On the face of it, the Proton Gen-2 is an appealing prospect. For the price of a Ford Fiesta, you get a Focus-sized hatchback with handsome, if dated styling.
Available as a hatchback and a saloon, the later is offered with an LPG tank fitted in the boot -one of very few new cars available with the cost-saving setup. LPG fell out of favour with other manufacturers when government subsidies dried up, but the rising cost of fuel could see it make a comeback. Putting the LPG powertrain aside, the Gen-2 is less sound as a Focus rival.
The interior is several generations behind the class leaders, with low-rent plastics and dated design. The impressive equipment levels fails to compensate for this fully. The dated feel translates on the road too. Uncomfortable driving position, joins cumbersome steering and suspension with limited ability hampers appeal for drivers quickly.
Proton says the ride and handling have been developed by Lotus, but little of its excellence in chassis work is evident. The 1.6-litre engine develops 110bhp, but feels strained at speed. The saloon will reach 62mph in a leisurely 12sec, six tenths before the hatchback version.
Specifying an automatic gearbox hampers performance further, with the time increasing to 14.3 and 13.6sec for the saloon and hatch respectively. A 1.3-litre engine is also available, but little is promised from the slow-selling 94bhp unit.
The LPG system - where fitted - is executed well. It fits in the spare wheel well, and only reduces boot depth by about three inches. It does, however rob a small amount of throttle response, but if you're in the market for a Gen-2, this isn't likely to cause much of a problem. Given the low sticker price, equipment levels are pretty good, with all derivatives coming with twin front airbags, electric front window, air-con and alloy wheels.
But you'd have to be really keen to have the cachet of a new car on your drive to choose a Gen-2 over a year-old Focus, which will offer a nicer drive, better interior and improved residual values. Aside from its value, there's very little to recommend the Gen-2.
Interior quality on later models is improved, but it's still way short of mainstream Focus-segment standards. The less said about the utterly wooden ride, handling, and steering the better.