Just how badly do you want a brand-new car? What are you prepared to sacrifice to ensure brand-spanking newness; that untouched, gleaming, never-been-driven feeling?
If you want a new car desperately – make that pathologically desperately – we would still struggle to recommend a Gen2, Proton’s new Wira replacement. It’s that disappointing.
It has its good points, so let’s get those out of the way first. It won’t take long. And if you happen to be hell-bent on buying a brand-new car and a nearly new Focus won’t do, these are the only points you’ll remember anyway.
It’s good value, at least for interior kit. The 1.6 GLS model you see here comes with air conditioning and a Blaupunkt sound system with a 10-disc CD changer, and retails at £9595. It has dual airbags as standard, but no electric mirrors. You’ll need to opt for the £10,595 GSX to get those; that version also comes with standard side airbags and anti-lock brakes. So you don’t get anti-lock on lower models, which seems a glaring oversight in 2004.
Compare the price with those of its similarly specced rivals and the Gen2 GLS is good value. Rover 25 1.6 SEi: £12,795. Ford Focus 1.6 LX: £13,300. Honda Civic 1.6 SE: £13,013. Vauxhall Astra 1.6 16v Life: £12,495. The Proton undercuts them all effortlessly.
It looks good, too. Styled with help from Proton-owned Lotus, it’s a well-proportioned, well-detailed car and is a pleasure to view from every angle. The nose is neat, with none of the grille paraphernalia that sometimes blights new cars from the Far East, and the rear lights are equally handsome. The dash is well designed, too, with a stylish Lotus-esque centre console, nicely integrated stereo and a neat instrument cowling.
The car rides and handles satisfactorily, with no obvious vices as long as you don’t expect Elise-like fun. The cheap Sime tyres lose grip very early in the proceedings as the car howls toward the verge with terminal understeer. The ride jiggles a little too much on washboard ripples, but is otherwise comfortable, with decent damping. The gearchange is quick and direct, and is the best of the controls.
However, the driving position is so awkward it borders on the bizarre. You sit far too high, with no way to lower the seat other than a tight knob which only lowers the front edge of the cushion. And the steering wheel – a hard black plastic affair with all the tactile delicacy of a granite slab – won’t rise high enough, leaving itself on your lap, between your knees. Tall drivers willl find the top of the instruments are obscured by the top of the wheel, which is unforgivable in a 21st-century car.
The problems don’t end there. The build quality inside is nasty, even for a car at this price. The plastic single-piece door trims, the centre bin with its flimsy hinges, the dastardly little swivelling cup holder and the switches and plastics are all so low-rent that they’re almost squatting. Combine that with a noisy cabin and you have a distinctly ordinary motoring experience, even for the money.
The 110bhp ‘Cam Pro’ 1.6 has adequate power and torque, but all the thrust is delivered at the top end, where it becomes extremely thrashy and makes you reach for ear defenders. It has the aural delight of a toilet extractor fan – the loudest one you’ve ever heard. This is a very poorly insulated engine.
The Gen2 very nearly became Rover’s next medium car. Good job for Rover that deal never happened.