Car Review: Proton Satria Neo

Proton, as I am sure you will know are the big money behind Lotus. Last week they announced £100m worth of support to five new Lotus models (as well as a new ‘city’ concept vehicle), previously launched last September at the Paris Motor Show.

Proton Satria Review 2011

The Proton Satria Neo on the other hand is aimed towards the lower end of the market. I should mention, before testing the Satria Neo we had been spoiled, with a Volkswagen Scirocco and before that a Skoda Yeti, both excellent cars, but both at least twice as expensive as the Proton.

When the Satria Neo arrived it was a slight case of coming back down to earth with a bump. It’s not one of the best cars we have reviewed this year, but the 2011 Proton Satria is a big improvement on previous attempts and recent research has found Proton’s to be in the top 5 most reliable cars behind Honda, Toyota, Mazda and Nissan.

Starting at just £8,500 and finishing at just over £10,000, the Satria Neo is a ‘budget’ car, and it was immediately obvious the difference an extra £10-15k can make to your driving experience.

From the outside the Satria Neo is quite attractive, not in a drop dead gorgeous way, more of a cute girl next door thing. It has visual similarities with the Audi A3, and from the front, just a hint of the the old Vauxhall Cavalier. The twin racing stripes on our review model gave it a ‘sporty’, dare I say it ‘fun’ look.

Jump in, and if you’re over 6ft tall (like me), you’ll feel a little cramped in the rally car type driving seat. For a car that is long(ish), there isn’t a great deal of room in the back and I’ve driven smaller cars that feel bigger inside. The low roof doesn’t help with visibility either, and the seat doesn’t go down low enough.

Aesthetically, the futuristic air vent and blue neo(n) clock and dials suggest the designers were heavily inspired by The Matrix movies while developing this car. The rest of the interior is more rugged (see below), and while basic feels fairly tough and hard-wearing. The standard Blaupunkt stereo is good and will blast out Van Halen at Traffic lights as loud as any factory fitted one.

Incidentally, does anyone know why so many grown men are obsessed with the tactile nature of a car dashboard?

Proton Satria Neo inside

After I had forgotten how nice the Skoda Yeti was and had spent a few days with the Satria, I got to know it’s nuances and character and began to warm to it slightly. Despite it’s sporty looks and interior, it’s not particularly nippy and acceleration in 2nd and 3rd gear betrays it’s racy desires somewhat.

However, it will shift along at 90mph on a test track or where speed limits allow happily for long periods and although it’s a fairly noisy car at high speeds, it handles surprisingly well. This is probably due to the work done by Lotus Handling on the car, just down the road from here in Hethel, Norfolk.

There are one or two minor irritants that could be ironed out (or simply changed) witch would improve the whole driver experience no end, and make this a much better car. Here are a couple of examples…

You can’t open the boot from the outside, it has to be done from a switch inside the car, which can be annoying if you are carrying two heavy bags of shopping. A good idea would be to put a release button on the key fob.

Also the petrol gauge seems to go from a ‘quarter full’ to ’empty’, much much faster than the time it takes between the other segments. And there is no red ‘Warning’ bit either. I put £5 worth of petrol in (on empty) before returning, and it didn’t seem to move up at all. Which also begs the question, when is empty, really empty?

It reminded me of this scene from Seinfeld

Apparently the Satria is popular in Japan on the ‘Modified’ car scene, and a Satria Team are also competing at the Asia Pacific Rally Championship this year, so there are fans of this car out there.

Perhaps if you are smaller and younger, the Satria may be to your liking, and therefore worth taking for a test drive. It has some tough rivals in the ‘super mini’ category including the Kia Rio and Skoda Fabia and for me at the moment anyway, the rivals have the slight edge.

Proton Satria Neo’s specifications.
1.6 litre Lotus developed 16V CamPro engine
Emmissions 157/D
Insurance group 07D
0-60 in 11.40 seconds
28 miles per gallon
Top Speed up to 118mph

Grand PrixPromotion
If you already drive a Proton and fancy an all-expenses paid trip for two to watch the Brazilian Grand Prix, Lotus owners Proton are running a competition to do just that. They are giving away loads of other prizes too including iPads.
For the full info visit Competition closes 15th October 2011.