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Car reviews - Proton - Satria - Neo GXR 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Appealing looks, well presented interior, neat handling-roadholding
Room for improvement
Lacks headroom, no sparkle to engine, recommended 95 RON diet

Proton logo19 Oct 2007

By GEORGIA OCONNELL

GoAuto 19/10/2007

MALAYSIAN car-maker Proton is not exactly new to Australia, but the name remains relatively unknown to the local car-buying public.

According to the company’s local importer, Proton Cars Australia, that will change as the company introduces a new range of products into Australia that reflect not just the company’s maturation as a car-maker, but also its connection with Lotus. The famed British company is a subsidiary of Proton and is represented in Asia by Lotus Engineering Malaysia.

The all-new Satria Neo three-door hatch is the latest car to carry the Proton name and joins the recently launched light hatchback Savvy, the Jumbuck ute and the Gen.2 small hatch.

The company is in the throes of flinging its perceived low-quality image and emphasises with the launch of the Satria Neo its commitment to lifting its game via certification with the TUV Rheinland Group – an organization that looks at compliance engineering, testing and quality. The Savvy model is also registered with TUV Rheinland.

What the Satria Neo is, is a light, stylish hatch of roughly the same size as Holden Barina or Hyundai Getz, but with a little more emphasis on stubbier, low-slung coupe-style proportions.

What it isn’t is particularly cheap, with the base GX tagged at a tad les than $190,000 on the road and topping out at a sniff below $22,000 for the auto version of the top-spec GXR. Hyundai Getz and Holden Barina can be had on-road for less than $16,000 without any dramatic sacrifice in spec levels.

Not that the Neo – particularly in GXR form as dealt with here – is poorly fitted out. In fact it is exceptional in some ways, with rear park-distance monitors, climate-control and even a rudimentary trip computer part of the standard kit in the up-spec model.

The mechanical layout is pretty straightforward: a 1.6-litre DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder dubbed CamPro by Proton and producing a quite healthy 82kW, the choice of five-sped manual or a four-speed auto and an independent suspension system with MacPherson struts up front and a coil-sprung multi-link layout at the rear. All-disc brakes with ABS and EBD are nice to have, and compliment the Lotus-tuned suspension which can probably be counted as a distinct point of difference with other cars of similar size.

The Neo is not particularly long in the wheelbase – it’s shorter than Barina or Getz – but a little more body width and a lower roofline than either give it a more hunkered-down look which works well visually but extracts a price in terms of headroom.

No question the Neo is a good-looking little hatch – a sort of spiritual successor to the mildly iconic Satria GTi hatch that was available until 2005 – with a nicely resolved, appealing look that keeps well short of the practical, upright shapes evident in the Getz and Barina.

This is helped no end by the decent 16-inch alloy wheels fitted to the GXR. The turbine-look multi-spokers combine with a blended-in roof spoiler to visually legitimise Proton’s claim the Neo is a genuinely sporty light hatch. The boot is a reasonably useful 257 litres, but the little hatch gets only a space-saver spare.

The good impressions continue inside, where everything looks a bit more upmarket than we remember of the previous Satria. A closer look reveals what is still a pretty basic, superficial approach to details though, with hard-touch vinyl and silver-painted plastic dominant.

The seats are a nice surprise though, with pleasantly supportive side-padding and generally comfortable shaping. The driver’s seat is height-adjustable too, although it never gets low enough to be really suitable for a tallish occupant. And the steering wheel, though it contains on-spoke controls for the sound system, can be set for height, but not reach.

Unexpectedly, there’s not a lot of space for storing small items around the cabin. There are a couple of Yaris-like holes either side of the centre console that can take things like mobile phones, and a couple of cup-holders, but not much else apart from your regular glove box and rudimentary front door pockets.

But it all looks okay, and Proton has done a pretty good job of ensuring that there is some tactility in the way the controls work.

In the front, there’s ample comfort for not-too-tall driver and passenger, but in the back, with the shortish wheelbase, there’s precious little legroom even if the shoulder width isn’t too bad. Headroom is an issue here too.

Cruise control (auto transmission only) is also part of the deal with the GXR, while it shares standard ABS braking, rear reversing sensors, dual front airbags, four-speaker Blaupunkt audio with single, MP3 compatible CD player, a 60-40 split-fold rear seat, and all-power windows and rearview mirrors with the GX.

The main game for the Neo is undoubtedly the driving, once again especially in the GXR that gets 195/50R16 tyres wrapped around its alloy wheels to produce decent road grip and sharp responses from the steering - which goes from lock to lock in a pretty tight 2.7 turns.

The GXR Neo rides firmly but generally manages rough patches okay. You could say the suspension is one area where the Proton stands out in its class.

This, and the fact that the body feels taut, as the company suggests, helped along by the dramatic increase in body stiffness over the previous Satria with its claimed class-leading rigidity of 14,000n/mm.

The specifications of the 1.6-litre engine combine with a relatively light all-up weight of 1169kg to suggest fairly healthy on-road accelerator response and this proves to be the case – within certain limits.

If you want a little more from the engine – say a decent shove of mid-range accelerator response, or a bit of extra squirt at the top end – there’s a certain lifelessness that indicates that, in this age of variable valve control, we are maybe getting a bit spoiled.

The CamPro 1.6 does its job, but nothing more – although it at least does it with relative smoothness and silence. That the official zero to 100km/h acceleration time is quoted at a relaxed 11.5 seconds is not surprising - although the fact this can only be achieved with 95 RON fuel comes as something of a shock.

The average fuel consumption claim of 7.2L/100km for the manual (7.6L/100km for the auto) is acceptable, if still nothing special.

Proton brings a nice-looking, appealing, coupe-style small hatch to market with the Satria Neo.

What it doesn’t bring is anything new, or likely to capture significant attention away from the multitude of diverse contenders in this price range including the Mazda2, Suzuki Swift, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Citroen C3, Honda Jazz, Mitsubishi Colt, Peugeot 207 and Volkswagen Polo.

Is its coupe-style look, and its lightly-Lotus suspension tuning going to be enough?

Hopefully it will at least allow Proton to sell the 600 Neos it foresees for the remainder of 2007.

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