Test drive : 2016 Proton Persona

Proton’s latest car takes form as a lengthened Iriz, a contender in the crowded B-segment where frugal buyers often benchmark their options against the Perodua Myvi, Malaysia’s indisputable king of the sub-RM60,000 category.

The 2016 Persona has a fresh looking front end with a more refined overall exterior compared to its hatchback sibling. A chrome lining now extends over the headlamps from the grille.

The headlamps, while redesigned, are now halogen reflectors instead of projectors, the first indication of cost-cutting measures by the national carmaker.

While some may say the Iriz has a rather unconventional rear end styling, the Persona’s added boot space actually appears elegant, if not handsome. Adding a boot to a hatchback is often a challenge for many carmakers, but Proton seemed to have aced the job.

The taillamps are incandescent bulbs, a regression and another cost-saving decision considering that the Iriz and even the previous generation Persona have LEDs.

The rear windows are enormous to counterbalance its hatchback origins, but that may not necessary be a bad thing. Back seat passengers get to enjoy sweeping views, and the windows lower down completely for bonus points.

Nothing much has changed inside. Proton chose to keep much from the Iriz intact and switched to a dual-tone colour scheme.

The blend of black and brown works – it creates a sense of space and does not appear low-rent. Knobs and switches feel tolerable, if not superb, considering its asking price.

The same cannot be said about the bonnet release lever – it cannot feel any flimsier if it was made from plasticine.

A quick spin in the Persona reveals its unique selling point – the ride and handling is second to none for cars in this price bracket.

The suspensions are typically Proton – firm and reassuring at high speeds, and just bearable at going-over-potholes-speed. Like it or not, the electric steering dulls most the cornering excitement you might be expecting.

Gone are the boomy exhaust syndrome that has plagued most of the recent Proton models. It now boasts Faurecia-designed pipes.

It does make you wonder why in-house engineering could not tackle such rudimentary aspect of a car though.

You do have to consider if you are okay with the CVT gearbox whine and its jerkiness at low throttle. It is similar to the Iriz, Prevé and Saga.

But the shortcomings are offset by the 1.6L DOHC four-cylinder VVT engine. It is powerful and provides more than enough horsepower to pull the 1216kg heft up slopes.

Snobbish grouses aside, the Persona in reality will make the ideal sub-RM60,000 car simply for its array of safety features. Airbags, ABS, EBD, ESC, Hill Assist, ISOFIX child seat anchors – they are standard issue on all trim levels.

+ Reasonably priced; powerful engine, well equipped with safety features; looks rather good; spacious interior.

– Jerky and noisy gearbox; rear windscreen visibility can be better; shiny dashboard creates unnecessary glare.

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