Monday, January 21, 2008

Proton Saga 2008 Review

Twenty-two years, by any measure, is a pretty long time, especially for the Internet generation. Now, if you consider that timeframe to be a saleable lifespan of a vehicle, then that duration becomes nothing short of phenomenal.

A new saga begins.Good or bad depends on how you look at it, but there’s no denying one thing – 22 years of producing a car, with little in the way of change through the years, is an achievement.

That, of course, is how long (well, 23 years, if you want to count the prototype) the original national car, the Proton Saga, has been around in the market.

Sterling in silver.This then, is the one that started it all, the car that put Malaysia on the roadmap as a country that manufactures automobiles.

Good, clean lines, indeed.When it arrived in the showrooms on July 9, 1985 in its initial four-door sedan guise, the Saga became the centre of motoring attention in the country.

People swamped all over the first examples on the road, intrigued and curious at the new offering, and despite the fact that under all the marketing hype the vehicle was essentially a redressed Mitsubishi Lancer F, there was no shortage of pride, of achievement, of having arrived.

There's gonna be plenty on the roads.A car for the people, for everyone, so it went. And the marketing played that aspect to the hilt. One of the more vivid memories I have of the car at that time was the TV commercial made in Cantonese of the "people’s hero car."
The Saga sold, and did it ever. In no time at all, Proton had captured 43% of the market share in its debut year. The following year, the car accounted for 60% of sales in the domestic passenger car sales.

Tail's nice and tight too.For the next two decades, the pioneer continued to ply its trade, from flag-bearer to workhorse, selling more than one million examples along the way.
It soldiered on, at times valiantly, through all its inherent limitations and flaws that were exposed and amplified by time and by newer cars, simply because it offered the buying public a car – with a boot – on the cheap. That it has until today continued to sell around 4,000 examples a month says it all.

Quite capable of gymnastics. Somewhat.Now, it’s time to say goodbye to a national icon. Yes, say farewell to the Proton Saga, and wave hello to its replacement, the Proton Saga.
Launched by the Prime Minister earlier today, the new entry-level offering is aimed at first-time buyers and customers looking for a replacement or additional car.

Unfettered interior doesn't look cheap.In short, it is very much a people’s car, like its predecessor. Developed in a record time of 17 months, this is the vehicle that Proton is looking at to regain ground in the marketplace, particularly in the B-segment area.
The four-door sedan can be considered a handsome replacement, displaying clean, unfettered lines; it’s a conventional enough, simple looking design that should stand up to time (and no, it isn’t expected to serve for two decades, so says its maker) and enjoy wide, mass market appeal.

Yes, plenty clean enough.In terms of overall size, it’s shorter, but wider and taller than the outgoing car, but there are key areas in which space is gained and efficiently mustered.
This, of course, would be in the interior, which measures in at 1947mm long, 1355mm wide and 1210mm tall, making it marginally wider, longer and infinitely taller than its predecessor.

What's to be found on the driver's side door card ... The cabin features class leading front headroom and legroom, ahead even of the immediate competition (the Myvi and Viva), though these nick the figures game from the Saga in the area of rear headroom (the Myvi) and rear legroom (the Viva).
Still, when it comes to boot space, the new Saga is well ahead of everything else in its price segment, offering a very healthy 413l of luggage volume capacity.

Now with IAFM ...As for interior trim and quality, the plastics are as good as can be expected of an entry-level offering. It isn’t completely tactile to the touch, but it isn't cheap looking; visually, there is nothing to complain about for this price.
The dashboard and console is efficient in presentation, and there’s no shortage of cubby holes and storage compartments, especially drink holders – two cup holders at the front and one at the rear, along with two rear bottle holders means everyone gets a slot.

Alloys come only with the M-Line.Three model lines make up the new Saga range, these being the entry level E-Line, base B-Line and M-Line, which despite its medium underpinnings, offers the highest level of specification and trim available. For the E-Line, only a manual drivetrain is available, but the rest of the line-up feature auto and manual variants.
Some quick notes on equipment levels. Power steering is standard across the entire model range, as is a two-speaker, single-disc Clarion CD receiver audio system (the M-Line gets an additional two front speakers). An alarm system is standard issue on B- and M-Line variants, but there's none to be had with the E-Line.

Automatic for the people.The entry and base line models come shod with 13-inch steel wheels and 175/70 R13 tyres, while the medium line version gets alloy wheels and 185/60 R14 rubbers. The car sits on front MacPherson struts and a torsion beam axle rear, and brakes are front discs and rear drums.
In terms of safety features, only the M-Line variant gets a single driver’s side airbag and seatbelt pretensioner. It would have been nice to see ABS available in the higher spec’d models across the range; while not anywhere close to being a deal clincher, it's still a bit of a contentious point for the safety conscious.

Quite the trick, the centre console.A single powerplant is featured throughout the range, and this is the 1.3l CAMPRO twin-cam block, though here it is fitted with a new Intake Air-Fuel Module (IAFM), which eliminates the torque dip that is common to the CAMPRO engine in the 3,500-4,000rpm range.

The result is a more linear and progressive power delivery, and in use, this also translates to improved pick-up and feel, smoother low-to-mid-speed transitions and crisper gear changes, among others.

Available in manual form too, of course.Output figures on call are 94bhp at 6,000rpm and a maximum torque of 120Nm at 4,000rpm, with the rated maximum speed listed as 160kmh for the manual and 155kmh for the auto.
As for the fuel consumption figures, something that is coming into great importance these days, the claimed figures are 6.0l for 100km for the manual, and 6.3l for the auto, though these are rated at a consistent running speed of 90kmh.

The only one, but it's definitely not a slug.At a media preview earlier in the week preceding the launch, there was an opportunity to get to grips with the new Saga, both in manual and auto form. The drive time, as is the usual with such previews, was relatively limited, but provided enough of a teaser into the workings of the car.
It’s certainly likeable enough from a drive perspective. The throttle response is a bit slow, but generally the car can be considered peppy, with decent pace and speed extension once you get going, and it displays good composure and poise running past expressway speeds.

This one is Chilli Red.The cabin is fairly well insulated, though the engine can get slightly raucous at higher operating speeds, and the manual shifter is more than a bit rubbery in feel.
On the whole though, this is obviously a product that has had some thought put into it, and structurally it feels well put together; there was enough to suggest that from a comfort level, it looks as if it should offer its occupants enough in the way of ease in mid- to long haul runs.

They've done a neat job, they have. Kudos where it's due!Finally, we come to the bottom line, which are the prices. The new Saga line-up begins at RM31,500 for the E-Line (manual only). The B-Line manual is priced at RM34,998, while the auto goes for RM37,998. The M-Line manual and auto versions go for RM37,498 and RM39,998 respectively (all on-the-road, with insurance).

Seven colour choices are available, these being Solid White, Metallic Black, Granite Gray, Genetic Silver, Chilli Red, Mountain Blue and Zircon Green. These are featured across the range for the B- and M-Line versions; the E-Line variant is available only in Solid White.

And so, a new dawn arrives ...Of note is the level of customer protection on offer – the new Saga is the first Proton model to offer a three-year manufacturer warranty or 100,000km, plus a two-year extended warranty package.

With 4,000 pre-launch orders registered for the vehicle, it’s quite a promising start for the new Saga. Clearly, it won’t have the same initial impact or numbers and certainly, not the length of production as its predecessor.

But as a successor to bear the name and wear the mantle of being the new folks’ wagon, it should do very nicely.

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