When Proton introduced the Gen.2 many thought it was a mistake because Malaysia is a sedan market so when the Persona came out many had high expectations for it. However those who were waiting for the car were not looking for outright performance, instead they wanted a sensible, roomy and comfortable ride for the family.
Proton said they listened to their customers but sensible, roomy and comfortable are the ingredients for a boring car. is the Persona a boring car?
The Proton Persona is the car that should have come out before the Gen.2 as the real replacement to the Wira and judging from the popularity of the car, it seems that Proton has made the right decision introducing a sedan.
Malaysians want a car that is reasonably priced, roomy and looks good and the Persona scores highly on all three counts.
Obviously the looks are slightly dated, given that it is a five year old design but it is still a relatively modern shape.
Proton has been quite successful in injecting Lotus DNA into their cars and all their products now offer decent ride and handling, in fact I would go as far as to say that they are among the best handling cars in the price range .
The Persona continues with this tradition. However we have to keep in mind that the Persona is a car that is aimed at the mass market and because of this, Proton cannot tune the handling to be too aggressive but it is still a car that can be driven hard on your favourite winding roads.
The only complaint that I have is the wooden steering. The feedback is not as intimate as I would like but there is sufficient communication between tyre and driver to make sure that you know what the car is doing.
The grip limit on the Persona is not very high, although the spiderweb graph of ride and handling shows that the lateral grip level is comparable to the best cars in the class. Of course manufacturers can tune their cars to achieve higher lateral grip figures but this may come at the expense of predictability. Cars with very high lateral grip tend to give way suddenly and this can be handful for the average driver to catch.
More important than pure grip is predictability and this is what Proton engineers have focused on. If you chuck the car hard into a corner, it will tell you in advance if the rear is losing grip and this early warning will help drivers keep their cool and take early remedial action.
The Persona also has decent ride quality, it strikes a good balance between body control and suspension suppleness. This is easily demonstrated when the car drives over speedbumps and undulating roads without crashing on its bumpstops.
Secondary ride is also impressive as it absorbs minor road imperfections without shaking the occupants too much. Proton has also done a good job insulating suspension and road noise from the cabin, this helps to further enhance the feeling of chassis rigidity and stiffness.
These are of course relative measurements but I think that the Persona has the ride and handling characteristics of a European car from the 1990s rather than a Japanese model from the same time period .
In fact if I were to see a Honda City or Toyota Vios on a winding road, the Persona would be the perfect foil for a game of tag with them. In fact I dare say that I prefer the Persona’s sure-footedness over the other two which are softer sprung.
If the Persona were to lose to the City or Vios it will be down to the lack of power. The IAFM module may have improved the mid-range torque spread but the engine simply does not generate enough power to make it an exciting drive. You really have to play with the ratio and let fuel consumption suffer if you want to smile on your favourite back road.
The Persona is not really an exciting car but it manages to avoid being boring by a hair thanks to the Lotus-tuned suspension but don’t kid yourself into thinking that it is some kind of BMW beater or Civic chaser even. It would leave any Perodua in the handling stakes and can put all entry level Japanese sedans in their place but that is about it.
I think that is more than what the average customer expects.
Comfort is an important factor to consider when choosing a family car and a lot of it is determined by cabin dimensions such as leg, knee, head and shoulder room.
The Gen.2 came under heavy fire for the lack of rear headroom for taller passengers and this problem has been addressed by the revised roofline which free up a few extra milimetres of space.
In terms of overall cabin space, it can fit five average sized Malaysian adults without too much complaint although on really long drives, it is best if you travel four-up rather than five.
The cabin design has been thoroughly reworked although most of the effort was concentrated on the door panel design and materials. The door panels are now less dramatic with more conventional handles and cloth padding but this more mature look will help the car age better.
I used to hate the upholstery on the Gen.2 because it reminded me of cheap nylon trousers so it is great to see that the Persona has ditched it in favour of a more conventional weave.
Sadly the company could not afford to redesign and engineer a new dashboard, that would cost too many millions and the Gen.2 weak sales means that the original design has yet to pay for itself.
My pet peeve is the fiddly radio controls in the centre console, in fact I actually hate the the round display and tiny buttons. It reminds me too much of crop circles or the controls of an alien mothership in a really cheap sci-fi. Ugh…
I really hope that strong Personal sales will give them extra cash to redesign the dashboard soon.
Malaysians like to travel in large groups, they like to pack as many people as possible into the car and this means the bot has to be big enough to swallow all their luggage.
The Persona’s high bootline creates a big load area and it should be enough to hold four people’s weekend luggage without problems.
The Persona is not the best family sedan you can buy but that is a factor of price and what people are willing to pay for a Proton. I believe that the company already has the capability to design a car that can impress the global market but their brand strength is still very low and this prevents them from packing a lot of luxuries into their models and charging a premium.
Thankfully that has not stopped them from fitting the highline models with twin airbags and anti-lock brakes. Well if it was up to me, the car should have side airbags and a curtain bag but that may make it a bit too expensive. We Malaysians are still not willing to pay too much extra for safety features are we?
On a scale of one to ten, the Persona gets a strong six but if you factor in the price, that rating goes up one notch to seven. Give better quality interior and I may even be persuaded to give it a 7.2.
If Proton can come up with a 1.8 variant ten this car would be a great little number.