Car reviews - Proton - Persona - GLi 5-dr hatch
Performance, equipment, price
Room for improvement
Noise levels, downmarket interior
14 Jun 2001
THE Persona is a mildly facelifted and renamed Proton Wira, which was introduced to Australia in 1995.
Poor sales saw the re-launch of the marque in November, 1996, along with the appealing entry level three-door Satria hatch and the sporty two-door M21 Coupe during 1997.
Protons - which stands for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Berhad - are more competent than some people would think.
Clearly based on the previous-generation Mitsubishi Lancer, the Wira has been subject to substantial changes.
For instance, there was no Lancer equivalent to the spacious five-door Persona Aeroback and subtle revisions have kept the neat styling somewhat fresh and distinctive.
The Persona's strengths lie in its good build quality, value for money and proven engineering.
The unexpectedly high noise/vibration/harshness levels and seemingly cheap plastics inside detract from the car's appeal.
The Persona comes in two models. There is the base GLi four-door sedan or Aeroback and the more powerful Persona Aeroback XLi.
The GLi is motivated by Mitsubishi's 66kW, 1.5-litre, single overhead cam, 12-valve, four-cylinder engine as found in current Mirages and some Lancers. Transplanted into the Persona, the engine is gutsy and economical but also a little noisy and unrefined.
The 1.5-litre engine only gets a three-speed as its optional automatic. Some buyers won't care, but generally it is a good case for spending the extra on upgrading to the 1.6-litre XLi that not only has more power, but also has an electronically controlled four-speed as its auto option.
The three-speed simply lacks the ratios required to give balanced performance on either suburban streets or the open road. Today's new-car buyers have been driving four-speed autos for too long to be able to regress comfortably to 70s-style transmissions.
So the overall driving experience depends on the model: the manual 1.5 is adequate, while the 1.6-litre revs sweetly and is better than expected regardless of the transmission chosen. Eighty-three kilowatts from 1.6-litres is not a bad effort, and in this case it doesn't mean a lack of mid-range torque or low- speed response.
Standard GLi features include air-conditioning, power front windows, central locking, power steering and four-speaker radio/cassette.
Lancer drivers will feel at home in the Persona with its light but slightly desensitised steering, fail-safe but uninspiring handling and roadholding, good engine response and good driving position.
Only the firm and shapeless seats in the base GLi spoil the comfort factor inside. There is plenty of room for four adults - five at a pinch.
The Proton might still not be too familiar on our roads, and it may be looking dated compared with its state-of-the-art rivals, but it still offers dependable, budget motoring.
Automotive NetWorks - 25/06/99
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