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Test drive review: 2016 Proton Persona

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Alongside the Proton Saga, the Proton Persona is perhaps the national car maker’s second best selling model, as the Persona offers a reasonably large saloon for not a lot of money.

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Given so, the Persona was an extremely dated model in Proton’s lineup, having been on sale since 2007. The Persona, which was originally based on the even older Proton Gen.2, was given several minor updates throughout its lifetime.

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In an effort to streamline its overlapping model range, Proton has seen fit to reposition the Persona as a B-segment offering, moving the Saga as an A+ segment offering. In short, the Persona is effectively an Iriz sedan.

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But wait, it is not that simple as slapping on a boot to the Iriz, as Proton has done some serious work to ensure that the Persona is properly competitive against its rivals.

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For starters, there’s the revised engine mounts. Here on the new Proton Persona (and subsequent models), the number of engine mounts have been reduced. On the Iriz, four engine mounts held the engine and gearbox in place. However, the Persona now features only 3 engine mounts. This in turn, reduces the vibrations created by the powertrain, though the engine mounts now are significantly stronger to accommodate the extra load.

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Moving on, the Persona is a properly safe car. Thanks to its roots in the Iriz, the Proton Persona can now boast a 5 star ASEAN NCAP crash test rating for all variants. Yes, you read that right. A 5 star crash test rating for all variants. That was achieved by the inclusion of ESC on all variants, including the Standard variant. In addition to ESC, all variants are equipped with at least two airbags (6 on the Premium), ISOFIX mounts, Hill Hold Assist, all round parking sensors, manual headlight levelling, ABS, EBD and Brake Assist.

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Similar to its predecessor, the Proton Persona is powered exclusively by a naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, with the biggest difference being the addition of variable valve timing (VVT). On paper, the Persona outputs 107 hp and 150 Nm, paired to a CVT or 5-speed manual that drives the front wheels.

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Speaking of CVT, the unit found on the new Persona may sport similar hardware as earlier Proton models, but the software calibration has been completely revamped here. Coupled with the reduced engine mounts, the CVT droning issue that plagued earlier models have been reduced significantly. Furthermore, the revised CVT now responds quicker to throttle inputs, which certainly enhances the driving experience of the Persona. In addition to that, Proton has done a good job with the CVT’s downhill behaviour.

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On a regular torque converter automatic, when the TCU senses that the vehicle is travelling downhill, the transmission will automatically hold a lower gear for engine braking. However on a CVT-equipped vehicle, there are no physical gears for the gearbox to engage. In turn, the CVT can reproduce a lower gear by optimizing its gear ratio, thus simulating what a regular torque converter automatic would do.

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CVT aside, Proton is also offering the 2016 Persona with a Getrag-sourced five-speed manual. As noted in our review of the Iriz 1.6 Premium, gear shifts are slick with a light clutch to boot. In addition to that, we also noticed that the manual-equipped Persona offers even better NVH levels than its automatic sibling. Acceleration is also noticeably stronger, as the manual variant accelerates with more urgency. Despite its fun-to-drive nature, Proton has seen fit to offer the manual variant solely with the Standard trim of the Persona, a misstep we feel for the driving enthusiasts.

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Behind the wheel, it is immediately obvious that Proton has taken NVH levels on the Persona to a whole new level. Sure, the Iriz had decent suppression of noise, but try out the new Persona and changes are day and night. Proton has done a really good job on reducing the road and tyre rolling noise on the Persona, as the car is remarkably quieter than earlier models.

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Ride and handling has always been Proton’s strong point. The good news continues with the Persona, as the new B-segment sedan from Proton rides over rutted roads in a manner that shames vehicles twice its asking price. When the need arises for the drive to tackle corners, they will know that the Persona is more than capable of conquering twisty roads.

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In a worst case scenario that the driver should lose control of the Persona, electronic aids such as ESC will step in and mitigate the chances of a serious accident. We were given the opportunity to sample the Proton Persona with and without ESC. Granted, the well-tuned chassis meant that it is tough to upset the balance, but if the car should lose control, ESC will step in and assist the driver to avoid danger.

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During our drive of the new Proton Persona to Kuantan, the organizers arranged a fuel economy challenge. We were required to achieve the lowest possible fuel reading by the end of the 117 km journey that covered highways, trunk roads and rush hour traffic in Kuantan. At the end of the day, most of the Personas that participated recorded between 5.4 and 5.7 L/100 km. That’s hybrid FC territory folks.

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To prevent tampering and adding a sense of realism, each participating car had its bonnet, fuel cap, trip info and air-conditioning controls taped up with anti-tamper tape. Furthermore, the air-conditioning was fixed on every vehicle, so no turning off the A/C to achieve lower fuel economy numbers. With the given time, we had to drive between 80 to 85 km/h to keep the car from consuming too much petrol. Our Carnelian Brown Persona managed 5.6 L/100 km at the end of the journey, the exact figure quoted by Proton in its brochure.

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With prices starting at a competitive RM46,800 (Standard MT), the Proton Persona offers a lot to buyers. Sure, existing Persona owners may be hard pressed to upgrade to the new model, but if they value safety with commendable fuel economy, the new Persona has a lot going for it. What’s more, the excellent driving experience plus value-added features have managed to convince over 8,000 people to book one.

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If you are in the market for a solid B-segment sedan without breaking the bank, test drive and try out the new Proton Persona. You may be genuinely surprised at how refined the new model really is. This, by far, is the most polished (barring the Perdana) vehicle to roll off the Tanjung Malim plant. Kudos to Proton for a job well done.

Specifications: Proton Persona 1.6 Premium

Price: RM59,800 (OTR with insurance)
Engine: 1.6-litre inline-4 Campro VVT
Horsepower: 107 hp @ 5,750 rpm
Torque: 150 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)