The new Persona is something of a quantum leap forward for the Malaysian car builder, Proton, a company that has enjoyed great success in the 4 years since it first appeared in the U.K. and is now one of the most rapidly expanding of the emerging Pacific Rim car makers in the fastest growing economy in the world.

Proton was only introduced to this country in 1989 and since that launch sales have really taken off, 60,000 cars having been sold with annual percentage increases rivalling almost any car maker active in the U.K.

This rapid growth has been due to the cars offering such excellent value for money. Starting at well under £7,000, confidently backed by first class warranties and with superb reliability, they have attracted a loyal band of followers.

But, the saloons and aerobacks are just a trifle old-fashioned, square cut, taking Japanese technology of a few years ago and repackaging it at a remarkably low price with no diminution of quality. Meat and gravy to a huge section of the car buying public who really don't want the very latest technology but not the stuff of a mainstream car maker and that is what Proton are very determined to be.

The situation completely changes with the Persona for this is a bang up to date design aimed at a very modern market with all of the latest features contained in a smoothly rounded body, a car equipped to do battle in the fierce mid size saloon sector, with style, quality and price all in it's impressive armoury.

The Persona range runs from under £9,000 for the 1.5 GLi through 2 body styles – saloon and 5 door hatch - 2 engine and 4 trim levels to just £11,000 for the 1.6 SEi that I drove, so you still get that excellent value.

A very smooth body design features a neat boot spoiler, big glazed areas for a large, airy, cabin, all colour coded bumpers for a sleek look, big door impact bars and a low CD which allows very low levels of wind, tyre and engine noise.

The whole package feels very solid and well built and a close inspection of the panel fit and finish confirms this view. The roomy 4 door saloon body is well trimmed with very good head and legroom, the front seats are both comfortable and supportive, the rear seats are well shaped and the large boot area is easily accessed with 60/40 split rear seats to extend it's usefulness.

The curves of the body are echoed in the cabin which is well trimmed in a durable cloth and is very well put together. The swooping dash carries large, very clear, instruments and the switch gear is well to hand. Many lessons have obviously been learned from the best of European car makers for the Persona is a good example of how to layout a user friendly driving area.

The 1.6 SEi top of the range model is very well equipped with power steering, electric windows and mirrors, a manual sunroof, central locking and a good 6 speaker Blaupunkt stereo. A lively drive is given by the all new, 16 valve, 1600 cc, 111 bhp, engine, a power plant both willing and refined, able to cruise comfortably at motorway speeds and well mated, in this case, to a very smooth, 4 speed, autobox with overdrive - an £800 option - a light, 5 speed, manual gearbox being standard. The auto box offers both power and economy modes and the difference between the 2 is quite striking, being quite a nippy performer in the power mode. 

The steering is precise, if perhaps a bit light and the car handles responsively, it's a lively and easy drive with comfortable ride imparted by the complex, multi-link, rear suspension and twin anti roll bars. Discs all round provide very good braking.

That low price includes a remarkable 6 year or 60000 miles powertrain warranty, 6 year body work warranty and 2 years RAC membership, incredible value for money. A very likeable, easily driven and smooth car, with that big car quality feel, the Persona will doubtless sell very well into a whole new market place.

First Published 1995 - Article © Graham Benge 2007

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