Blog: Dave LeggettProton by Lotus

Dave Leggett | 21 January 2005

A Proton Gen-2 was delivered today and I have just been out for a spin. I told myself: no preconceptions. I tried to put thoughts of the first generation Mitsubishi Lancer-based Proton Mpi out of my head. That cheap but rather mediocre car debuted in the UK market around 1990 and there are still many on the road, which is certainly testament to their reliability.

But there is a brand image issue for Proton I think, if it wants to be taken seriously in the long run - in Britain anyway.

The popular view of the proud British Proton driver is late middle aged, not terribly sophisticated, probably eats meat pies by the dozen, thinks Rudyard Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes and is prepared to search high and low to save a penny on a tin of baked beans. Once upon a time he’d have been the proud owner of a Skoda Estelle, but Skoda moved up in the world.

That brand perception issue will take some dealing with – assuming that Proton actually wants to move the brand, it might not - and Proton isn’t exactly a company with a certain future right now. 'Steady ship, get the sales in' might make a lot of sense. And wait and see what comes out of the wash with Volkswagen. And, indeed, whether Proton itself has a viable future as a carmaker.

Anyway, the car – some first impressions. Lotus Engineering has been heavily involved with its development I believe – engine is ‘campro’ 1.6 litre, developed by Lotus for Proton. That seemed pretty peppy to me: very good for a car in this class (Gen-2 retails around £10,000, list). Handled well around corners too - Lotus did ride and handling - though I did not exactly take it to its limits. Very competent external styling means it doesn't look bargain basement on the street. Sports style analogue displays worked well too - very Lotus. Bad things? Well, you have to ask yourself, what do you expect at this price? Obviously, cheap hard plastic was in abundance (regrettably even the steering wheel). Overall though, a decent effort for £10K and a lot better than previous models. 

I guess Proton could play up the Lotus link more, but maybe things are uncertain there as far as the future is concerned and how close Proton will get to Volkswagen. Plus it's a rather double-edged sword of course - Lotus might not exactly be champing at the bit for loud Proton associations. And do the Proton meat pie eaters care all that much anyway?



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