October 15, 2016 @ 07:09 PM

Review: Proton Persona - Scene two, take one

The first Persona was a surprise success, especially so given the internal competition it had to overcome, but Proton were prepared this time around for its successor and went to town with it

It goes without saying that Proton will be betting on the all-new Persona to replicate the surprising sales performance of its predecessor that was borne as an afterthought and had the misfortune of having to grapple internally with its Waja and Preve siblings that shared a similar footprint and were not divided distinctively enough by their pricing brackets.

On hindsight, cannibalising sales from within was foolish but nonetheless, the Persona stood out for its promising handling and generous proportions given the pricing. Although it remedied some of the Gen.2’s shortcomings, it was still mostly a cut-and-paste job by adding a boot to a hatch.

With it knocking on the door of a decade, it was time to replace the reliable soldier and as is evident this time around, Proton has got its act together and is in the midst of completing the consolidation of its line-up to prevent its own models from going up against each other.

Furthermore, plenty of thought has been invested in the new Persona with Proton positioning the successor a rung lower over the outgoing model with the recipe once again being pinched from its predecessor by basing it on a hatchback; the Proton Iriz, but with substantial improvements that justify Proton defending it being labelled an Iriz with a derriere.

Sliding down a step in the sizing segment sees the new Persona being a labelled a B-segment sedan and naturally, the all the dimensional figures reflect that accordingly except for the height that has grown a little to necessitate a roomier interior.

The front bears a striking resemblance to the Iriz but Proton point out that only the front fenders, front doors and front glass are shared with its hatchback platform.

From the side, its silhouette doesn’t exactly do it any favours. A proper three-box sedan it may be but the rear does its best impersonation of a hunchback to increase cabin space. A side effect that is becoming increasingly commonplace is the under-tyred impression given off by the bulbous greenhouse.

Nonetheless, the Persona is a handsome chap as having a front end based on the Iriz will only work in its favour and the wraparound taillights grab attention from the rear with a detail line that flows from the edge and blends into the rear doors.

It’s not short on detailing, much like the Iriz. An optional body kit can be had with the Persona and Proton mentioned that five per cent of orders ticked that box.

Stepping inside reveals a fairly identical cabin to the Iriz but with a new dual-tone, black on beige scheme, that appeals to certain quarters and breaks the monotonous all-black of the Iriz.

Switchgear quality has improved modestly over the wobbliness of certain knobs in the Iriz and the storage spaces are generous, allowing plenty of knick knacks to be stashed away. Dual USB power outlets are a welcome addition and easily accessible from the front and back seats. Keyless entry and a push-start button add to the convenience but can only be had further up the food chain.

The humpback impersonation bears fruits with the rear headroom that swallows even the vertically gifted and larger rear seats offer more support all around than the putgoing model ever could. For storage convenience, the rear seats can be split 60:40 although that nifty feature is excluded from the Standard variant.

Safety is one of Proton’s USPs and the Persona doesn’t skimp on that end. Dual front airbags with stability control and ABS/EBD are standard across the range and good for a five star Asean NCAP rating. The Premium variant gets the full six airbags and a reverse camera.

Power comes from the 1.6-litre inline-four mill with variable valve timing that also calls the Iriz home. The figures are modest at 107bhp with 150Nm of torque. A five-speed manual and Punch Powertrains CVT are the transmission of choice with the former making up 10 per cent of orders thus far.

Like the rest of its Proton peers, the Persona exudes ride and handling manners that outclasses anything else in that price range. The Iriz made a strong case for itself and Proton has further reinforced that notion with the Persona.

The road holding is far beyond average with characteristics that would impress anyone that gets behind the wheel. Highway speeds saw it sitting firmly and composedly even as the speedometer ticked past 170km/h.

NVH levels have also been addressed with some smart suppression techniques such as mounting the engine on three points to increase the load levels, thus keeping the engine pressing firmer and moving around less to reduce vibrations. The above average highway speeds was also a good display for the dampening of wind and tyre noise that now keeps the cabin quieter.

Even with the deceptively small tyres, the Persona demonstrated road-holding beyond its diminutive nature as the route took us off the highway and onto some twisty trunks roads. It wasn’t exactly a canyon-carver but the Proton dispatched some bends with verve and was fairly confidence-inspiring to those behind the wheel.

If there was an area to improve on, it would be the electric power steering that had its moments of quirkiness but nothing alarmingly so. It was communicative and the calibration was on point enough to not make us miss the chattiness of hydraulic setups.

One of the major quibbles with the Iriz was the CVT transmission. Though mechanically identical, the Persona’s CVT has had considerable recalibration to the software to enhance the performance.

Gone is the dreadful droning of the Iriz’ CVT and the lacklustre response when more throttle is applied. However, the laggy responsiveness appears to have been replaced by an on-off switch. Though the snappier power delivery makes it easier to live with, the ability to modulate the power delivery takes a back seat but is nothing that a couple of hours behind the wheel won’t see you adapting to.

The rated fuel economy figure is 6.1-litres per 100km and we averaged around 7.0-litres per 100km. Given that the average highway speeds hovered around 140kmh and city traffic was backed up, the real world economy is promising and keeping a level head together with a lighter right foot will definitely be reflected by lower figures.

Being aimed at more family-oriented buyers, the Persona keeps comfort levels on par with its handling prowess, which is to say excellent.

Proton will certainly be counting on a successful second act for its Persona performance. Much like how its predecessor added a boot and smoothened some of the rough edges, the successor takes a leaf out of the same book but with the script rewritten to reflect more refined language that would appeal to a wider range of buyers and with bookings hovering around the 10,000 mark, it looks like a sell-out show.

 

Proton Persona 1.6 Premium CVT

Price: RM59,350 OTR w/insurance

Engine: 1597cc, inline-four, DOHC 16V, variable valve timing, 107bhp @ 5750rpm, 150Nm @ 4000rpm

Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive

Performance: 0-100kph 10.9-seconds, 6.1l/100km

Dimensions (l/w/h): 4387mm, 1722mm, 1554mm

Weight: 1210kg

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