Proton Gen.2 2005 review
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The Corolla-sized compact is the start of a change of life at Proton.
The Malaysian brand is looking to make its own way in the car world, and not just by trumpeting its ownership of the Lotus sports car company and Italy's wonderful MV Agusta motorcycle brand.
The Gen2 is the first in a new generation of Proton cars. It's a product from a new generation of management, a new design from a new generation of local designers and the signpost to a future without help from the Mitsubishi cars and systems that got it started.
Proton says the Gen2 is proof the company can go it alone in the 21st century.
It shows plenty of promise, featuring styling that is clean and attractive, its own Campro engine, suspension by Lotus and a distinct Proton personality.
It's a Proton package, from the first design sketches to the final assembly at the company's huge new assembly plant outside Kuala Lumpur.
And it's a good drive. Here is a car that's surprisingly sporty. It has compliant suspension with great grip and nice feedback.
Proton Australia has also done a good job on the pricing after earlier mistakes, starting the Gen2 at $17,990 and holding even the flagship H-Line car to only $20,990.
But the Gen2 has a long way to go on the quality front.
The basic assembly work is fine, but there are some glaring flaws in components and cabin parts that point to the inexperience and – perhaps – incompetence of Malaysia's supplier companies.
The car has to be marked down over mismatched plastics, faulty switches, scratched gearknobs, and general squeaks and tizzes.
When you add the need for premium unleaded fuel for an engine that is only a 1.6 in a field of 1.8s, and the potential for longer-term quality problems, the Gen2 is not going to make a breakthrough in Australia.
That's a pity, because it has plenty of strengths and Proton is trying to build a solid following.
It has cash and commitment in Malaysia, and has learned from mistakes, including silly names and poor pricing. But still the Gen2 isn't going to worry the class-leading Mazda3 or even the Hyundai Elantra.
Vfacts sales figures for January show its place in Australia. Proton sold 49 Gen2s against small-car sales leader Mazda3 (2781). Toyota sold 2593 Corollas and Holden 2459 Astras.
So Proton is at the bottom of the class on sales, but it will improve.
It has lots of new models under development, and has plans to push its name and representation in Australia, so it's perhaps best to see the Gen2 as the start of something new.
Range and Specs
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data