Proton Satria Gen 2 2004 review: road test
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But that's exactly what Malaysian carmaker Proton is doing with the Gen 2.
A four-door with a hatchback, the Gen 2 has been built with the help of Lotus Design Studio in the UK – owned by Proton – which gives it some styling and performance kudos.
Proton is marketing the Gen 2 with the slogan "a new generation begins".
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This model is crucial to Proton's transition from a manufacturer using parts from other marques, such as Mitsubishi, to a stand-alone company.
It also heralds the rebirth of Proton as a player in Australia, where it hopes to build to a yearly sales base of 5000.
It plans to do this through a revitalised dealer network and a range of new models.
As a first attempt, the Gen 2 is pretty good.
The interior looks very stylish in the brochures.
But slip into the real thing and the amount of plastic and faux aluminium threatens to overpower the clean, minimalist, sporting design.
For example, the butch-looking ring on the steering wheel is a piece of moulded plastic posing as brushed aluminium.
What looks like the hilt of Excalibur's broadsword is the handbrake lever.
The interior is roomy and I liked the high position of the driver's seat with its excellent lumbar support.
The boot is also very roomy and one or both of the rear seats can fold down for longer items.
The 1.6-litre, DOHC, 16-valve engine fires up readily but you need 2000rpm on the tacho to take off smoothly.
Proton claims peak power of 82kW and torque of 148Nm.
Maximum power arrives at 6000rpm and torque at 4000rpm.
Below 3000rpm the motor is sluggish.
Turn on the airconditioner and you have to drop two gears from top to overtake cleanly on the freeway.
The Gen 2 redeemed itself on my favourite set of corners in the Hills.
The rain-slick road was empty and it coiled tantalisingly up through a small valley of trees.
Changing up at 5500rpm in the lower gears of the five-speed gearbox (the engine revs out to around 7000rpm), I made brisk and exhilarating progress.
The revs never dropped below 4000rpm, indicating a reasonably close-ratio gearbox.
The Lotus-designed suspension kept the Gen 2 pinned to the greasy surface with no bodyroll.
It tracked surprisingly well around the corners with very predictable feedback through the power steering.
Even on a couple of switchback, uphill hairpins, there was no scrabbling for grip from the front-wheel drive.
I reckon the Gen 2 would give its more fancied rivals a real shock in the handling stakes.
The question is, how many owners are going to drive the car in this manner? There are quite a few young hotrodders out there looking for a nimble hatchback but the typical buyer of cars like the Gen 2 are commuters, not funseekers.
Perhaps a simple remapping of the engine management would bring more usable power and torque lower back down the rev range.
Around town, the Gen 2 is easy to manoeuvre, with good all-round vision, slick gearchange and light clutch action.
The large marker on the speedo at the 50km/h calibration is a useful speed reminder.
Out on the freeway at the legal limit there is too much wind noise from the window seals.
Change down to keep the speed up and the engine is loud and harsh compared with many of its rivals in this price bracket.
On rough roads, the test car exhibited some vibratory-type rattles.
Turning at slow speed in a multi-storey carpark revealed an occasional clicking sound from the front of the car.
However, it should be stressed that the Gen 2 on test was a fleet launch car nearing the end of a rugged test cycle.
Production cars should be better.
One area the Gen 2 received constant praise in was its appearance.
A worker at a drive-in bottleshop thought it was an Alfa Romeo.
I liked the swooping lines, aggressive-looking headlights and cleanly-cut rear but thought the wheels looked too small for the body size.
Priced from $17,990 and optioned up to $22,990, Proton's Gen 2 is a brave attempt to take on the predators in the shark pool of compact cars.
Range and Specs
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