The Proton Satria Neo is certainly the best car the company has ever built, but it is still unjustifiable
What is it?
The new Satria – hence the Neo part of the name. It is the fourth model in Proton’s sub-£12k line-up, and a lot of it (as in all of it) was designed by Lotus Engineering.
What's it like?
The last Proton we drove, an Impian, smelt of damp. Rising damp - wet plasterwork, mouldy walls, that sort of thing. It didn’t seem to be wet inside, but the interior had a sharp tang of damp earth. Apparently Proton suffered some problems with “water ingress” in the Impian. In other words, it leaked.
The all-new Satria Neo, does not, symbolically, smell of damp. And that means it's off to a good start.
The Satria Neo is part of Proton’s drive, in the UK at least, to lower the average age of its customers (currently 70) and expand the appeal of its cars. Proton is taking a bit of a risk with this, because its older customers don’t always get the Lotus connection and assume that it’s not necessarily a good thing.
So would it appeal to younger buyers? Well, it’s not bad looking – head-on front is the best angle, with the sharp headlights – and it’s tidily proportioned. It’s just the detailing that lets it down – those untidy alloys and an aluminium-look filler cap cover made of plastic with, inevitably, fake Allen screws.
Same applies inside. The patchwork of unsuitable shades of brown and beige that blighted the Impian and Gen2 has been replaced by a much less worrying combination of grey, and, er, grey.
It’s well built, if short on soft, tactile surfaces although those fake Allen screws pop up again on the steering wheel boss and around the gearlever. You get a lot of kit for your money, too, including Bluetooth phone compatibility.
But there’s a real problem with the driving position, at least for a six-feet-tall driver. Put the sun visor down and you can’t see out of the top half of the screen. The seat adjusts for height, but it doesn’t go down far enough. And you can’t operate the adjuster with the door closed, which is a stupid inconvenience. And legroom in the rear is seriously restricted.
So, not sitting particularly comfortably, we took it for a drive. This is where the Satria impresses most. It has direct, quick steering well suited to negotiating urban obstacles and it doesn’t flop about all over the place. The ride is a little brittle at times, the engine a little coarse and short of power at low revs, but there’s nothing here to make you dump the car by the side of the road and walk.
Should I buy one?
None of the Satria is outstanding, but none of it is bad. It’s faster, more powerful and better equipped than its rivals and it drives much better than you might be expecting. As long as you’re not too tall.