Thursday, December 23, 2010

TEST DRIVE: The Proton Inspira 1.8 has everything that a family needs and more

Test Drive: Proton Inspira 1.8 Auto
Modern, affordable, good looking

MIDSIZE family sedans forms the backbone of any automotive market and usually it is broken up into price categories with the smaller cars forming the entry level, Asian brands and their well known model lines taking up the midrange while European marques fill up demand for upmarket family transport.

Proton is an established player in the entry level and lower midrange market segment but it needed to get out of that rut and start offering quality vehicles that could carry a premium price tag and it had to get that model into the market without breaking the bank.

Realistically Proton could probably sell between 2,500 to 3,000 units in the midrange family sedan segment where prices would begin at around RM70,000 and cap at the RM100K mark. This is a small number and if it is spread evenly throughout a five-year model cycle, it represents between 170,000 to 200,000 units.

A carmaker cannot sell such low volumes of a product that carries little or no premium in its price tag so the solution was to buy into an established and proven model and make it their own, the Inspira was the result of this commercial consideration.

Camped out in the Toyota Corolla Altis, Honda Civic, Nissan Sylprhy and Kia Forte size category, the Mitsubishi Lancer was a car that had potential but hampered by limited availability and price tag that limits its sales so it made the perfect model for Proton to adopt and give its family name.

Proton’s bread and butter model in this class is the Inspira 1.8 CVT and so far the Malaysian automotive Press have given it a rather glowing report, if for nothing else other than offering an improved version of an existing product but at a far more palatable price.

The truth is, the Inspira 1.8 is a different animal from the Lancer donor model, it has a far more mature ride characteristic, that is to say the suspension soaks up bumps and irregularities like cars that are at least one size class above.

Interestingly Proton had not sacrificed driver enjoyment, instead the engineers in Shah Alam had given the Inspira a more composed chassis that relishes brisk weekend drives along twisty back roads.

The national carmaker is a rather accomplished player when it comes to chassis tuning, this is the result of their years of association with legendary British sports car manufacturer, Lotus and they had laid their magic really thick on the Inspira.

Bear in mind that the Inspira is still a family car so they could not overstep the market boundary for safe, comfortable cars so the resulting compromise is still a car that understeers safely at the limits but is generally unflustered when drivers make mistakes or sudden adjustments mid corners or when driving hard.

The 1.8-litre MIVEC power unit provides decent thrust throughout the rev range while the continuously variable transmission does a good job of seeking out the engine’s best torque position and gives the driver energetic response every time the throttle is pressed.

The result is a family car that is relaxing to drive because the engine never has to work overtime to deliver the performance that most drivers expect out of a large 1.8-litre sedan.

There is only so much that one can write about when it comes to the ride and handling of a family car because most buyers are focused on comfort, convenience and cabin size when looking for a vehicle to transport the clan.

The Inspira’s cabin dimensions are comparable to the Proton Perdana despite its compact and sporty appearance so this makes it a sensible family car option.

Proton has also thoughtfully kitted the car out with the usual necessities of a family car such as twin airbags, automatic transmission, four power windows, rake adjustable steering wheel and the usual array of cupholders and storage compartments.

Shah Alam has also developed quite a reputation for packing a decent sound system in their cars, if you are an average listener, the factory-fitted sound system is sufficient for providing crisp and clear voice and music to make your favourite radio station or artiste sound good.

We had skeptic who came all the way from Sungai Petani to test the Inspira and he gave it a thumbs up. Our skeptic is Hisham Shuib, a 40-year old teacher, car buff, classic car fan, dirt-biker and lover of anything mechanical who basically thinks that Proton cars are sold to people with no passion for driving.

 After a few minutes of silent and considered driving he finally said it: “Now this is a Proton I can recommend to anyone”.

At RM84,999, it is a good purchase and given the strong interest in the model concerns such as depreciation would also be a minor issue.

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