Proton Savvy hatchback 2006 review
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For a long time, Proton's best-selling model was an aged, two-tone bargain ute named after a sheep — the Jumbuck. But this year, the Malaysian manufacturer has sharpened both its form and its design in order to be competitive, with two new models that look more Lotus than jolly Jumbuck.
Proton has come ahead in leaps and bounds in the past few years, bringing Lotus into the fold and doing away with the bulbous, conservative school of design that still afflicts some Asian marques.
The Savvy is one such point-proving model. Released earlier this year, it holds the title of the most affordable five-door hatch on the market — no mean feat, considering the current push towards small and economical. But this is where Savvy shows its street smarts.
The Savvy is on the anorexic side of light, with a kerb weight of just 965kg. This allows for a milk-bottle engine to power the car — an 1149cc four is all that beats under the bonnet.
It puts out just 55kW at 5500rpm, and 105Nm. That won't blow anyone away at the lights, and revs are needed off the line with a load, but the engine works particularly well around town, matched to a concise, open-gated five-speed manual.
The clutch is a little sensitive at first, and the pedals too high for this driver, but ergonomics are otherwise comfortable.
Proton has sold out of its consignment of automatics, with the $1000 clutchless manual overwhelmingly popular.
Naturally, the Savvy's a winner at the bowser. With a claimed 5.7 litres of premium unleaded per 100km in both manual and auto guise (and just 0.2 litres more on test), it's not far behind the hybrid Toyota Prius in real-world driving.
The engine is loud and tyre roar is rampant at speed, but the Savvy makes up for that in corners. It takes turns like a little Lotus cousin should.
The steering rack is quicker than expected, and communication through the wheel and tyres is superb, thanks to 15-inch alloy wheels and well-tuned suspension.
In fact, the worst thing about the car is probably the tyres, which are fairly average in the dry and horrendous in the wet, provoking wheelspin (from a one-litre engine!) and serious understeer on a slick road.
It also has a space-saver spare. But tyres can be replaced, and the Savvy comes standard with ABS/EBD, which is more than some of its similarly poorly shod hatch competitors.
Even with four full doors and five seats, the Savvy is tiny — just 3.7m long — but a 1.65m width makes the cabin roomy for front passengers.
Squeezing into the tiniest spaces is almost guaranteed, as the Savvy comes standard with reverse parking sensors.
You miss out on electrically adjustable side mirrors, but the cabin is so compact that it's no effort to adjust the passenger-side reflector.
The real squeeze is for rear passengers: the seat is a little too compact for three people, and a flat, unsupportive foam filler and a lap-only centre seat belt render the skinny centre position almost useless.
Although there's no external boot release, cargo space is substantial. And up front, where most of the action is, driver and passenger are well looked after.
Some cheaper cabin plastics are compensated for with little luxuries like standard climate-control aircon, and visibility is excellent, particularly with the cut-away design of the door.
For a $13,990 car, the Savvy was more than a little surprising. Stick a new set of tyres on, and you have a practical, well-specced five-door hatch with more standard features than some cars $5000 dearer.
Brand confidence, questionable cabin plastics and resale values will continue to be a burden on Proton in the near future but, like some of the Korean marques, it is stepping further ahead in the quest to be competitive.
The Satria, the nameplate that put Proton on the map, is making a comeback and should join the Savvy in this new-look, Lotus-influenced family by year's end.
The makeover is producing more than just pretty faces.
Range and Specs
|(base)||1.1L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$2,200 – 3,850||2006 Proton Savvy 2006 (base) Pricing and Specs|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data