Good in the bends, but that's where the pluses end
Although £2000 cheaper, it can't match rival's quality
For all the noise the engine makes, its mere 109lb ft of torque fails to excite
At motorway speeds, wind noise is intrusive and the engine whines
Satria will sprint to 60mph in 11.8sec, which, in fairness is brisk enough
If you're patient, the 1.6-litre 111bhp engine gives the Satria a top speed of 118mph
Brittle plastics and awkwardly placed switchgear make driving the Satria unnecessarily difficult
Fold the sun visors down and you're faced with a catastrophic loss of vision
The Proton Satria Neo is certainly the best car the company has ever built, but it is still unjustifiable
What is it?
The Proton Satria Neo was first introduced in 2006 so it isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, however, is £2000 cheaper. Thanks to a March 2011 price drop, the Satria is now priced more realistically against the competition, likes of which include the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
It’s also a big improvement on the last Proton we tested. The Impian we drove in 2006 suffered problems with ‘water ingress’ and ‘incompliant ride quality.’
Proton owns Lotus and the Satria’s chassis has been tuned there, which should bode well for its dynamics. According to Proton, the Satria is the model that it produced to attract a ‘youthful and sporty’ buyer describing the car as ‘the ultimate hot hatchback.’ Sounds exciting.
What’s it like?
A very, very rough diamond. Standing at a modest 5ft 7-inches tall, I had absolutely no headroom and failed to get comfortable. The seats, albeit leather and suede covered and very supportive, cannot be lowered anywhere near enough to compensate for the steeply raked windscreen. Fold the sun visor down and its high seating position results in a catastrophic loss of visibility.
The cabin itself offers little storage space and is plastered in a sea of brittle grey and more grey plastics, which are substandard considering the Satria’s price tag. The handbrake lever sits nicely enough in the hand but looks like a garden implement, the gearlever does away with ‘faux’ leather and instead employs a sheet of shiny plastic to hide the gear-linkages, and some of the switchgear – electric window buttons and heating dials included – are placed awkwardly too. To top it off, the cigarette lighter is crudely hidden beneath a rudimentary bit of plastic and the boot cannot be opened externally.
With a 111bhp 1.6-litre engine under the bonnet and a kerbweight of 1170kgs, performance should be more the Satria’s forte. Unfortunately, however, it isn’t. For all the noise the engine makes, its mere 109lb ft of torque fails to excite. Proton claims the Satria will sprint to 60mph in 11.8sec, which, in fairness is brisk enough compared with its rivals, but it doesn’t get there cleanly, suffering from a noticeable torque dip at 3000rpm. Give it time, though, and it’ll top out at a respectable 118mph.
At motorway speeds, wind noise is intrusive, the engine whines, and again, the lack of torque may disappoint.
Around town is where the Satria performs better. Its Lotus DNA allows for confident direction change and it rides firmly but is never crashy, soaking up potholes and bumps competently. Nevertheless, the Satria’s interior finish is so poor that it’ll emit more than the odd rattle over surface imperfections.
The clutch, too, squeaked every time it was depressed, making me hope that one of the Satria’s selling points included a limitless supply of lubricant – a quick read of the owner’s manual confirmed this wasn’t the case.
Show the little Proton a fast bend or roundabout, however, and the Satria shows its Ace card. Grip levels are very impressive – especially so on aggressive turn-in - and should you wish to unleash its inner Lotus, you’ll be very pleased with the result. Where most superminis would wash wide through a corner, the Proton clings on confidently and resists understeer well. Rewardingly, it’s even happy to be adjusted on the throttle at its limit. It stops pretty well too thanks to discs all-round.
Should I buy one?
As well as the Satria handles and taking its six year warranty into account, the facts cannot be ignored. At £9495, it still can’t compete, even with its newfound rivals, likes of which include the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Vauxhall Corsa and Fiat 500. So unrefined is the interior and build quality that its apparent saving grace is quickly forgotten.
If you’re after something that’s refined, good looking, comfortable and which can cater for people who exceed the height restriction for a ride at Alton Towers, then look else where. It’ll be a while yet before this rough diamond is cut.
Proton Satria Neo Sport
Price: £9495; 0-60mph: 11.5sec; Top speed: 118mph; Economy: 39mpg; CO2 emissions: 177g/km; Kerb weight: 1170kg; Engine layout: 1597cc 4-cyl in line; Installation: Front, longitudinal; Power: 111bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 109lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual