November 09, 2016 @ 07:54 PM

Review: Proton Saga - A firm step forward

Proton teaches its old dog some nifty new tricks with smart and sagacious updates that keeps the Saga relevant

Of the four new models slated to be launched this year by Proton, it goes without saying that the Saga forms the backbone of its refreshed revival under new management and will undoubtedly be cast under the notoriously critical public spotlight.

Unlike the other three models however, the Saga isn't an all-new car but rather one that is still based on its predecessor’s platform albeit with tweaks on every imaginable aspect with a view for improvement. It was going to be an evolution rather than a revolution.

The road forward starts with the body itself as the new Saga measures in 74mm longer, 9mm wider and 11mm lower although the wheelbase remains the same at 2465mm.

Plenty of design work went into the exterior and that results in a new bumper, new headlights and a new grille. Out back, the polishing of the uncut diamond continues with more angular taillights and the marque’s signature boot lid chrome garnish that lines up seamlessly with the clear reverse indicators.

The exterior is unmistakably Saga but the cosmetic enhancements were integrated so subtly that they don’t jump up at you, rather they reach out warmly and welcome you in. Being a car for the people, first impressions count a lot and the design team did a bang up job with this one.

Personally, the rear is the Saga’s best side now and Proton concurs, which explains the number of ads that depict the Saga from its tail end.

Keeping with the evolution and not revolution theme, the interior gets a refresh as well but the differences are a little more discreet than the outside.

A number of small areas tidied up come together for a dashboard that materialises miles ahead of its predecessor in terms of appearance. The air-conditioning vents and gear lever were polished while the steering wheels is an all-new piece but is mysteriously located a little offset to the left of the driver. This could have surfaced from moving the front seats outwards to create more room but being unable to relocate the steering column accordingly.

Providing an avenue to keep your smart devices charged are dual USB slots at the end of the centre console, making it accessible to all occupants. The switchgear now feels a little more robust but without sacrificing pleasant tactile feel.

Only fabric seats are available, with patterned ones setting apart the more premium variants. Rear occupants now have to sit a little more upright though but that is offset by the lengthier car adding more rear legroom.

Most importantly however, the Saga is capable of ferrying four adults over long distances without them arriving knackered.

Concurrent with Proton streamlining its model line-up; something which should have been dealt with years back, the Saga drops the 1.6-litre engine completely and will only come with the 1.3-litre CamPro VVT engine that debuted in the Iriz. This is simply to avoid the Saga cannibalising sales of the exclusively 1.6-litre Persona that sits a segment above it.

It makes do with 93bhp and 120Nm of torque, respectable figures at best but they get the job done. Proton claims consumption has improved as well with the implementation of variable valve timing and an Eco indicator helps you heal from a lead right foot.

Furthermore, the new Saga also follows in the footsteps of the Persona by having its engine mounted at three points, one less than before. This increases the loads at the points and prevents the engine from moving about too much, effectively increasing refinement.

Carried over as well is the CVT software calibration from the Persona that minimises the droning din from the gearbox and irons out the response to be more linear and gradual rather than mimicking an on-off switch in the outgoing model.

All the improvements reflected a markedly more refined and well-oiled car on the road. The puny power figures will let you cruise effortlessly at 120-130kmh but anything over 140kmh will see it struggle to keep pace.

The recalibrated transmission is now much more predictable and polished, converting minor inputs into real world variances in speed whereas previously it would take firm prods of the throttle to pick up the pace.

Suspension tweaks have also transformed the ride into something suppler that was soft enough for city use and wouldn’t float too much on the highway. Most major imperfections were dealt with before they resonated into the cabin although wind noise would howl through at speeds above the legal limit.

The Saga proved to be a versatile compact sedan throughout the drive, filling the mandatory check boxes that are demanded in an A-segment machine.

Sizeable cabin, generous boot, fuel efficiency and a decent ride help the Saga retain its title as the “kreta rakyat,” albeit marginally against the Perodua Bezza. Though the latter has a larger boot and is more fuel efficient, it lacks the refinement and versatility of the Saga that makes it a better family car.

 

Proton Saga 1.3 Premium CVT
Engine: 1332cc, DOHC 16V, variable valve timing, 93bhp @ 5750rpm, 120NM @ 4000rpm
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Performance: 0-100kph 13.1-seconds, 155kmh, 5.7l/100km
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4331mm, 1689mm, 1491mm
Weight: 1075kg
Price: RM45,800 OTR w/insurance

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