Proton S16 Review & Road Test

$4,400 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    6L
  • Engine Power
    70kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    145g
  • ANCAP Rating
    3Stars

$11,990 for a car? Are they kidding. I\'ve seen options for car stereos priced higher than that!

$11,990 for a car? Are they kidding. I've seen options for car stereos priced higher than that!

Model Tested:


  • 2010 Proton S16 GX; 1.6-litre, four cylinder, petrol; five-speed manual; four-door sedan - $11,990 (drive away)


CarAdvice Rating:

The cheapest Ferrari in Australia costs $459,650 plus on roads, you can drive that around on Sundays, be worried about where you park it, make sure no one scratches etc etc... or you can buy 38 new Proton S16s drive away, leave one in each Suburb that you may (or may not) ever visit and you'll never have another worry.

Okay, that was a ridiculous comparison but it gives you some perspective on how two objects which at their core, do the exact same thing, as in, get you from A to B can vary in price so much.

The same goes for pretty much everything else, sunglasses, audio visual equipment and clothing, you can buy a pair of jeans from Jeans West for about $50, or a pair of designer Jeans that start hitting the $1,000 mark.

Nonetheless the old saying of you get what you pay for still applies, so if you're paying $12,000 for a car you may not be expecting much, but you'd be surprised.

The Proton S16 is one those cars that is designed to be exactly that, a car that will get you from A to B. Nothing more and nothing less. It does exactly what it says it will do and it does it rather well considering.

My previous reviews of Proton vehicles have been filled with complaints of excessive cabin noise, lack of power and comfort. So I expected more of the same when I arrived at the Proton dealership in Brisbane to collect my red S16.

The first thing I noticed is that the S16 isn't actually that small, it's 4256mm long and 1680mm wide which means there is actually enough room for a good interior.

It was time to get in the cheapest car in Australia.

It had been some time since I've had to use a key to start a car, with most cars now having moved to smart keys and start/stop buttons. Of course such a feature (which really is not a necessity when you think about it) would no doubt add another $500+ to the price of a car and remember this is about the bare essentials of A to B travel.

Key in the ignition and the 1.6-litre Campro IAFM engine springs to life confidently. With 82Kw at 6,000rpm and 148Nm of torque on tap you would think the S16 is relatively unpowered, not so. The car weighs just 1070kg which means it has a power to weight ratio of 77kW per tonne.

In laymen's terms that means it's just like most cars on the road today, for example a Suzuki Swift has a power to weight ratio of 76kW per tonne and a Subaru Impreza has a power to weight ratio of 82kW per tonne. If you must know, that 'cheap' Ferrari I mentioned before has a power to weight ratio of almsot 210kW per tonne, so, yes you do get what you pay that extra $447,000 for.

As I drove out of the Proton dealership the very first thing I tested was the S16's acceleration, grab second gear and flatten the accelerator. The specifications say it gets from 0-100km/h in 12.5 seconds but it sure as hell feels quicker than that. You have to rev it hard if you want the most out of it but given it gets away with using just 6.3L of fuel per 100km, it's pretty darn good.

Speaking of fuel economy, my (ridiculous) comparison car, the Ferrari California uses 13.1 litres/100 km and emits 306g of carbon emissions per kilometre. The S16 uses half the fuel for the same distance and emits just 148g/km. You win all around.

Now you might be thinking a car that costs $12,000 must have some short falls and yes it does. My main complaint with the car is the lack of dual-front airbags (currently only driver-side airbag), ABS and electronic stability control (ESC). That will partially be fixed when the S16 GLX arrives mid 2010 (priced above the GX tested here). The GLX will feature dual-front airbags and come with ABS standard. As for ESC, that may be some time away.

The biggest issue reviewing the S16 is the price, every time I think, it would be nice if... I remember it only costs $12,000 drive away.

It would be nice if the stereo would connect to my iPod, it would be nice if the steering wheel was leather, it would be nice if it had alloy wheels, it would be nice if it had reverse sensors, it would be nice if it had remote boot release, it would be nice if...

Wait! It's only $12,000 drive away. Actually if you must know, given that the stereo is not integrated, it's easily upgradable for a few hundred dollars, you can put a leather cover on the steering wheel yourself, you can option it out with alloy wheels, reverse sensors and also get the remote boot release kit all from Proton themselves.

Ride & handling is where the S16 stands out. Of course there is nothing in its price category that I could compare it to but even putting it against cars costing $10,000 more it still comes out ahead. Proton makes a big deal about their cars benefiting from Lotus ride & handling technology and you only ever really notice its validity when you're going around a corner at speed in a car with tiny 13-inch wheels and it's not missing a beat.

Driving dynamics are a treat for a car so cheap. You know the feeling of being in a small nimble car with a lively engine that just wants to be revved and thrown around corners? It's a bit like that. It may not be that quick but it's rather fun to drive. Packed with a few adults in the car there is no longer that sense of the car struggling, sure if you have five adults in the S16 it will not feel as nimble as before... but did I say it only costs $12,000?

As for the interior it's nothing special really, but then again it's not suppose to be either. The stereo runs through a Clarion head unit with two rear speakers, the air conditioner controls are typical and the dash layout is pretty standard. As for the seats themselves, they are comfortable for getting around town.

Despite near 40-degree heat in Brisbane, the air-conditioning system works quickly and effectively (Malaysia is humid so they definitely get the air-conditioning units right in these cars).

It's worth noting that rear leg room is enormous for a car this size. I am nearly 180cm tall and with the driver's seat adjusted for my height I can still sit comfortably behind the driver and have enough room to move my legs around. I probably wouldn't take five adults for long distance drives but four adults can comfortably travel anywhere in the S16.

The Proton S16 is the cheapest car in Australia and as a result there is now a waiting list for buyers. You can be critical of all the features it lacks, but if you have about $12,000 to spend on a new car either as your first or a second get around car, it's hard to be critical of such a genuine package that does exactly what it says.

Having now spent four days with the S16, it has started to grow on me. The car has a lot of character, it feels alive and willing to do what is asked. I liken it to a small puppy, you can't help but to love it, despite its few flaws (plus its probably cheaper than a puppy over its lifetime!).


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