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Persona-fied

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I am going to start off the article by eating a bit of humble pie. I have been a Doubting Thomas for many years when it came to our first Malaysian car manufacturer.

I simply could not look past the many complaints and gripes I heard about Proton over the years.

So much so that I always have had a preconceived notion about them.

Having driven some of their cars in the past has also left me with a sour taste.

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After testing the new Proton Persona, this Doubting Thomas doubts no more. I had enough of humble pie and I am going to eat my words.

This new product is by far one of the most impressive cars Proton has ever come out with.

No more rehashing donor vehicles from Mitsubishi and the others.
This car is 100% “Buatan Malaysia” and the mob at Proton has pulled out all stops to produce a vehicle that is firstly built to impress and then to perform to meet customer expectations.

At first glance, the Persona may seem familiar – yes, it’s not that new in design concept as it is based on the Gen.2. But that’s where the similarities end.

The new Persona has been completely re-engineered as a totally new car to replace the ageing Wira.

Using the Gen.2 as the basis of the new Persona would have saved Proton countless ringgit in R&D costs. And the improvements from this car will see its way into future Gen.2s.

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In other words, what was lacking in the Gen.2 (like a glove box!) and other Proton models will be rectified in the coming facelift exercises.

What they have done in Proton was to make a list of inadequacies and combined it with customer feedback.

They then formulated a wish list and used that as a basis to build Persona.

My first experience with the Persona was the media sneak preview held at Proton’s testing facility in Shah Alam where we were given the opportunity to throw the vehicle around at the test track. I must say that the vehicle performed beyond expectations.

No squeaks or grumbles from the vehicle except for the distinct smell of burning rubber and hot brakes.

Standard rubbers on the Persona are Silverstone Kruizers 1s and I did find them a little slippy.

Swap them out for more sports or performance-oriented radials and you should be able to take full advantage of the Persona’s excellent handling dynamics.

The ride is firm yet comfortable and is reminiscent of cars of European descent.

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In the real world, you’re not going to be tossing the car around like we did on the test track and I found the Kruizer 1s to be adequate. They are quite silent too – great for those long runs on the expressway.

And it is in the real world that the Persona excels. I picked up the car at the Proton Centre of Excellence and fed it a regular diet of highway and suburban roads.

While it performed as it should on the highway, I was more concerned about its handling of suburban roads, especially those around PJ where giant potholes and speed bumps of all shapes and sizes abound.

No surprises, the Persona handled suburban driving very well. It has the ability to soften the regular height speed bumps and all but eliminated most of the potholes, except those where you need an all-terrain vehicle to cross.

As I had to do some grocery shopping for my department’s barbecue night, next was a series of parking tests and close quarters driving in the neighbourhood hypermarket. The Persona feels larger than it looks, thanks to its overall length of 4,477mm.

The car felt a little lacklustre while manoeuvring in cramped conditions. There were times I had to do a two or three-point turn while other vehicles could manage similar turns with the steering in full lock.

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Ample boot space here.

The relatively low seating position also hinders the view over the bonnet and extended boot, but making things easier is a reverse sensor, which is standard equipment throughout the model range.

When it came time to load up the boot with goodies, you will find that a full shopping cart’s worth of groceries easily fits into just the front part of the boot, with plenty of empty space still available in the back half.

At 430 litres, the Persona’s boot capacity is one of the largest in its class. Fold down the back seats flat for even more space.

Inside the Persona, there is thankfully no more plastic fake wood grain. In its place, stylish faux satin finished aluminium trim plates (albeit still plastic) on the dash are really outstanding.

But the designers really outdid themselves when they used real satin finished aluminium for the door levers – very nice! The overall feel of the interior brings the Proton’s styling cues up to date with global standards.

At the heart of the Persona is a 1,597cc 16V DOHC Campro engine, which is a carryover from the Gen.2. So is the automatic transmission but Proton has remapped the TCU for increased responsiveness.

The auto transmission now kicks down faster when you stomp on the gas pedal – great for overtaking long haul semi-trailers on the highways but more importantly I felt that the car doesn’t feel “held back” at traffic light take-offs.

As a four-cylinder car, the Persona feels grunty and aggressive, which makes highway and suburban driving equally pleasurable.

The Proton Persona offers excellent value at RM55,800 (OTR with insurance) for the High Line model and is highly competitive amongst its class.

No other manufacturer can offer the amount of kit that is included in this particular model without costing much more. It is even more value for money if you compare some 1.3-litre compacts with the Persona’s A/T Mid Line model.

Both are almost in the same price range of around RM50,000 plus. In fact, the Persona is about RM1,000 cheaper.

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