And it wasn’t the X70 sports utility vehicle (SUV) that was the top seller in April but the Saga, an updated model of which is slated to arrive in the coming months.
Moreover, with the recent launch of the updated Persona and Iriz leading to strong bookings,Proton must be doing something right again.
When Proton invited the media to get acquainted with these two latest models in a drive to Tanjung Jara, Terengganu from its Centre of Excellence in Subang Jaya, we readily accepted to see what was drawing customers strongly back to the national marque again.
As we have not had any drive impressions with the current Proton vehicle range other than the Persona (Standard CVT – continuously variable transmission – variant) about three years ago, we could approach this drive with a fresh perspective.
Both the latest Iriz and Persona are said to feature more than 300 updates and improvements each, most of them beneath the surface in addition to the visual aspects.
The body styling changes follow that first presented on the X70 with those endowed on the Iriz being the bolder of the two.
The Iriz has what Proton says is the current interpretation of the Ethereal Bow front grille with Infinite Weave pattern, which is the new styling brand trademark.
It has a more angular V-shaped theme that holds up the Proton logo nicely while the rear has a black garnish that carries the brand name for a more distinctive look.
Other complementary styling updates include the usual areas in the front and rear bumpers, a shark fin antenna and fresh design alloy wheels.
Changes to the Persona are less striking with the Ethereal Bow outline following closely that of the X70.
Supporting updates mirror that on the Iriz being new front and rear bumper designs, new design alloy wheels and a new boot spoiler.
The variants provided for the 350km-plus drive are the premium variants that top the respective range, with the Iriz Premium carrying a price of RM50,700 (on-the-road without insurance) and the Persona Premium RM54,600.
Both are powered by 1.6-litre engines and being premium variants come equipped with intelligent infotainment system, hailed as a first-in-class feature to ‘revolutionise’ the market.
The system uses an embedded eSIM card to stay connected to the Internet as well as offers apps for music streaming, online navigation and voice recognition accessed via a 7-inch touchscreen on the centre dash area.
The launch price package includes five years free internet data of 12GB annually among other items, including flood relief allowance of RM1,000!
Sounds cool but my co-driver, who is a techie, wasn’t too impressed as he found the system to be not very user-friendly generally and the internet connection patchy.
He also couldn’t remove the vehicle service reminder on the meter panel and consulting with members of the back-up crew didn’t help either.
He also tried out the Voice Command that was activated by saying ‘Hi Proton’ and appeared reasonably satisfied with the ‘command functions’ available.
Our east coast drive started with the Iriz Premium and we were soon checking out the 109PS and 150Nm from the 1.6-litre double overhead cam engine with VVT (variable valve timing).
Being a compact hatchback that tips the scales at a little under 1,180kg, it picked up the pace quite quickly without raising too much of a CVT roar.
When given the open road, we were keeping up with the lead car, an X70, quite nicely even at paces beyond the legal speed limit.
Engine speed was from about 4,000rpm to more than 4,500 but the robust driving had one adverse effect.
By the time we reached Kuantan, the Iriz had gone from full tank to the quarter level and needed a refuel for the second leg to Tanjung Jara (one Iriz team even reported the low fuel light flashing).
Dynamically, the Iriz took to the winding roads reasonably well although we noted some vagueness in directional feedback from the electric power steering.
It took to bumps and road undulations well, offering good ride comfort that reminded us of cars from Europe (perhaps the groundwork in suspension tuning by Lotus had a hand in that).
The Iriz was also aerodynamically efficient in body profile as wind noise was quite well subdued and it felt nicely planted while tearing along on the highway.
Stepping into the Persona, we noted the similar dashboard layout, including the control panel below the 7-inch touchscreen (where the central locking and traction control buttons are).
Hitting the accelerator, we noticed a marginally slower initial pace as the Persona Premium is 15kg heavier than the Iriz Premium at 1,193kg.
However, once it gained momentum, the Persona accelerated to illegal speeds just as quickly on the highway, where overall impressions were similar to that in the Iriz.
We had fewer winding stretches to check out the Persona’s dynamic performance, until the dynamic session at the Gong Badak stadium in Kuala Terengganu.
This was to highlight both cars’ suspension damping quality by running over wooden boards nailed to the road and their dynamic prowess through a slalom drive and “moose avoidance” manoeuvre.
It was done around 50-60kph but lest you think that it was way too slow, you would be surprised at how violent a car would react at those speeds, especially in the last two routines.
We made a mess of the slalom section in the Persona by going in a wee bit too fast (about 65kph), knocking some cones over and bypassing a section altogether.
The “moose avoidance” routine was to approach the section at 50-60kph, lift off the accelerator and turn the steering wheel almost full lock to avoid something or someone coming onto our path.
This was followed by turning the steering wheel back to return to the original lane; we barely made that manoeuvre and avoided hitting some cones by just a whisker.
The screeching of the front tyres revealed the understeer the Persona was put through and the violent manner in which the car behaved underscored the danger of driving too fast.
It might have traction control but when you drive too fast, the law of physics take over and nothing could restore poise other than to reduce speed drastically.
Hitting the brakes at that moment wouldn’t help as it would exaggerate the understeer and having the car going straight instead of turning.
The compact Iriz was more manageable as we could complete the slalom section without knocking any cones.
The Iriz hatchback, unlike the Persona sedan, didn’t have a rear end that was more prone to break away in an oversteer.
This fun session gave us greater insights into these Proton models’ dynamic quality, which basically sums up what we like best about them in addition to their good ride comfort.
These qualities might just be what some Proton customers are looking for along with the Iriz’s good looks and a good level of standard features across the model variants.