Proton has seen little joy since the days of rebadging Mitsubishi cars. The Gen2 looks good, but otherwise exposes Proton's naivety in developing cars on its own. In home country Malaysia, Proton is losing market leadership despite enjoying a substantial price advantage over heavily-taxed non-national brands.
So is the Savvy just more bad news? It would appear not. The Savvy's unusual lines give it a spunky persona: the flared arches, pronounced shoulder line, and wheel-at-each-corner theme is Renault Clio-ish, but chunkier, and adorned with neat touches such as honeycomb-style rear lamps, stepped front window sills and a bold snout incorporating Bangle-inspired headlamps.
Proton has moved on from the schoolboy errors of the ergonomically-challenged Gen2. Its seats are properly shaped and its controls logically placed, though the fixed steering wheel is rather high for shorter drivers. Build quality has made a step forward as well, but the brittle air-con vents, hard dash plastic and self-winding rear windows remind you of its roots. Cabin space is surprisingly generous, and a flat load floor can be had with little exertion.
Association with Lotus earns Protons street-cred, and Hethel has lent a hand here, so the ride and handling seem thoroughly sorted. Despite the relatively big wheel and low-profile tyre combo, the nimble Savvy crests nasty surfaces better than many cheap superminis. It's firm, but there’s no crashing or bottoming and the Savvy's composure coupled with precise steering provide smiles as the roads get twisty.
As with many sound-handling cars, power deficiencies are more apparent. The 74bhp Renault-sourced 1.2-litre engine mated to a five-speed manual doesn’t quite have the grunt, and the need for revs to get things going turns the buzzy engine note into a resonating boom whenever the tacho nears 5000rpm.
It's not perfect, but at least this time Proton is on the right path. We'll have to wait until we drive it in the UK to see whether it has enough charm to worry the Fiat Panda.