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Proton R3 sparks local interest

The tricked-up green and yellow hot hatch belongs to Proton. Called the R3, the track-ready car has been specifically developed by Lotus Racing.

An initial batch of only 25 cars are being made for Malaysia in full Lotus Racing F1 livery. The car has reignited Proton Australia managing director, John Startari's appetite for a performance Proton in the local line-up. He says company executives agree that the R3 could be a much-needed ‘halo’ car for the brand. "This would be perfect but we have to work up a business case," he says.

The hot Proton is being built by the company's R3 (race, rally, research) division. Three are going to the Formula 1 Lotus Racing team and two will be given to race drivers Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.

The R3 makes extensive use of racing technology to reduce weight and help performance. It has a carbon-fibre bonnet, custom light-weight wheels, R3 bodykit for enhanced aerodynamics, AP racing brakes and expensive Ohlins adjustable dampers. And the engineers have not stopped there. Stiffened rubber bushes and revised suspension geometry delivers racecar-like direct steering and improved cornering precision.

Lotus has shaved 62kg out of the standard car's weight by using carbon fibre, delivering a better power to weight ratio. Power comes from worked version of Proton's CamPro 1.6-litre four-cylinder, which develops 108kW at 7000 revs and 168Nm at 5000 revs. The car reaches 100km/h in 9.2 seconds and has a top speed of 200km/h.

Startari says the R3 costs the equivalent of $35,000 in Malaysia and this could work against its appeal locally. A similar car for Australia will need to be "in the mid-$20,000 range", he says. Electronic stability control, which is absent on the Malaysian car, would also need to be added. "And that calibration work can take up to eight months," he says.

Apart from price, there are engineering hurdles to overcome before it's road ready. "We hope to get it but there is a lot of compliance work to be done in terms of emissions," Startari says. "Australia may not use the same identical car because there is a lot of expensive hardware on it."

Startari is even considering a lower-cost R3-style car without the expensive modifications but sporting the Lotus body kit. "That could be an option," he says.

He says the engine may need to deliver more power to compete with other local hot hatches. Proton is currently working on a turbo-charged four-cylinder which could be more suitable.