and wheels and nothing else. Maybe if someone offers a ECU tuning, a K&N airfilter and maybe a tuned manifold but not the exhaust system (you gain more from a manifold than a back box change these days). But that being said, I would personally waste my money on the 16inch upgrade ONLY. It is good enuff as it is.

  4. why there is no perodua cars review? is perodua cars that bad? i am owner of bezza, it would be great if you could review bezza, thanks, awesome job, i like reading your reviews

    1. Hi,

      Thank you for reading. The reason why there are not many Perodua cars on review is that I have not asked any test cars from them. Perodua cars aren't bad. I drive a Myvi which belongs to my wife. They are a tad bit boring in terms of the drive but it does what its asked to do. I suppose this is why I have not actually requested one in recent years. The last one I did a review was the Axia.



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