30 years ago, the personal computers were launched to the masses, the Apple Macintosh was a revolution, and Madonna shocked the world with her VMA performance. It was also the year Malaysia gets its first entry into the automobile scene with Proton. A brainchild of Malaysia’s former prime minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, it paved the way in revolutionizing the Malaysian motor industry. By enforcing higher import duties to every single manufacturer except Proton, it has a huge advantage in Malaysia by dominating the market. 30 years later in 2015, the personal computers were reduced to being tablets, the Apple Watch was a revolution, and Madonna shocked the world with her Coachella performance. And Proton did not dominate Malaysia’s automobile market but rather another local manufacturer did; Perodua. But that is another story to tell later. 30 years and the automotive industry has changed as well. Back then you would be dropped dead driving a Hyundai Excel but now the Hyundai Sonata actually looks really appealing. Proton? Well, to put it kindly, they still looked bad but with the Iriz, hopefully things are going well. To celebrate Proton’s 30 year milestone, here is the list of 30 of its cars rated from worst to best.
UPDATE: With Proton launching 4 new models in 2016, we decided to add in the four models. Read on to see where they rank
34. Proton Juara
Juara means champion in the Malay language. But this is not one. The Juara represents Proton at its worst, The quality is bad and when it was first launched it turned a few heads. It is the lowest selling Proton to date with under a few thousand sold in its three year production. I drove one and I really hated it. Slow, highly unstable when in corners and really fugly to look at.
33. Proton Tiara
The odd one out. Mainly because it is actually a Citroen underneath instead of a Mitsubishi (The POS Juara was based on a Mitsubishi Town Box van). Cheap when it was made, cheap as chips now with some going for RM1500 in the used car market. A perfect car to hoon around in, i.e. Destroy the shit out of. The car was slow and the design changes actually made it uglier than the cleaner AX its based on. If you want to experience how cheapness feels like, this is the car for you.
32. Proton Arena/Jumbuck
Proton’s idea of a ute, a pick-up truck based on a car platform. Needless to say, it is the ONLY Proton to sell well in the export market rather than the domestic market. Supposedly highly in demand in Australia especially. That is until a crash test revealed it to be one of the unsafest cars in the market, scoring 1 out of 5 stars. When you sell it for cheap, that is what you get. Based on the old Wira platform, it is more of an urban workhorse rather than an off-roader.
31. Proton Saga LMST
By the mid-2000s Proton were thinking that their cars are more white goods than real actual cars. So, what did they do? Instead of replacing cars every 5 years, Proton continued to sell the car that started the whole Malaysian motoring revolution, albeit with a facelift. By facelift I meant putting the front of an Iswara and mating it with the rear of a Saga Aeroback. It was supposed to compete with Perodua’s Myvi, instead it became a symbol of Proton’s old-age philosophy that if it still works, why replace it? Proton also used this philosophy to the Wira and Satria. Also, it marked a decline in Proton’s hold in the automobile market. They continued producing this until 2007 when the new Saga replaced it.
30. Proton Perdana Mk1
Once upon a time, Malaysia had a very strong economy. One that enticed investors from around the world and Malaysia became all of a sudden pretty rich. To accommodate the burgeoning middle class, Proton decided to tackle to upper echelons known as D-segment. What lies beyond this segment is large cars like Camrys and Accords. Needless to say, Proton did succeed. For a while. Production lasted for only 4 years before Proton decided to cut it off. The Perdana soldiered on in a more powerful V6 variant. More on that later.
29. Proton Perdana MkII
Now, before I proceed, I would like to clarify that the picture shows a Honda Accord. Because essentially, the Perdana Mk II looks exactly like a Honda Accord slapped with Proton badges. Heck, it is even built in a Honda factory! It is not available for the public but rather for high ranking government officials. So, details are pretty scarce but it probably drives, handles, and smells like an Accord.
28. Proton Perdana MkIII
Unlike the Accordana, the latest Perdana is more than just a simple copy and paste. The whole car is redesigned and is in fact longer than the Accord it was based on. The drivetrain, engine, and well almost everything underneath remains the same as the Accord but it is so expensive. A used Honda Accord costs cheaper to buy and while it may be second hand, it costs similar to maintain The handling is not much to shout about and it is boring to drive. I’ve reviewed it here.
27. Proton Waja Chancellor
This Waja limousine is one of the rarest Proton cars to be built. The Chancellor is a stretched Waja that offers gizmos like rear air-con and a DVD player. It even has a V6 engine from the Perdana. However, it is only available in automatic, which in a Proton Waja means it is slow and unreliable.
26. Proton Gen-2
Once again, Proton showed the world why it still did not learn anything when it comes to building cars. Billed as a replacement to the ageing Wira, the Gen-2 actually ticks the box in terms of style and handling. What it lacks is everything else, the quality is bad, the Campro engine is horrible and utterly unreliable, and the car does not even have a glovebox! Proton managed to fix this though.
25. Proton Gen-2 ecoLogic
Proton managed to fix all that is wrong with the first generation Gen-2 by replacing the Campro engine with a cam profile switching (CPS) update which at least improve the quality. The unique thing about the facelift was not the engine but Proton’s greener variant, the ecoLogic. Only available in the UK, this is actually a converted Gen-2 that is able to run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and normal petrol. Essentially, this is Proton’s first hybrid car! Even with a greener fuel alternative offered, Proton looked more like an outdated hippie-wannabe than a modern hipster.
24. Proton Exora
Before the Exora came about, Proton referred to a book titled “How to Build an MPV” and this is what they came out with, a full MPV package with all the technology and gizmos needed to entertain a family on their trip to the seaside. Except one problem, the car was too heavy and the 1.6-litre Campro engine could not cope with the weight. Thus, it was too slow and being hauled up by one is a common sight in Malaysian traffic jams. In fact most jams in Malaysia are being caused by an Exora because of it being too slow.
23. Proton Ertiga
Proton’s latest car is just another rebadge of a Japanese car. But hold on, isn’t this the Suzuki Ertiga? Well, yes it is. In other words, meet Malaysia’s newest taxi. It’s cheap, slow, and Proton would gladly sell it to taxi drivers because let’s face it, no one in the public would buy one. It’s high up here compared to the Perdana because it is cheap. On the flipside, you hardly get any equipment. No Bluetooth, a 1.4 litre engine that takes years to reach 100km/h, only thing missing are taxi drivers protesting Uber and Grab. Improve your quality, jackasses!
22. Proton Exora Bold
Naturally, Proton being Proton updated the car and gave it a facelift as well. With added spoilers and a more youthful look. Oh and did I mention it now has a turbo too? Let’s breathe it all in for a moment. A turbo in an MPV. Not only is the Bold faster than the old Exora, the turbo makes schoolkids feeling proud to have an Exora. “So, what if your Grand Livina has 8 cupholders? My Exora has TURBO!!!” Kudos Proton, at least you actually made this better than the original.
21. Proton Savvy
“Only unsavvy people drive this car” That is a quote often associated to people who drive a Savvy and also by those who wanted to buy one. In reality the Savvy epitomizes the uniqueness of Proton. Sometimes. The design is quirky, the ads are weird, the gear shifts are unlike any conventional car in Malaysia (i.e. more Euro-centric). Proton’s dark horse. A car that could have been great spoiled by the badge’s reputation.
20. Proton Persona MkI
Proton’s Gen-2 was code-named WRM, the Wira Replacement Model. Unfortunately, given the huge backlash the Gen-2 faced, Proton launched a saloon variant of the Gen-2 and called it the Persona. This is the true WRM, not the Gen-2. I remember being cross by Proton for calling this their “pride and joy” and now I understand. It is not just a Gen-2 with a boot, it is a Gen-2 done right. Placed low because of the usual complaint with Protons, it feels and looks cheaply made.
19. Proton Persona MkII
Based on the Iriz, the second generation Persona is smaller than the previous generation but it has a bigger boot. Launched around the same time as Perodua’s Bezza, some people confuse both for being in the same category. The Persona is a lot bigger than the Bezza in terms of engine size and body. Drives and handles well like most new Protons. Too bad about the looks, it takes some getting used to.
18. Proton Saga BLM/FL/FLX
If you are a student or a fresh graduate, chances are this is your first car. It is either this or a Myvi. The Saga when first launched brought a huge anticipation. It also brought in changes at Proton too. Gone were the days when every Proton gets replaced 20 years later. Now, the Saga has entered multiple refreshes to keep it youthful. Also, the Saga is a joy to drive in the city and could work well in developing countries. Time will tell when Proton decides to export to developing countries.
17. Proton Putra
A Malaysian modder’s dream, the Putra is Proton’s
bland sporty looking coupe. A rarity too since it did not sell well initially. So rare in fact that production lasted for around 3 years from 1999 to 2001 before it relaunched for a year in 2004 to clear its stock. Even rarer is finding one that is bone stock. The Mitsubishi sourced engine is preppy and wonderful.
Mitsubishi Lancer Proton Inspira
Ah yes, the
Mitsubishi Lancer Proton Inspira, the car that inspired kids to worship rallying. The Mitsubishi Lancer Proton Inspira is one of those cars that actually drives pretty well even without modifications. Obviously, the Evolution R3 (soon?) variant is the one that gets heads turning but even the stock Lancer Inspira handles well and has a good acceleration. Not to mention that it is also affordably priced.
15. Proton Preve
The Preve, however you pronounced it, is Proton’s first ever global car. Except that it gets praises in Malaysia but not anywhere else. The Aussies mocked it, the Brits and Singaporeans are indifferent and at least the Thais liked it. The latter loved them so much that at one point, the Proton was one of the fastest growing car companies in Thailand.
14. Proton Wira
The Proton Wira marked a change for Proton in terms of quality. Want to know which Proton model had the most electrical problems? The Wira. Which model begin to make Proton seem like they have given all hope in exciting buyers? The Wira. Which model made Proton the face of electrical window problems? The Wira. Yet, despite all these criticisms, the Wira was the most exported Proton in the company’s history. Just go to this page to check them out. It was even found in North Korea. North freaking Korea! It is also Proton’s golden egg. A huge success when launched, now a hit among people who wanted to
increase the weight a this flab transform it into Mitsubishi Lancers
13. Proton Saga MkIII
The latest Saga shows Proton’s improvement for its most popular model. Well-equipped and with a lot of room inside, the third-gen Saga is truly a value for money car with the highest spec going around RM45,000. Essentially, it is the same car as the Saga FL/FLX underneath but it has an improved engine and looks better.
12. Proton Perdana V6
The Perdana V6 is Proton’s most powerful, comfortable, quiet, and a choice for government dignitaries. Like most Protons it has a long cycle, 11 years. Unlike most Protons it still remained desirable and these cars do not come in cheap even in the used market as these cars have low depreciation. That along with most V6s built after 2007-08 are for VIPs, and have a longer rear wheelbase. A bulletproof car with bulletproof performance.
11. Proton Waja CPS
During the final years of the Proton Waja, Proton replaced the old Mitsubishi engine with the more modern Campro engine and just like the Gen-2 it is also met with criticisms. But the CPS add-on that followed was sweet and marks a great farewell to the aging car. Despite having phallic themes on the rear light cluster. MOOOOVING ON!
10. Proton Satria Cabriolet
If only they made this. A Satria with its roof cut of makes it look really funky. Especially with that roll bar! Launched as a concept in the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show, the project was shelved due to an economic recession happening in Malaysia. A huge “What If”
9. Proton Satria
The Satria is Malaysia’s answer to the Honda Civic hatchback. A cool car and another tuner’s blank canvas, the Satria is in one word, youthful. It may not have sold as well as the Wira or the Saga at the time but it has really become a cult classic. Especially the GTi variant. Which is somewhere on this list.
8. Proton Saga Iswara
It became a laughing prop but despite that, Malaysians loved it. If the Saga revolutionized Malaysia’s motor landscape, the Iswara is the one that made the wheels turned. Most of our family owned one or two, like my uncle. In fact, it has become a symbol of Malaysia, you are not Malaysian if you never sat in an Iswara. It has also become a symbol of hatred by foreign tourists who got cheated by errant taxi drivers. Most of whom drive Iswaras even though they are slowly replaced by more modern cars. The Iswara, the symbol of Malaysian roads.
7. Proton Suprima S
Admittedly, when the Preve first came out, I thought it was ugly and disproportionate. When the Suprima S came along I thought it was better looking than the Preve and I don’t think I’m alone with this opinion. Just like the Persona and Gen-2, the Suprima S was a much better car than the Preve. It not only looked better, it was better built, quieter and has better to drive than the Preve.
6. Proton Satria Neo
A youthful-looking Proton? That is something coming from the same car maker that still sells the old Satria for 12 years. The Savvy, while looking funky and all is too funky for today’s 20-something. The Satria Neo on the other hand has a stupidly-funky name straight out of the box labeled “Unused Japanese Car Name Ideas” and yet looks modern enough for youths to buy one. The manual gearbox for this one is pleasant and the CPS version makes the match seem like in heaven. The R3 version is one of the best handling modern Protons out there. A sweet car for today’s generation.
5. Proton EMAS Concepts
When Proton commissioned Giugiaro to pen a few Protons, little did everyone know that they are witnessing the cleanest city car design ever. Yes, the Volkswagen up! looks like an unblemished iPod, but the EMAS trio and the fact they have Proton badges make car fanboys from Malaysia squeel like 5 Seconds of Summer fangirls. Also the fact that they were launched in the Geneva Motorshow makes it more deafening. It is AMZING and make us wish that Proton makes this city car a reality.
4. Proton Waja
OK, I will admit it. The reason why the Waja is placed quite high here is because I have driven this car numerous times and I really like the way the car handles. It may have bad plastics, the air-con only blows to the driver making him feel like he’s in the Arctic, and the buttons are far to reach. But who cares? The gear change is smooth, the engine revs perfectly, the steering is spot on and the fact that it is designed in-house after only 15 years of experience in the industry makes it more amazing to drive. In fact, the interior is probably inspired by BMWs since they are towards the driver as well.
3. Proton Iriz
Yes, you heard that right. Proton’s newest baby is one the best Protons of the last 30 years. They fixed everything that is wrong about Protons of before and make them better. The noise has been reduced, the quality has been upped tremendously, and the looks speak out modern. It may not have been as clean as the EMAS concept but at least it does not look to fussy. They have finally hit the right notes with the manual gearbox (GETRAG!!) and the engine. The CVT gearbox still has some issues but other than that, it is still a good progress for Proton.
2. Proton Saga
This is it. Genesis I. The one that paved the way for changes in the Malaysian motor world for good or worse. A brand new car that is cheap, reliable and has a lot of equipment? That was how Proton was being marketed everywhere. Japanese Technology, Malaysian Style was how the Saga and in fact Proton was being marketed in the UK. Proton turned out to be a huge success in the UK and a whopping 33,291 were exported to the UK. In just 7 years, Proton started from nothing to producing 300,000 cars at the end of its lifespan before being replaced with the mechanically similar Iswara.
1. Proton Satria GTi
Well, obviously. It has to be the legendary cult favourite Satria GTi. Lotus tuning and handling. 138hp Mitsubishi Lancer GSR engine. 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds. What more could you ask for? A Proton that handles great with a heck of an engine. And also it is praised by Top Gear’s Richard Hammond. That is star quality in a really exceptional car. No wonder purists wanted a MkII GTi but I think it is better to leave it with just one. The Satria GTi, cult classic, ultra rare to find one that is unmodified or the original model, a true hot hatch and the best Proton to ever come out of the factory.
There you have it, 34 Protons from the past 30 (ish) years. Some were special variants, some were mere facelifts. If you have any opinions you would like to share or you’d prefer a Wira over an Iriz, do comment. Here’s to the next 30 years, Proton.