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.