When Proton first started selling cars in the UK, the average age of its customers was 55. Seventeen years on, Proton are realising that they need cars that will appeal to young blood as well as their loyal blue-rinsers. They are hoping their first attempt at a five-door city car is going to do just that, as it is forecasted to account for over 50% of Proton's total sales in 2006.
Prices start at just £5995 for the Savvy Street, but the Style version on test, which receives alloy wheels, electric front windows and air conditioning is likely to be the bigger seller.
What’s it like?
This particular Malaysian tiger has always appeared sensible, never savvy. But despite their current line-up of Gen-2, Jumbuck and the extraordinarily ugly Impian, Proton have succeeded in creating a car that is more memorable than all three, while still majoring on value.
Compared to its siblings, it displays aesthetic flair. The stepped window-line may look slightly uncomfortable for a car so stubby, and the ‘sporty’ centrally positioned chrome exhaust should not be interpreted as promising performance - you will find yourself yielding on many a green light stampede.
The 1.2-litre unit’s power delivery is linear and offers 13bhp more than Kia's identically priced Picanto 1.1LX. Harsh vocals accompany you right up to the 6100rpm redline, and the intrusive boom period encroaching 5500rpm encourages you to prematurely acquaint yourself with a ‘box that feels both sloppy and stodgy.
Interior space is larger than the Picanto, but refinement is disappointing. There is a confusing use of interior plastics: the black plastic centre console doesn’t fuse too politely with cream A-pillars nor the grey, hollow two-piece slab plastic lining the interior doors. The three-spoke steering wheel, complete with TT-mimicking aluminium ringlet, is similarly low-rent.
The lack of reach and rack movement is likely to impede taller drivers' view of the top of the day-glow yellow dials. The car's manual and handbrake lever gaiter are tailored out of that '80s vinyl plastic which feels worse than it looks, and the glovebox on our car didn’t sit flush to its mountings. Not having a key-operated boot release is an oversight.
But it’s not all bad. Despite not making the usual claims about an umbilical attachment to Lotus, the ride is firm but comfortable, coping well with pot-holes, grids and other road litter - although vague steering inhibits the experience from being fun. The rear seats offer impressive space and all-round visibility is good, which compensates for the standard but useless rear-parking sensors.
Should I buy one?
The Savvy is a positive move for Proton. But as a new supermini, it doesn't offer anything different. It’s a cheap way to get on the road, especially with Proton’s extensive warranty and finance packages, but the car lacks polish and the brand lacks credibility.