Clever collaboration offers a rebadged classic at an affordable price.
THE codename, P-390A, offers few clues but a glance at Proton’s Waja replacement – even with black tape covering its most distinctive features – will leave little doubt that this is the Mitsubishi Lancer in disguise.
Tentatively set to be launched on Nov 10 (the order books are already open), the new Proton Inspira will bring to a close the Waja’s 10-year life cycle.
We had the pleasure of sampling this new model on a drive to Genting Highlands on Tuesday.
While we are not allowed to show you photos of the whole car yet, we’ve seen enough to say that with attractive pricing coupled to a proven model – now rebadged as a Proton – the national car company has a very strong contender against the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Altis and Kia Forte.
To begin, we found a car that maintains all the best qualities of the Lancer but with some added refinements.
Those familiar with the Lancer will know it as a pleasantly spacious car in its class, especially for those seated at the rear.
It has a peppy engine and a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that adds refinement to the whole process of getting along. It is a comfortable cruiser over long distances; the top of the range GT version is particularly sporty and good looking on top it.
Three variants will be rolling out of Proton’s Shah Alam plant: the 2.0-litre CVT with paddle shifters controlling six virtual gear ratios, 1.8-litre CVT and 1.8-litre manual.
The entry-level 1.8-litre engine offers 143bhp with 177Nm of torque while the 2.0-litre type is more powerful with 155bhp and 198Nm of torque.
Prices begin at about RM79,880 for the 1.8 manual while the 2.0-litre CVT is expected to fetch RM95,000.
The car is available in red, silver, white and black.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the Lancer and the Proton is the front grille. While the Lancer’s is sloped inwards at the bottom, it’s the opposite on the Proton.
Elsewhere, there are new bumpers in the front and rear and different body kit on the sides. The cooling for the transmission has also been improved with the addition of air guides.
The wheels come in an attractive dual tone and the tyres are specially developed for the model by Continental Sime Tyres.
The interior is essentially the Lancer’s with differences in trim and gear. The seat material is new. The Bluetooth-equipped audio system features a two DIN system from Clarion – controllable via steering-mounted buttons.
The 2.0 litre CVT gets some classier-looking simulated wood trim panels and climate control for the air conditioning, which eliminates the fiddling in getting the temperature right.
The lighting clusters share the same external shapes as the Mitsubishi but differ in the internal finishing. The fog lights come from Ralliart, Mitsubishi’s high performance and motorsports division.
All engines have aluminium blocks that are derived from Mitsubishi MIVEC engines with variable valve timing technology.
On the road, the differences are more telling with Proton having done considerable work in retuning the suspension. We were told that Proton experimented with 60 different sets of dampers before arriving at the present set-up.
The original Lancer, with its firmer suspension, was said to feel a little edgy at high speeds. The Proton is softer and more compliant.
The ride is good, with the Proton unruffled by road undulations and imperfections that would upset other cars in its class.
Noise, vibration and harshness are kept well in check and there’s little doubt that this Proton is a capable and relaxed cruiser at high speeds.
While the tyres are notably comfortable and quiet, exuberant driving reveals that the understeer of the Lancer feels more pronounced in this Proton, along with slightly increased body roll. Petrol heads might consider upgrading the rubbers for something with stiffer sidewalls.
On the whole, the car handles predictably and the feeling of being in control prevails – something we have come to expect as part of the Proton DNA. There is certainly enough mojo in the Inspira for an engaging drive. Which is a good thing, as the Inspira is aimed mostly at 25- to 40-year-olds.
At the time of its Nov 10 launch, local content will be above 30% but this will increase to about 60% by the end of next year.
While some might take issue over the fact that the Inspira is just a rebadged car, Proton reasons that there is little point in investing huge amounts of money to develop its own model from the ground up, considering sales for this model are expected to be only 1,600 each month, unlike its high volume sellers like the Saga and Persona.
Rebadging, to quote Proton’s managing director, Datuk Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir, is something that is now being done by every original equipment manufacturer.
“Rather than re-invent the wheel, we have undertaken a strategic collaboration with Mitsubishi and we have added value to the car,” he told the media after Tuesday’s test drive.
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