The Proton S16 FLX is the Malaysian manufacturer’s best-selling model in Australia, leaving showrooms at a rate of around 30 cars a month.
Driveaway pricing for the most popular Proton starts at $13,990 for the GX manual variant – making for a standout sticker even in a competitive playing field that features eight other car manufacturers offering four-door city-size sedans.
We tested the S16 FLX entry-level GX with manual transmission and the range-topping GXR with CVT, which has a driveaway price of $16,990.
The S16 FLX facelift offers a number of style improvements over the previous version, including new front guards, bonnet, headlamps, grille, as well as front and rear bumpers, which are all more pronounced.
The S16 FLX also introduces side mirrors incorporating LED turn signals, rear LED combination lamps, front fog lights, newly designed alloy wheels.
The GXR adds boot-lid spoiler and leather upholstery.
Inside, the S16 boasts a new audio system with auxiliary and USB ports, but there’s no Bluetooth phone or music streaming function – no big surprise for a budget sedan at this price point.
Standard features across the Proton S16 range include all the basic mod cons, such as remote keyless entry and central locking, power windows (front only on GX), electrically operated door mirrors, reverse sensors, front fog lights, alloy wheels, air conditioning, alarm system and immobiliser.
The instrumentation, switchgear and general layout of the centre stack is clean and uncomplicated in the S16, and there are enough metal-look accents throughout the cockpit to make it feel like a civilised ride.
However, the Proton’s interior does fall flat in some areas.
The plastic steering wheel fitted to the GX models is cause enough for this reviewer to strongly favour the more expensive GXR model, which gets a multifunction leather-wrapped version that’s infinitely more tactile.
There are also too many nasty-looking hard plastics inside the S16, which cheapen the general feel of the cabin - although that doesn’t include the dashboard, which is wrapped in a more sophisticated patterned material.
The leather seats in the S16 GXR lack acceptable levels of bolstering for proper support of the torso, and the cushioning is too firm to ever be considered comfortable.
While the exterior styling with more curves and character is certainly an improvement over the previous iteration, it’s still an inescapably plain-looking car.
The same Campro (short for Cam Profiling) 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine generating 80kW and 150Nm powers all Proton S16 FLX model variants.
Despite the perceived lack of grunt that these numbers might suggest, the S16 is actually quite perky in manual guise.
That’s no surprise, as this was the first engine to be co-developed by Proton and Lotus Engineering.
The Proton S16 FLX GX manual only weighs 1070kg, so there’s satisfactory throttle response from this engine even from low down in the rev range.
The standard five-speed manual transmission is smooth shifting, but it’s a long throw from one gear ratio to another compared with some rivals.
Despite peak torque arriving at 4000rpm the S16 FLX pulls well in all five forward gears.
Proton claim fuel-consumption of 6.2L/100km for the manual and 6.5L/100km for the CVT, but that’s using the recommended, and more expensive, 95 RON fuel.
Noise insulation is surprisingly good for a car in this segment (at least with the manual). Not so with the S16 FLX with CVT transmission, which is best described as unbearably noisy at times with inconsistent throttle response during mid-range acceleration.
Better than expected, though, is the S16’s hydraulic power steering. It’s weighty, responsive and provides decent levels of feedback through the steering wheel.
It’s not going to trouble a Ford Fiesta for dynamics, but the S16’s driving manners have been helped by engineering assistance from Proton-owned Lotus Engineering.
Turn-in is reasonably sharp and the S16 feels composed through bends, even when pushed.
It’s much the same story with ride - there’s a comfortable level of compliance built in to the McPherson Strut/Torsion Beam combination suspension that irons out the bumps well enough, while providing decent chassis control.
Braking in the Proton S16 is solid and is courtesy of ventilated front discs and drums on the rear.
Standard safety features across the S16 range include electronic stability control, anti-locking brakes, but only two airbags (dual-front) are fitted. It’s a major let down for the S16, which Proton says will be replaced late in 2014 with a new-generation car that will include additional airbags.
The Proton S16 was last crash-tested by ANCAP (Australian New car Assessment Program) in 2010 and gained a three-star rating without electronic stability control fitted.
It’s not perfect by any means, but from $13,990 (driveaway) the Proton S16 FLX is still a bargain. The closest sedan rival is the Holden Barina at $16,490 before on-road costs are added.
Other major players in the segment include the Hyundai Accent and Nissan Almera at $16,990 each, Ford Fiesta at $17,490, Honda City at $18,490, Kia Rio at $21,690 and finally, the Toyota Yaris at $18,190.