First drive of new Proton Saga to Ipoh

By JAY WONG | 24 October 2016

It’s an early morning for the local motoring fraternity, with more than 30 of us converging at Proton’s Centre of Excellence to evaluate the latest iteration of the Saga - the local carmaker’s model that started the ball rolling.

The Saga might look different, but it still uses the same platform as its predecessor.

Although the wheel arches seem to drown out the wheels, the new sheet metal does help to get this model back up to date thanks to its new curves and subtle creases - with a definitive one on its sides to give it some sporty appeal.

A quick glance at it from all angles may have some taking a longer time to admire this car and its new found looks.

The rear-end now takes on a rounded fast-back design that has helped improve the car’s overall aero-efficiency.

Proton Saga - 20 Premium
There’s minimal overhangs on the Saga, especially the boot section that could create the suspicion that space is limited for the sake of better knee room for rear-seated passengers or vice versa - this would be incorrect.

Instead, the boot accommodates up to 420 litres of space and rear leg-room is quite adequate, which is particularly satisfying to have for those long journeys.

Nonetheless, the external styling looks modern, albeit with a touch of “European” influence.

Proton Saga - 50
Opening the doors are next to effortless and the cabin looks very much inviting with the seats looking well-bolstered, but they were more towards the firmer side and didn’t have enough thigh support while the driver sits in a rather upright position for with a commanding all-round view.

Although the seat is height adjustable, it’s actually more of an angle adjustment for the base with little influence, but for for those with a height of 175cm might find the meeting point between the roof and windshield seem oddly close with a few inches of headroom left.

This means that at certain times, the rear-view mirror can turn into a slight visual obstruction that’ll require some head ducking in order to solve, just to get a better view. And since the steering wheel is only tilt-adjustable, reclining back will only put it further out of arm’s-reach.

Furthermore, the same steering wheel from the Exora / Prevé / Suprima S is being used, and has that tendency to accidentally change the Clarion entertainment unit’s mode with the ball of the palm.

From the driver’s vantage point, the screws that hold the door latches were clearly seen. It wasn’t a bother since the car is priced from RM36,800 to RM45,800 (on-the-road with GST and insurance), but they did seem odd after being screwed into a square frame instead of a round one.

It has to be noted that the arm rests at the front could have been moved a full foot (12 inches) forward to make the window controls more ergonomically accessible.

The dashboard controls have a simplistic layout no doubt and although they are intuitive, the row of buttons need to have a better tactile and reassuring feel of robustness.

It would also make more sense if they were placed above the entertainment unit for better ease of reach and visibility - since activating the front and rear fogs do not appear on the instrument cluster.

After all, such buttons which includes front fogs (Executive and Premium only), central locking, rear window defogger, hazard lights, rear fogs, parking sensors and electronic stability control (Premium only) are more of a priority.

Proton Saga - 89
Under the hood, there’s a familiar 1.3-litre (1,332cc) engine producing 94hp at 5,750rpm and 120Nm of torque at 4,000rpm to pull its 1,035 to 1,075kg (depending on variant) of kerb heft with its front wheels.

The continuously variable transmission (CVT) felt much more livelier to use with a good amount of response from it over its predecessor and has the ability to put the power down, but can it’s wheels handle whats coming? Oh yes in deed.

The Saga may use a torsion beam suspension at the rear, but it’s still able to track around highspeed corners surprisingly well - especially for the Premium variant, staying planted, with the rear-end showing much loyalty to the front for a very confidence-inspiring drive.

But, the element of float at the back starts to rear its ugly head with just a touch of it in the Executive as it rolls on 14-inch alloys with 185/60 Silverstone Kruizer1 NS800 tyres before becoming quite apparent in the Standard using 13-inch steel wheels with 175/70 Silverstone Synergy M3 tyres to water down the driving enthusiasm.

Overall, the steering now feels lighter, with a certain sharpness to it for a responsive and sporty feel, while the the suspension can and will deal with undulations and uneven road surfaces very well to provide a good amount of road surface feedback to the driver.

Not to mention, noise, vibration and harshness have been significantly quelled above legal speeds, allowing occupants to have a decent conversation even if they were to be travelling at a top speed of 180kph.

Even if one were to be travelling at such speeds, which there will be, the car will need a decent amount of braking power as well as an antilock braking system (ABS) to help avoid any surprises while on the road.

The front ventilated discs and rear drum brakes do have a decent bite to them, but there are very few people who are able to react in a manner that do not lock up the brakes - even race car drivers with their endless amount of driving experience face the same problem (watch F1 racing for instance).

Proton Saga - 32 Premium (L) and Executive
To reiterate, the Saga is a budget car to help first-time owners get rolling and if it does have a spartan-ish interior, Proton does deserve some credit in their efforts to make it comfortable, capacious and convenient in varying degrees thanks to a more sophisticated feel and looks of the “budget” materials (plastic) as well as the inclusion of more premium technologies such as Bluetooth connectivity and a reverse camera (Premium only).

What most impressed was the way it conducts itself when at slow or high speeds. Surprisingly, it’s actually a confidence inspiring budget car to drive and if some of the issues mentioned earlier fade away because of this mere fact, then this might be where the puck stops for some of us.


New Proton Saga is priced from RM36,800 to RM45,800

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