December 07, 2016 @ 07:40 PM

Review: Proton Iriz 1.6 Premium MT - The last of the Mohicans

Looking for an affordable manual but can’t face blank buttons as a constant reminder of how low down the trim-tree you had to slide? Proton has you covered but probably won’t make a habit of it

The dwindling mass of manual enthusiasts makes the perfect watertight justification for the bean counters to hasten the demise of cars with three pedals on sale here. Sure you can still opt to row your own cogs but the majority of those cars call the premium sports segment home. To add insult to injury, you still have to special order a manual in some cases.

However, that’s not to say that there aren’t any affordable manuals for sale. There are plenty, with the bulk of them found in the showrooms of the local carmakers. Nonetheless, the lion’s share are relegated to the dungeons of the trim options with only the bare-bones, entry-level options packing a self-shifting box.

Furthermore, only Proton can truly lay claim to injecting ride and handling that would actually complement the dictation of your own gears. The rest are simply econoboxes with a manual.

So if you’re in the market for a manual without every surface a stark reminder that your love for driving won over your love of creature comforts, you’re sadly out of luck.

That is until Proton announced at the launch of the Iriz a couple of years ago that they would be offering a limited run of the range-topping Iriz 1.6 Premium with three pedals and a five-speed manual from Getrag.

Cue the hymns as the prayers have been answered. Prior experience with the CVT-equipped Iriz has proven that the Lotus-tuned ride and handling DNA is still very much ingrained in its chassis with the transmission being the weak-link in that chain.

Now you can get an Iriz with all the bells and whistles whilst shifting your own gears as well. Well, the caveat here is that you could have. Proton only rolled out 500 units and they’ve all found homes although word is that some of the owners aren’t too pleased with daily driving a manual and a daft sod even bought his wife one, no surprises that she let all hell loose on him. So maybe with some luck you’ll find one for sale sooner rather than later.

The Iriz marked a monumental leap forward for the brand in terms of cabin materials. Tactile feel skyrocketed with the smart implementation of quality materials, smart design cues and solid ergonomics. It felt premium to the touch and could very well hold its own in a price bracket above its current dwelling.

Some of the cumbersome drawbacks had yet to be completely eradicated though. Buttons and knobs still lacked the refinement and fluidity in their operations. The 6.2-inch touchscreen infotainment unit; while welcome, still lacked the precision and sensitivity with input. It does numb the annoyance a little with navigation, a reverse camera, Bluetooth connectivity and USB inputs as standard. You even get an engine start-stop button.

Proton are keen to point out that their vehicles are some of the safest for its price bracket and sitting atop the Iriz food chain meant that this variant packed stability control, six airbags, hill-start assist and Isofix anchorage points

Outside, distinguishing the Premium trim is a rear spoiler, LED DRLs and a body kit. Wheels consist of 15-inch alloys.

Although the five-speed manual now eliminates the laggy CVT, the 1.6-litre VVT engine still churns out its peak power rather high in the powerband at 5750rpm and is hardly enthusiastic in the low end. Even the maximum torque of 150Nm comes in at 4000rpm, rather high up for what is fundamentally a city runabout.

The manual allows you to work the revs up into powerband and exploit those 107bhp into evoking the impressive handling. Coming from Getrag, the transmission itself is commendable with precise, albeit rather long throws. It isn't the meatiest of shift feels but unlike the manual in the Saga, it tightens up physical links for a solid, slick movement.

Coupled with Proton’s extensive knowledge of tuning a ride that is fun without compromising on comfort, the Iriz manual is a hoot to hoon around and will carve a wide smile on the face of anyone that gives it a go.

A stiffer chassis keeps the front end pointed in the right direction and on a stable footing with understeer creeping in mildly so as to let the driver know to lift off the throttle without cause for concern. Offsetting the rigid shell are springs and dampers that lack the jarring rates that would otherwise soil the driving experience.

Stopping power consists of discs up front and drums out back, more than adequate in bringing the hatch to halt. Initial bite could be a little firmer but nothing some seat time won’t help acclimatise with. Once the modulation has been perfected, cue the heel-toe downshifts.

At the end of the day, the Iriz is still a city slicker rather than an outright performance model and as such, still needs to perform adequately as one. The average consumption of 11.5km/l meant that the fun factor didn’t eat into its ability as a daily runabout.

Proton has pretty much perfected the formula of an affordable yet fun car to drive. Almost all their models boast handling that is well above the segment’s average and manage to do so without sacrificing any of the key aspects expected of a Proton.

At the end of the day, the Iriz 1.6 Premium Manual is still very much an accomplished entry-level hatchback that bucks the trend of trading an auto for blank buttons. For that, we’re eternally grateful to Proton for rolling out this trim for enthusiast can now have car that’s fun to drive on a daily basis without breaking the bank.

The question remains though of the sustainability for a high-spec manual and unfortunately; as much as this Iriz fought a case for itself, its days appear to be numbered and the Iriz 1.6 Premium Manual could very well quite the last of its kind.

Proton Iriz 1.6 Premium MT
Engine: 1597cc, inline-four, variable valve timing, 107bhp @ 5750rpm, 150Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 11.1sec 0-100kmh, 175kmh, 6.6l/100km
Dimensions (l/w/h): 3905mm, 1720mm, 1550mm
Weight: 1165kg
Price: RM59,880

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