With this 2021 revision being the best chance yet of the Iriz going out with a bang, we reckon a sporty outing and a return of our national automaker’s GTI badge would have capped off the life of an underrated car in spectacular style.
Let’s just face facs, the Proton Iriz hasn’t had the easiest or most successful time as the B-segment rival to Malaysia’s crowning Myvi. And neither has the 2021 facelift exactly been a shocking turnaround for the Iriz, a car first brought to our attention through a bold advertising campaign attempting to unseat Perodua’s smash-hit hatch.
The Iriz put up an admirable fight against such a worthy opponent, but ultimately the Myvi built on its established position by refining a successful formula, delivering a near-perfect everyday car that fitted the needs - and budgets - of so many Malaysians like a glove while offering unbeatable value.
Still, there was one area where the Iriz reigned supreme: the drive.
While it doesn’t bear the ‘Handling by Lotus’ badge like other more noted Proton hatchbacks, the Iriz is not to be underestimated behind the wheel.
To anyone who has driven one, you must be familiar with that certain feeling that this car had so much more to give. Free from the constraints of its ageing and occasionally asthmatic engine, its wheezing CVT gearbox, and perhaps some build quality niggles, the Iriz was every bit as fun to chuck around some choice bends as the best Protons.
It’s compact dimensions gave it an almost square footprint on the road, and even when paired with less than adequately grippy tyres (usually Silverstone Kruizer), it was a nicely blended mix of controllable thrills.
Sadly, the Iriz never had the chance to truly explore its sportier side in full, and with the imminent metamorphosis of its sister car, the Persona, into a badge-engineered Geely model, the future looks fairly bleak for the Iriz and, in general, homegrown Protons like it.
By contrast, the Iriz Active seems like a slightly desperate play to pander to the crossover/SUV trend by clumsily fitting cosmetic additions that, a) invites comparisons to the Perodua Axia Style and b) does not take advantage of the Iriz as a unique product in the least.
If the Active, a car that nobody seemed to ask for, is the model’s final form, the Iriz is at risk of not only being forgotten, but remembered with a sigh of disappointment.
But what if Proton had instead capitalised on the Iriz’s undisputed strengths? After all, with the age of the Satria Neo and Suprima S long past, it might be Proton’s last chance to flex their chops as experts of the basic hot hatch, and what better canvas to express this than on this already talented chassis.
The first thing to address is that engine and powertrain. Both the 1.3-litre 1.6-litre motors derived from the original CamPro are, in engine terms, a bit of a dinosaur. But like the Iriz itself, we know it can be coaxed into greatness.
Taking its turbocharged permutation from the Exora, the CFE engine wouldn’t need to undergo extensive modification to become the beating heart a hotted-up Iriz deserves. Stock internals can remain, but a finely crafted ECU tune should be able to remedy any dips in response and a linear power delivery while also boosting peak power and torque for good measure.
In its base spec, the Campro CFE produces 140PS at 5,000rpm and 205Nm between 2,000-4,000rpm. Taking that up a notch to 155PS and 235Nm, though conservative, should be enough to endow the Iriz with plenty of urge relative to its weight.
Of course, fitting a larger capacity turbocharged four-cylinder into the Iriz’s cramped engine bay might be a bit of a challenge, especially when it comes to cooling efficiency, but tougher constraints have been overcome. Then again, this is exactly why power output is kept relatively tame.
Without question, the Punch-sourced CVT must be thrown into the bin. Not only does that type of transmission have no place in a fun-focused car, but the nature of its operation actively interferes with the connection between driver and engine.
Though the 2021 revision of the Iriz has gone exclusively automatic, a nicely spaced 5-speed manual with a short throw shifter would be a perfect fit for the Iriz GTI. You just can’t beat the lighter, simpler, and more analogue solution.
Put together, the Iriz GTI, in the right hands, should be able to shift up to the 100km/h mark from standstill in a brisk 7-and-a-bit seconds; not that it really matters.
If there’s one element from the Iriz Active that has been ported over to the GTI, it’s the flared fenders. However, rather than merely being there for cosmetic reasons, they are actually compensating for the car’s extended front and rear track width.
Both axles have been widened to give the Iriz GTI an even broader, more aggressive stance on the road, a modification also made to enhance mechanical grip and high speed stability.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty of visual inspiration taken from the competiton-spec Iriz R5 rally car fielded by UK-based Mellors Elliot Motorsport, previously famed for the Proton Satria Neo Super 2000 from the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Championship.
Much of the exterior trim has been given a shadowy dark treatment, contrasted by gunmetal finishes. Its wheels are 17-inch lightweight alloys wearing sticky Bridgestone Potenza Adrenalin RE004 tyres with much beefier all-round disc brakes hiding behind.
Rather than source 3rd party hardware, Proton’s engineers have fashioned a bespoke monotube shock absorber and coil spring suspension system that has been specifically tailored to the Iriz GTI’s unique characteristics to ensure an almost Lotus-like mix of razor sharp handling with comfort and refinement despite the larger wheels and lower profile tyres.
Speaking of low profile, thanks to its upgraded suspension, the Iriz GTI sits lower to the ground to bring down its centre of gravity as well as to complete the look of a small but potent little machine.
Besides this, the car’s shell and structure have been strategically reinforced to ensure even higher torsional rigidity while eliminating weight imbalances. Where applicable, thicker anti-sway bars have also been added to minimise roll.
Together with these modifications packaged in a factory fresh car Malaysians can buy from showrooms, complete with a warranty and maintenance package, this new GTI would have elevated the Iriz name to a permanent fixture in our country’s automotive lore.
Rather than playing into trends and working a defensive position with relation to the Perodua Myvi, it would have been so refreshing to see Proton going their own way and playing to their unique strengths. And sadly, like its handling prowess, these are strengths that are slowly being eroded away as Geely’s influence becomes more and more pronounced.
We will have to inevitably wave goodbye to the Iriz, and together with it, one of the last ‘old school’ Protons. As bittersweet as it is, it would definitely be much more bearable parting if the automaker left us the Iriz GTI as a fitting and most thoughtful, though heartbreaking, parting gift.
Basically, everything the Iriz Active isn't.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.