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Proton Gen.2 2004 Review

Though it has moved on from borrowing engines and bodies from other companies, Proton sought help from Lotus (which it owns) to develop the small five-door Gen2 hatch and its new Campro engine.

The 1.6-litre engine has a modest 82kW and 142Nm, considerably less than rival Toyota Corolla's 100kW and 171Nm.

The Gen2 will take on Corolla, Holden Astra Classic and Nissan Pulsar and have a starting price of $17,990.

"We are a young company, but we are daring enough to build our own engine," Campro chief engineer Azari Che-Hassam says.

A five-speed manual gearbox is standard with the Gen2. A four-speed automatic transmission is available for an extra $2000.

Lotus also helped develop the suspension and steering for the Gen2, the first car from Proton's new Tanjung Malim factory.

Engineers set out to give the Gen2 the best handling in its class, and a pleasant ride. The car's rigid body makes this possible.

It will be offered in three trim levels, starting with the L-line at $17,990. It has airconditioning, power steering, front airbags for the driver and passenger, four-wheel disc brakes, keyless entry, CD sound and trip computer.

The $19,500 M-line model adds anti-skid brakes and alloy wheels. Automatic models have cruise control.

Spending $20,990 for the H-line adds side airbags, climate control airconditioning, rear parking sensors, fog lights and rear spoiler.

Proton says the Gen2 was designed to reflect its sporty handling characteristics.

"We wanted to give it the face of a tiger, make it look very strong," Proton design boss Zafruddin Shamsuddin says.

He says the Gen2 won't appeal to all buyers, but will catch the attention of those who want something sporty and sexy.

"Essentially, we set out to break the tradition of building one safe design for everyone," Shamsuddin says.

THE Gen2 shows how fast Proton is growing. It also reveals it has some way to go to take on Japan and Europe.

Let's start with the positives, and there are plenty.

The Gen2 has a rigid body and has excellent handling characteristics.

Punting it along a winding road down into Port Macquarie at last week's launch showed what a fantastic job Proton and Lotus engineers have done setting up this car.

It is almost impossible to get it to misbehave. You can easily put it through corners at speeds that would make a Corolla buck and squeal, while the steering is solid and gives good feedback.

The other positive is the comfortable ride, with the suspension absorbing many of the bumps without fuss.

It's amazing that Lotus can help produce a pleasant ride when it's own car (Elise sportscar) can jolt out fillings at the first sign of a bump.

Interior space is good, though rear headroom is not the best in its class. While some of the plastics could be better, the interior is the best to come from Proton.

Stereo controls are trendy rather than easy to use, but the heating controls are big and practical.

The body looks well constructed and the paint quality, which includes cool colours such as orange-bronze and purple, is excellent.

So what's wrong with the new Malaysian model?

Proton says the Campro engine was designed for commuting in cities such as Kuala Lumpur where motorists are happy with small engines and don't mind revving them.

To put it simply, the Gen2 doesn't have enough grunt. You notice it a bit around town, but when you try to overtake or pull up a long haul the engine is lacking.

It gets worse when the airconditioning is pumping.

Proton is working on a Campro engine with variable-valve timing that gives it a meatier feel and improves performance.

It will be offered in a premium Gen2 model next year, but should really be in the base car.

And in April Proton will introduce an R3 performance model with exhaust modifications that will lift power slightly.

With excellent handling, it's clear the Gen2 can handle more go.

Pricing guides

Based on third party pricing data
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Range and Specs

H-Line 1.6L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,200 – 3,850 2004 Proton Gen.2 2004 H-Line Pricing and Specs
L-Line 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $1,900 – 3,300 2004 Proton Gen.2 2004 L-Line Pricing and Specs
M-Line 1.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $1,900 – 3,300 2004 Proton Gen.2 2004 M-Line Pricing and Specs