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Proton Savvy 2006 review

A friend bought a new car last week. That's not unusual, but the car she chose is not one you might expect. It is a Proton Savvy — red with the automated manual gearbox. The Malaysian baby car was not on her shopping list at first, then she read about it and had committed within a week.

Why? Because the price is right, because it looks good and because she thought it was fun to drive. She could have gone for a Holden Barina or a Hyundai Getz or any of the other baby cars in the $15,000 price range, but decided the Savvy felt more substantial and more sporty at the wheel.

That is good news for Proton, which believes it builds cars that drive to a slightly different beat. It has launched a new-model drive led by the GEN-2 hatchback and now the Savvy, with a new Satria coupe just on the road at home and heading Down Under next year.

But Proton is still battling to win ground in Australia, and has lost sales and share at home as it faces tougher competition without enough ammunition to compete.

The Savvy was developed specifically for Malaysia and was originally going to be called Sassy, until the former chief executive realised it would be a turn-off for the young men who might enjoy the car.

So it is small — even smaller than the Getz — and only has a 1.2-litre engine. But the value deal is good and no other cars at $13,990 come with twin airbags, anti-skid brakes, air-conditioning, alloy wheels and rear parking radar.

The Savvy is light on fuel and has an official rating of 5.7L/100km for the manual; an impressive figure against the 7.1L for Getz, 7.5L for Ford Fiesta and Barina's 7.8L.

It is helped by having an overall weight of less than 1000kg. Proton claims it has a super-rigid body, is well-finished, tough and will be ideal for first-car buyers.

But power is nothing special, with only 55kW and a claimed 0-100km/h time in the 12-second bracket. The mechanical package includes a five-speed manual gearbox, but Proton has a five-speed automated manual (no clutch, but you still have to change gears with the lever) from Renault.

The first shipment of Savvys was a sellout, and Proton Cars Australia believes it will do well as more people see the trendy compact on the road. Savvy is not the best car in the class. That honour goes to the Ford Fiesta.

Yet it has charm. And it looks good. And you don't have to buy much petrol. When you drive the Savvy you are conscious it is small, even in the small-car class, but it still feels solid. It is a strength that comes from the basic body structure and suspension and steering allowing good connection to the road. Lots of small cars feel light and wobbly, but not the Proton.

It also has supportive front buckets, simple but effective instruments, a solid sound system and enough space for five adults.

It turns well, has good grip, and always lets you know what is happening at the wheels.

But the engine never feels particularly keen, even if you push to the redline, although there is reasonable torque in the midrange. But the payback comes at the pumps and we had no trouble scoring 6.L/100km economy during our road test, with much better results on the freeway, despite an engine that is spinning beyond 3000 revs at only 100km/h.

The five-speed manual has well-spaced ratios, but we had a little trouble selecting first and with the one-two shift at times.

But there is absolutely no drama in parking, the headlamps are good and the safety bonus of anti-skid brakes and the parking radar is a plus. Those elements will make a big difference for Proton in the showrooms.

Pricing Guides

$3,190
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$2,310
Highest Price
$4,070

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.1L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $2,310 – 3,630 2006 Proton Savvy 2006 (base) Pricing and Specs