2008 Proton Persona Sedan First Steer
Ride & Handling, Equipment Levels, Practicality, Price Tag
Performance, Brake Pedal Feel, No ESP or Side/Curtain Airbags
– by Matt Brogan
Following an extensive two day drive program through Victoria’s picturesque alpine region, CarAdvice is pleased to announce inspiring news that Malaysian manufacturer Proton may finally be on track to shake up the lower end of the small car market with an impressive new comer, the Persona sedan.
The all new single specification Persona shares only its name with the superseded model and is more reminiscent of the GEN.2 hatch on which the Persona’s platform is based. It’s a simple, yet elegant small sedan not too dissimilar in looks to the current Mazda3.
Smaller, recessed avian-esque headlamps and restyled grille with new black and silver corporate logo flow downward to a narrow air intake beset by standard front fog lamps. From the rear, a high boot line with bold chrome accent brings memories of Chrysler’s Neon of some years back.
Representing tremendous value for money, Persona offers an expansive array of standard equipment including ABS, EBD, dual front airbags, auto locking doors, climate control air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels and a single disc MP3 compatible Blaupunkt audio system.
Inside the cabin is similar to the GEN.2 in many respects boasting red back lit Lotus inspired instrument binnacle with inset white faced fuel and temperature gauges, door mounted power window switches, and centre stack under dash ventilation controls, which as nice as they look, can be a little difficult to reach.
The re-designed centre console houses two front and two rear (fold down type) cup holders, a small enclosed storage area under the armrest and two mobile phone/sunglasses trays to each side of the gearstick, further complimenting the in door map pockets, glove box and small under dashboard (driver’s side) mounted shelf.
As for the steering wheel itself, it is rather small in diametre and not unattractive, but its plastic construction may see you lose grip on hot days or after many hours behind the wheel, and the hard edge of the two upper spokes makes using them as thumb rests an uncomfortable prospect. The six audio controls mounted thereon are rather small, not unlike mobile phone keys and may take a little getting used to.
According to Proton Cars Australia’s Managing Director John Startari, the new Persona delivers on the basics offering buyers a better overall package while maintaining Proton’s reputation for excellent fuel economy, high equipment levels and value for money.
The vehicle, whilst indeed intended to suit a broad spectrum of buyers, is more squarely marketed at retirees, first car buyers, and young families who expect a feature packed car but perhaps can forego the outright performance offered by some of the more expensive rivals.
Under the bonnet the 1.6 litre CAMPRO engine has to work quite hard to deliver any real performance developing a modest 82kW @ 6,000 rpm and 148Nm or torque from 4,000 revs. It’s fine once up and revving but really needs to be kept on the boil to deliver any substantial performance results considering the overall weight of the vehicle. Proton believe the power to be adequate for their intended market.
In the gearbox department, Persona offers a five speed manual or four speed auto box with my pick clearly being the slick shifting manual transmission. Offering a more zippy drive and a good spread of gears it also boasts an ease of operation better than expected from Proton and is mated to a well weighted clutch with above average uptake feel which makes manual driving quite enjoyable.
The automatic on the other hand seems to suffer a little from a reluctance to downshift beyond third at highway speeds and is surprised by hard acceleration off the mark, often becoming indecisive when confronted with a hasty sprint from stand still. It may suit buyers with little want for performance but bear in mind that hills and fully loaded cars may also see these traits rear there head.
As one would rightfully expect from a brand who’s suspension is tuned by Lotus, the Persona offers brilliant, confidence inspiring handling with ride dynamics that well exceed those of its competitors.
A typical recipe of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear end, Persona’s Lotus overlords have done exceptionally well in tuning the small car for a brilliant ride. Mid corner lumps and bumps are digested with no real issues though there is some kick back present through the otherwise decent hydraulic assisted power steering.
I’d almost go so far as to say it out-handles the drive offered from 1.6 litre engine and in my opinion were it to have an extra 25kW on board, would be a real performer attracting a younger modified car audience, similar to the way the much loved GTi Satria once did, but alas no such plans are in the pipeline… yet.
On the practicality side of things, Persona has a huge 430 litre boot with a side hinged lid that opens past 110 degrees for easy access. Easily accommodating two sets of golf clubs, the luggage area can be further increased through fold flat 60:40 rear seats.
Visibility is excellent all round and interior space is very generous given the vehicle’s proportions. With 40mm more headroom than the GEN.2 even taller adults are made feel comfortable. Front leg room is ample, as is shoulder and hip space, though the back seat is better suited to two adults or three children with the middle seat being a little tight (there are three anchor points for children’s booster seats & capsules).
Build quality, fit and finish, and even the paint work has noticeably improved over previous attempts from the marque and panel tolerances seem much more uniform creating an impression that the brand is on the up-and-up. Inside there are almost no plastic rattles to speak of, even on coarse gravel roads, and though there is a little wind noise off the mirrors and wipers (which protrude above bonnet height), the cabin’s acoustic ambiance is not dramatically affected.
There’s a touch of road noise off the Goodyear tyres, exaggerated on rough sealed roads, and engine noise can be intrusive at higher rpm. But in all for a small budget vehicle, I didn’t find noise issues to be of any real consequence and would even say it is better than many of Persona’s dearer rivals.
Given the overall package offers a high level of standard equipment for the price, a stylish, modern appearance and a decent build quality, prudent buyers would certainly have a hard time doing better elsewhere. The Persona is sure to impress those who are conscious of spiraling vehicle running costs and those who are happy to enjoy an economic, more leisurely paced drive alike.
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