Car reviews - Proton - Satria - GL 3-dr hatch
Room for improvement
Poor manual gearbox, poor roadholding
14 Jun 2001
PROTON launched the Mitsubishi-sourced Satria three-door hatchback in Australia in early 1997 as its entry level rival against the hot-selling Hyundai Excel and Ford Festiva.
Luckily for Proton, Mitsubishi elected not to import the donor car - the previous generation CC-series Mirage - to this country in the early 1990s, choosing to bring in the booted version instead.
That car was sold here from 1992 to 1996 as the Lancer and is also currently available as the Proton Persona and M21 Coupe.
Of course Mitsubishi finally did import a Mirage, the successful CE-series from 1996 onwards.
The earlier series Mirage no-show effectively makes the Satria feel like a far more recent model in Australia where its cute styling and pert rear end is still a relatively rare sight.
In reality though prospective Satria buyers may not realise the car dates as far back as the 1991 Tokyo Motor show where Mitsubishi first unveiled it under its own name.
One advantage of importing such a mature design is that all the teething problems associated with brand new designs have been eliminated long ago in the Satria.
In fact, the Malaysian company ran briefly with the advertising line "Well built Proton".
The tried and tested Satria pretty much justifies the claim.
Paint quality and panel fit are very good with just a few of the details inside letting the side down.
On our test car, the fiddly fresh air vent controls were stiff and would break any fingernail more than 5mm long.
The stalks for the rear view mirrors were far too small and placed too close to the A-pillar to be used easily and when you did manage to get your fingers on to a stalk, the adjustment was sticky, making it hard to place the mirror correctly.
Overall, the interior is well laid out with the quality of the plastic and trim up to Japanese standards.
The seats are a bit flat and lack under-thigh support in particular. But the Satria gets bonus points for having a seat height adjuster.
The driving position is fine although there is no footrest and the wheel has the usual ultra-thin rim that stamps this and most other cars in the light segment as downmarket from the instant you climb aboard.
How much would it cost to add a thicker, better feeling wheel?
Unlike most of its competitors, the Satria has a passenger seat that automatically moves back into position after it has been flicked forward to let people in and out of the back.
Climb into the back and there are reasonable amounts of leg and headroom.
The seat is split fold with the seat cushion folding forward to give a totally flat load area. The hatch offers average load space.
Performance is good from the 1.5-litre, fuel-injected engine borrowed from Mitsubishi. With 66kW, it has more than enough oomph to keep buyers in this segment happy. It also remains fairly refined across the rev range.
It is a pity then that it is mated to such a poor manual gearbox. The clutch action is fine but the lever disappoints.
Moving from second to third gear was a real hit and miss process with the gearbox not having enough spring action to guide the lever from gate to gate. More times than not, the second/third shift was botched.
A three-speed automatic transmission is optional.
The independent suspension is soft which ensures its initial ride feels comfortable around town, but it lacks control when things get rough.
Handling and braking were seriously compromised on our test car by the Malaysian-made Silverstone tyres. They offered little grip in the dry and were as slick as a non-stick frying pan in the wet.
Anything more than gentle braking had the front tyres locking up on wet roads which was disconcerting, although the car did pull up in a straight line.
A set of local rubber would make a big difference.
Overall, the Satria is a reasonable car let down by the tyres and a lack of identity.
It is not a new car as it is based on the old Mirage so maybe Proton should swallow hard and make the pricing even keener.
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