The Proton Satria Neo, a compact hatch that's claimed to be mildly sporting, was first introduced in 2007 - so it’s hardly a new car by any stretch of the imagination.
Continual price drops have, however, reduced the cost of Satria. That means it is now pitched more realistically against the competition, likes of which includes such big-league volume sellers as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
Given that Proton owns Lotus it’s fitting that the Satria’s chassis has benefitted from the association with the British car-maker, 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.”
That last remark is perhaps best not dwelt upon. The Satria Neo comes in two trim levels, GSX and Sport, each available with either a five-speed manual or four-speed auto ’box. In each case the engine is the same: a 1597cc petrol unit producing 111bhp at 6000rpm and 109lb ft at a relatively high 4000rpm. Combined economy is 42.8mpg for the manuals and 39.2mpg for the autos, with CO2 entering the atmosphere at the rate of 157g/km or 177g/km respectively.
Step inside and the first thing that strikes you, quite literally, is the roof lining. Even shorter drivers will struggle for headroom, and those nearing 6ft, or, god forbid, those over 6ft, will really struggle not to have their forward vision compromised by the top edge of the windscreen bisecting their eyeline. It really is that bad.
The seats, albeit leather and suede covered and very supportive, cannot be lowered anywhere near enough to compensate; fold the sun visor down and the 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 plastics. 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.
With a 111bhp 1.6-litre engine under the bonnet and a kerbweight of 1170kg, performance should be more the Satria’s forte. Unfortunately 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, mostly thanks to the short-lived torque peak’s relatively late arrival in the rev range.
At motorway speeds, wind noise is intrusive, the engine whines, and again, the lack of torque may disappoint. Around town, however, 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.
Show the little Proton a fast bend or roundabout, 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 Exige, you’ll be pleased, not to mention surprised, with the result. Where most superminis would wash wide through a corner, the Proton clings on confidently and resists understeer well. It’s even happy to be adjusted on the throttle at its limit.
As well as the Satria handles and even taking its six-year warranty into account, the facts cannot be ignored. Even at its reduced price it still can’t compete with rivals of the calibre of the Fiesta, Polo and Vauxhall Corsa. So unrefined is the interior and slap-dash the build quality that its apparent saving grace is quickly forgotten.
If you’re after something that’s refined, good looking and comfortable, and which can cater for people who pass the height restriction for rides at Alton Towers, then look elsewhere.