Well there’s a blast from the past. A pretty unwelcome one at that
Hold on there. Don’t you remember the old Satria GTi? Okay, so the engine was rough as a a belt-driven sander and the square exhausts and riveted-on arches looked terrible, but it drove well. Very well in fact, because it had been for a chassis work-out at Lotus.
So what you’re saying is this is actually a hardcore hot hatch
Not exactly, although a hotter one is on the way and this one doesn’t look at all bad. The shape is modern if not exactly distinctive and there are some smart touches on even the most basic versions, including a chrome centre-exit exhaust.
But it's a Proton - I’m wincing at the prospect of the interior
With good reason. It looks smart enough, particularly in this dark press shot, the centre console looks great and the dials glow appealingly at night. But in daylight, or under closer examination, it’s obvious that the quality is a million miles away from what the big manufacturers are doing. It’s not even that roomy. The heavily raked windscreen and a seat that just doesn’t drop anywhere near low enough mean most drivers will have to adopt a lounging posture to avoid banging their head on the sunvisor. And anyone over 6ft will find the seat doesn’t go back far enough. Back-seat accommodation is just as bad. Legroom and headroom are both poor.
Let me guess, it redeems itself the moment you turn the key
We haven’t driven a hatch with this much passive rear-wheel steering for years. It never feels like it’s going to bite you, but as you turn into the corner you can really feel the outside rear boot doing its share of the work and the nose diving into the apex. The steering has proper hydraulic assistance and feels it: it's quick, accurate and nicely weighted. The Satria rides well too but it’s still short on refinement – there’s too much wind and tyre noise, and the Campro engines don’t seem to do much work below 4000rpm and get rowdy if wound out much beyond 5000rpm. The 94bhp 1.3 needs 12.1sec to reach 62mph and is all done by 112mph, but that’s still more performance than you’d expect for £8k. The 1.6 churns out 111bhp and only chops 0.6sec from the 1.3’s sprint time, but is actually more economical, managing 42.8mpg compared with 39.8 for its smaller brother.
So it all comes down to the money?
It always does with cars at this end of the market. And the Satria is both cheap and well equipped: £7995 for the basic 1.3 SX (CD player, air-con, electric windows); £8995 for the GSX (foglamps, 16-inch alloys and colour-coded body bits); and £9595 for the 1.6 GSX. You’d struggle to find a new rival offering as much kit and performance for the money, but cars that come close include Peugeot’s 207 1.4 S and Chevrolet’s Lacetti 1.4 SE.
The Satria Neo is another good effort from Proton, but again one that falls short of the standards we expect. While temptingly priced and surprisingly good fun to drive, it also feels cheap, cramped and unrefined. Fifteen years ago when cars came with just a 12-month warranty we could understand why buyers would demand a brand new car. But when you could buy an immaculate nearly new example of a far better car and still have the security of a three-year warranty, we struggle to find justification for a car like the Satria. Even with the little bit of Lotus magic in the chassis.