September 24, 2016 @ 05:25 PM

Proton teases the Saga and we’re tantalised

The Saga doesn’t continue with this one, it rises up to a whole new plane

It’s a busy year for Proton with a number of new model launches but none will be as important as the new Proton Saga that will be launched in the coming week. Bookings are already open for the peoples car with indicative pricing starting at RM37,000 and rising all the way to RM46,000, slotting it nicely below the Persona.

Prior to its launch on 28 September, the motoring fraternity was invited for a preview of the Saga with an opportunity to put in some laps around Proton’s oval at its Shah Alam facility.

With Proton calling it an all-new Saga, it should be pointed out that the car still rides on the same platform as its predecessor but with substantial changes across the board that we feel justifies calling it an all-new model.

From the moment the covers were pulled off, the sleeker appearance leaves quite a lasting impression. It’s instantly identifiable as a leap forward from the outgoing model but what a leap it is.

Proton’s head of design, Azlan Othman, was keen to point out that every body panel on the new Saga is redesigned and the result is an entry-level model that sports a serious premium executive facade from every angle. Every cosmetic detail is noticeably based on the outgoing Saga but what a job the designers have done polishing up each detail.

Riding on the same platform means the wheelbase is unchanged but the front and rear overhangs are now longer with the width extended as well and the ride height lowered. Compared with the Persona, the proportions of the Saga flow naturally and are easier on the eyes for a sedan. This can’t be faulted to the Persona as being positioned a rung higher necessitated a larger cabin; hence the humback impression.

The cabin feels more spacious and the all-black colour scheme works well with the revised dashboard although ergonomics does fall short a little with some controls being positioned in hard to reach spots. Vast improvements have been made in material selection and tactile feel with everything being nicer and softer to the touch even with hard plastics still being the material of choice.

Taking things to the next level in the cabin are the additions of equipment such as a reverse camera (Premium) and USB charging ports with two outputs of 1.A or 2.1A. The rear seat is also a single-piece foldable unit now although there is no flat floor once it’s dropped.

At the preview, all four variants of the Saga were available for testing. Much like the Iriz and Persona, the base Standard trim will be available in either a five-speed manual or a CVT while the Executive and Premium trims are purely CVT-only and Proton says the improvements made to the unit in the Persona carries over to the Saga as well.

You can have the new Saga with any engine you like so long as it’s the 1.3-litre Campro VVT from the Iriz. There will be no 1.6-litre variant to keep it from eating into sales of the Persona.

Power outputs are identical to the Iriz at 94hp and 120Nm of torque. Proton claims that the fuel consumption figures are 5.4 and 5.6 litres/100km for the manual and CVT but only a proper review will reveal its real world average.

In a bid to improve refinement, the engineers placed the engine in the bay with only three mounting points as opposed to four. The reasoning is that the engine will sit firmer on the three points and not move around as much, translating into reduced vibrations.

Safety has been a huge selling point for Proton in their new line-up of models with features such as six airbags together with ABS and ESC being incorporated into the entry-level models. The Saga also benefits from these safety techs trickling down into more affordable segments with ABS available on the Executive trim onwards and ESC on the Premium. However, two airbags is the maximum you will get on any variant.

This translates into a 4-star Asean NCAP rating, a notable improvement over the outgoing model’s 3-star rating. The lack of the much-touted Hot Press Forming (HPF) steel construction technology in the Saga’s body could have been played a part in not meeting the 5-star rating but including such tech would have pushed the price up considerably. Nonetheless, the torsional stiffness has been improved.

Similarly to its impressive safety features in the price bracket, another feather Proton has always had in its proverbial cap is handling. Some high-speed runs on the test oval demonstrated improved road holding and stability against its peers.

One of the weak links in the chain has always been the CVT that was poorly calibrated in its early implementations, especially in the Iriz. Excessive droning and laggy response; even by CVT standards, was the chief grievance.

Software updates in the Persona made it more responsive and Proton confirms those same upgrades are carried over into the Saga. Although the driving nature of the oval prevented us from noticing one flaw in the revisions, the updates to improve response in the CVT has also transformed its characteristics into an on-off switch which we picked up on during the Persona drive. Whether it’s mirrored in the Saga remains to be seen.

The five-speed Getrag manual made better use of the engine’s smoother power curve but we doubt many will opt for it. Noticeably exceeding the previous unit, it’s still haunted by a rubbery and sluggish shifter though the enthusiasts will appreciate the availability of a manual and the hydraulic power steering that is much more communicative than the electric power steering in the Persona.

NVH has risen to new levels for the segment. Proton put a considerable amount of engineering into improving refinement and NVH levels and the quick spin around the oval reflected it. Speeds of 150km/h still allowed for conversations without raising voices.

Proton set out to deliver an entry-level car that aced on refinement; first and foremost. From the brief stint behind the wheel, they look to have achieved that and then some. In terms of its segment, or even price bracket, the Saga delivers an immense list of kit and driving refinement.

Needless to say though, a longer period of time will reveal the true nature of the car and its characteristics but for now, it looks like Proton has hit the bull’s-eye with the Saga.

Connect to Car Magazine : Malaysian Edition! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram.