LIGHT-CAR pricing, small-car packaging and generous equipment levels underpin Proton’s latest sedan, launched this week wearing a headline $16,990 pricetag – at least about $2000 below expectations.
Based on the WRM44 (Wira Replacement Model) Gen.2 five-door hatch, that makes the WRM41 Persona closer in price to baby sedans like the Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent and Holden Barina – even though this is a full-sized five-seater small car with a 430-litre boot.
Only one GX-specification model is imported from Malaysia for now, boasting an anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), twin front airbags, rear parking sensors, climate-control air-conditioning, power windows/mirrors, remote central locking with boot release, five lap/sash seatbelts, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with remote controls, alloy wheels, a trip computer with digital clock and... the glovebox that Gen.2 owners miss out on.
Proton says the Persona is much more than a boot bolted on to the back of the existing Gen.2’s posterior.
Beyond the new three-box silhouette (pencilled at the same time as the Gen.2 hatch), the Persona departs from the Gen.2 with larger rear-door apertures for easier entry and egress, a comprehensively revamped cabin with measurably more rear-seat headroom, more flexible engine performance, revised automatic gearbox tuning and improved overall refinement.
Or, in other words, Proton has tackled most of the faults of the existing Gen.2 in order to create a more rounded, consumer-friendly small-car sedan that can better compete against the aforementioned rivals, as well as the Nissan Tiida, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Cerato, Holden Viva, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer and Toyota Corolla.
The Gen.2 will also receive many of these upgrades as part of the facelift due in September. As reported in GoAuto last December, it will be rebadged as the Persona hatch.
Many body panels are exclusive to the Persona sedan. Moving back from the restyled grille, there is a redesigned roof panel that is not as coupe-like in profile as the hatch, along with all-new side panels, back window, rear doors and alloy wheels.
According to Bob Hall, Proton’s head of product planning, the less rakish roofline, taller height for the rear-door aperture and 43mm increase in rear headroom were all paramount in creating a more convincing family sedan conveyance from the Gen.2 base.
Obviously, the rear boot structure is completely new too – although the tail-lights are shared with the Gen.2. This brings the Persona’s length to 4477mm, registering a 167mm increase. Both Protons share an identical 2600mm wheelbase.
Proton has revamped the interior to give it a less Spartan appearance, starting with the installation of a glovebox.
New door trims abound, with relocated and grouped power window, electric mirror and central door-locking switches fitted on to the driver’s side. And the instrumentation includes a revised digital display with trip computer and digital clock functions, with the latter being in place of the Gen.2’s upper-centre console analogue unit.
Furthermore, the seats ditch the ‘tombstone’ look for separate adjustable headrests, while there are new door-handles and locks, revised seat fabrics and lap/sash seatbelts for all five occupants.
Further back, split/folding rear seats open up to a 430-litre boot, which is enough for two full-sized golf bags. That’s up 60 litres compared to the Gen.2.
Another area where Proton has tackled a Gen.2 weakness is driveability.
While on paper the Lotus co-engineered 1.6-litre CamPro four-cylinder petrol engine’s 82kW of power at 6000rpm and 148Nm of torque at 4000rpm seems identical to the existing Gen.2’s outputs, Proton says it has remapped the software for performance that takes in the Persona’s less-favourable power-to-weight ratio.
In a nutshell, there is more torque available further down the rev range than before, as well as a less peaky power delivery around the 6000rpm-plus mark.
Smoother acceleration, better low-speed pick-up and improved electronically controlled four-speed automatic gearbox harmonisation with the CamPro engine’s power characteristics are claimed.
Nevertheless, the raw data accrued from overseas models still reveals post-10 second performance figures for the 0-100km/h-sprint time: the five-speed manual’s is 12 seconds, which is 2.3 seconds ahead of the automatic.
Proton also defends the relatively small 1597cc engine capacity when most rivals exceed 1.8 litres, saying that this is more in-tune with increasing consumer demands for more frugal and emissions-compliant powerplants.
The average combined fuel-consumption figure is 6.6L/100km (auto: 6.7), while the Persona scores a 6.5 air pollution rating and a 7.5 greenhouse rating, to achieve an overall four-star rating in the Federal Government’s Green Vehicle Guide. The carbon dioxide emissions output is 157 grams per kilometre - 160g/km for the auto.
No independent crash-test result has yet been carried out.
Mirroring the Gen.2, underpinning the car is MacPherson strut suspension at the front and a multi-link and anti-roll bar rear-end set-up.
Proton devised this front-wheel drive platform from the recently discontinued (in Australia) Waja, which was itself loosely derived off the Dutch NedCar Mitsubishi Carisma project – a European-focussed vehicle co-developed with pre-Ford-ownership Volvo in the mid 1990s that also sired the first Volvo S40 and V40 models.
With hot-weather testing carried out near Alice Springs, Australian-spec Personas have ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear, behind 15-inch alloys shod with 195/60R15 tyres, backed by a space-saver spare.
Proton Cars Australia boss John Startari said that only 600 Persona sedans are arriving this year, and will be marketed as more of a family car, while the Persona satch – like the Satria Neo launched early last year – will be the sportier alternative in Proton’s line-up.
Released in the middle of 2007 in Malaysia, the latest Persona is manufactured at Proton’s four-year old Malim Plant, some 80km from Kuala Lumpur. With high levels of automation and over 1900 staff, the facility is also the birthplace for the Savvy, Satria Neo and Gen.2.
The previous Persona was a redevelopment of the CC-series Lancer sedan sold here between 1992 and 1996, and featured unique bodywork as well as a five-door Aeroback exclusively developed by (and for) Proton.
However, it was initially released here as the Wira, by private importer Inchcape, which launched the Malaysian brand to Australia in May 1995. Although initial demand was promising, the project faltered quickly and Inchcape backed out barely a year later.
The factory-backed Proton Cars re-released the Wira as the Persona in November 1996, and had steadily offered it in a number of Mitsubishi-engined guises until the Gen.2 usurped it in October 2004.