It’s an open and mutual feeling that Proton has a lot on their shoulders for this one. In what the national carmaker believes is the dawn of a new era for itself, the 2014 Proton Iriz is here with a heavy burden on its shoulders: to reignite the spark within the company, and in their closer sights, claim back some of the market share Perodua’s Myvi holds on to so dearly. At its official launch, and preceding preview event, we were quite impressed with everything we could see and touch about the Proton Iriz. Crucially, it had a price range that directly put all of its variants in contention with the Perodua’s Myvi line-up, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Loaded with safety features from its base up, the Iriz seemed a fresh take on a type of car that currently outsells anything else in the country. For us, there was really only one thing left to do: drive it. We did have a short run in the 1.3-litre Standard manual variant at the Alami Proton Carnival; this time around, we were in for a slightly extended drive of the car.
The Cars: 1.3-litre Executive manual, 1.6-litre Premium CVT called Three variants of the all-new Iriz were prepared for this media drive which would take us from KL to Ipoh to Penang and back: A manual 1.3-litre Standard (RM46k – RM49k), and a CVT automatic 1.6-litre Executive and Premium (RM53k – RM62k). In the Peninsular, Proton tells us that the 1.6-litre Premium is a current clear favourite, out-selling all other Iriz variants. East Malaysia tends to favour the 1.3-litre types, in manual. Both engines are new, developed in-house, and power the car’s entire line-up. They share the same cast-iron CamPro blocks, but a lot of the main components such as the valvetrain and cylinder heads are fresh designs entirely. It’s a different story for the transmissions, however. The manual five-speed boxes are courtesy of Getrag (Germany), while the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is from makers Punch (Belgium). Equipment and features inside the car of course vary. The range-topping 1.6-litre has leather semi-bucket seats, a 6.2-inch LCD touchscreen, a multi-function steering wheel, keyless entry with a push-start button, and a full-six airbags – it is however a bit stingy with offering a central dome light. The 1.3-litre here makes do without the abovementioned accessories, has fabric seats and a 2-DIN radio head unit instead, and the grab handles are gone for everyone except the front passenger. Also, it’s not like us to normally share our personal views on a car’s exterior design (we’re firm believers of beauty being in the eye of the beholder), but we’re going out on a limb to say that this is a very good-looking car. The heads turned our direction during the trip were countless, and a legit mark of the Iriz’s attention-grabbing capacity on the road. With 15-inch alloys on the 1.6-litre and 14-inchers on the 1.3-litre, other exterior differences include fog lamps on the 1.3-litre and LED daytime running lights on the 1.6-litre, an added rear diffuser and slightly more chrome bits around.
Driving impressions: Having established what’s exactly on the table, let’s get on with driving the car. From the inside where you’ll spend the majority of your time with the Iriz, it’s equally impressive stuff – and no, we’re not just saying it, as you may think. Here’s an honest truth: INTERIOR: The cabin itself feels slightly more snug-fit than it does in a Perodua Myvi, but the overall look and layout feels a lot more improved and contemporary. Lots of pockets and cubby holes are available where you’ll most likely appreciate them daily, and there’s a sort of feeling like the cabin’s just a very easy place to nestle yourself in to for an extended journey. MATERIALS: The extensive use of hard plastics is acceptable considering the sort of price tags we’re dealing with here, but there is an upside for an equal downer. On the up, the fit and finish is fantastic, and there’s a large use of textured surfaces rather than flat, shiny panels and switches – we even like the faux stitching. On the downside, the plastics aren’t very comfortable to rest against, and are very easily scratched, leaving lasting memories of where the sharp corners of your watch or fingernails came in contact with. A dog with its paws on the dashboard is strongly advised against.
RIDE COMFORT: With a common suspension geometry shared between all Iriz models, we can tell you that both variants here ride with a fair amount of comfort. It’s not the most comfortable B-segmenter we’ve been in, and there is significant notice of simply driving over the littlest cracks on the road – but the trade-off is a chassis that almost sticks to the tarmac like glue. HANDLING: Proton’s chief technical officer, Abdul Rashid Musa, tells us that unlike some of their previous models that featured handling tuned by Lotus, the Iriz’s focus from the beginning was far from this – when quizzed, Rashid told members of the media that Lotus’ involvement was no more than a “pinch.” Regardless, there still seems to be some decent balance between a comfort and sporty ride. Overall, where handling is concerned, there’s a certain humble charm about driving the Iriz (either variant) that’s genuinely fun – it’s a car that handles far better than its engine’s performance figures. Dare we call this the Malaysian MINI? NOISE: Cabin noise insulation isn’t one of the Iriz’s best traits. Passing vehicles are audible, let alone the CVT transmission’s whine at high speeds can be irritable if you bury the throttle pedal into the carpet. The engine’s roar is at high revs is equally intrusive.
Driving the 1.6-litre Premium: The new normally-aspirated 1.6-litre VVT engine in the Proton Iriz has enough power to do all the highway and city tasks you may ask of it: overtaking, whizzing away from a traffic light, etc. Its only setback comes in the form of the Punch CVT unit, which we understand is a clutch-type CVT, rather than a torque-converter-type one – as in the all-new Honda Jazz/ City, for example. You can learn more about these CVT transmissions here. The Belgian-made CVT employed in the Iriz drives a little bit sluggishly, and doesn’t respond so well to your throttle inputs: there’s a lapse between how high the revs are and actual road speed. Being too aggressive and expecting the car to leap forwards in sync with your right foot will only ruin your fuel consumption. There’s also one way to drive it economically, and that’s with a careful ear, listening and feel for when it’s best to increase your throttle input. No complaints over its equipment and accessories, though it should be mentioned that the Android-based interface within the touch-screen display does look and function great. The designations for the icons used aren’t instantly recognisable for what they do, and the touch sensitivity of the screen itself isn’t fantastic – aim and pressure of your finger’s touch need honing, but there is an extensive list of applications within the systems to explore once you get that right.
Driving the 1.3-litre Executive: Just like the 1.6-litre variant we drove, both these engines were far from being run-in properly, and were inevitably ‘tight’ – the sentiment is more so realised in the 1.3-litre model, which we expected a lot more from. But again, to be fair, these cars were nearly right out of the factory, some with barely 1,000km clocked. Even still, there’s a fair amount of pulling power sent to the front wheels via the five-speed Getrag manual transmission. Physically, shifts feel good with the gear lever itself snapping into place sharply – the shift gate pattern is clearly and easily navigated at first try. Also, the gear ratios are very different now, with a much taller fifth gear that keeps the Iriz's revs in the 3,000 range even at speeds of 120 to 130km/h. Fourth gear is a lot shorter (too short, we felt). In driving within territories of 100km/h, you'll find yourself changing between fourth and fifth gears for overtaking and hill-climbing, but on flatter highways, you can reap the benefits of better fuel consumption, or appreciate higher speeds without overworking the engine. Fully depressed, the clutch pedal travel from the floor to where the clutch itself bites upon release is long and spares you from the embarrassment of easily stalling the engine. However, those more familiar with a shorter clutch pedal travel (myself included) will need some adjusting. For spec, you do lose a touchscreen display, leather seats and a few other things, but they are easily departed with. What do you get, regardless of variant, is a full set of safety features, nicely shaped fabric seats with good side cushion support, and all the trappings of space, ride comfort and fuel economy of the Iriz. Notably, Hill Hold Assist is also a standard feature throughout the Iriz range, even on its manual variants – this gives you a couple of extra seconds on a steep hill to get your foot off the brake pedal and on to the accelerator to balance lifting off the clutch. Neat!
Fuel Economy Challenge: With two variants of the Iriz available, Proton’s hired, experienced, event organisers let us sample the Proton Iriz’s fuel consumption by forcing us to replicate real-world situations with a test route. With the air-conditioning controls and trip controls sealed off from our fiddling and the fuel-filler taped up, we were given a 185km route (some city and mostly highway driving included) and a time limit of two hours to get from point A to B. This was to ensure that none of us would abnormally save fuel by either shutting off the air-conditioning completely, or taking too much of a ‘stroll’ en route to our destination. Sparing you from too many details, the best real-world fuel consumption figures achieved by members of the media on the 1.3-litre five-speed manual Iriz were 6.5-litres/100km, while the 1.6-litre CVT model scored a best 6.4-litres/100km. However, with there being cleverly-calculated penalties in place for late arrivals (0.3-litres/100km added for every 5 minutes late), the scores were tabulated at 7.4-litres/100km and 7.8-litres/100km respectively for the 1.3 and 1.6-litre variants.
Verdict: The general feeling we’re getting from Proton surrounding its all-new 2014 Iriz isn’t so much that they’ve finally got a Myvi-killer on their hands. Yes, it does give Perodua something to think about, but it appears more to be a sort of turning point for the national carmaker - hence the repeating of the Iriz being the real “Game Changer” by many within Proton. After the Iriz, a lot more is said to come from the all-new platform and powertrains developed for this one car. Just what exactly those are, we’ll be revealing to you in the coming days, but some hints of that include new engines, new models and new directions. Stay tuned for that as we gather more information in the meantime. Back to the Iriz itself, and yes, there are ups and downs, but these are natural to any carmaker at the dawn of revamping its brand identity and products. The fact however remains that, for exactly the same money you’d spend on a super successful Perodua Myvi, there is an equally priced Proton Iriz which looks and is newer, offers far more crucial active and passive safety features, and a lot more kit/ features for your buck. Bear in mind, though, that this is purely a review of an all-new Proton model, and not one of the company’s aftersales services and beyond. At this stage, the Iriz looks a top product, but it’ll take some time before time itself reveals if or not any problems exist beyond this point. There is however a five-year warranty and a three-year free service package there to sweeten the deal.
*This story first appeared on Live Life Drive