Snapping on the heels of the all-new Proton Persona comes a similarly renewed Proton Saga. Not quite a ground-up redevelopment from the old model, but Proton has made sufficient and substantial updates to vehicle that the company feels justified to call this the all-new third-generation Saga.
Bookings are officially open for Proton’s latest entry model with an indicative pricing range from RM37,000 to RM46,000, slotting it just below the Persona, which starts at RM46,800 and pushes on to RM59,800. The outgoing Saga Plus is priced at RM33,970 with manual transmission and solid paint, with metallic paint and CVT adding on RM450 and RM3,660 respectively.
Ahead of its upcoming launch, scheduled for 28 Sept, the motoring media of Malaysia were invited to a behind-closed-doors no-cameras-allowed preview of the new Saga where we also had the opportunity to put the vehicle through its paces on Proton’s high speed oval test track.
Engine: 1.3-litre, Inline-4, Transverse, VVT
Power: 94hp @ 5,750rpm
Torque: 120Nm @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual / CVT, FWD
Safety: 2 airbags, ABS, ESC, Traction Control, Hill-Hold Assist, ISOFIX (rear)
Origins: Locally-manufactured at Shah Alam
Mirroring the Persona’s line-up, the Saga is set to be available with a selection of four variants. The base Standard variant comes with the choice between a 5-speed manual from Getrag and the ubiquitous Punch CVT incorporating the same improvements observed in the Persona. Above it, the Executive and Premium variants are CVT-only offerings.
Power comes from the 1.3-litre Campro VVT engine taken from the Iriz, and this will be the only engine on offer. Unlike the predecessor model, the new Saga will not be offered with the option of a 1.6-litre engine, ensuring it does not encroach into the Persona’s turf.
The new Saga’s engine is installed with three mounting points as opposed to four in a bid to improve overall vehicle refinement. As experienced with the Persona, this is a trick that works. This configuration ensures that the engine sits firmly on all three mounts at all times, thus minimizing vibrations.
Outputs of the engine are identical to the Iriz at 94hp and 120Nm. As a result of the implementation of VVT, Proton unsurprisingly claims that performance and fuel economy are both improved over the outgoing model. Manufacturer’s figures read 12.2 and 13.1 seconds for the century sprint times of the manual and CVT variants respectively, with fuel consumption quoted at 5.4 and 5.6 litres/100km.
Depending on variant, the following equipment that was not previously offered with the Saga are being added to the new model
- ABS (Executive & Premium only)
- Electronic stability control (Premium only)
- Reverse camera (Premium only)
- 1.5A and 2.1A rear USB charging ports
- Single-piece foldable rear seat back
- Rear fog lights
- Front & rear parking sensors
Because cameras were not allowed, we don’t have any clear pictures of the new Saga to show you other than the few teaser images provided by Proton here. Not that the looks of the car is any big secret now, however - there are enough leaked shots circulating the Internet. What we can say is, none of the spyshots do the car’s looks any justice.
Despite persevering with the predecessor’s platform, every external body panel of the new Saga has been revised. Wheelbase remains identical, but both the front and rear overhangs have been lengthened, stretching the car’s overall length by 74mm. The car also sits wider and lower, its span extended by 9mm and overall height lowered by 11mm.
Dimensionally, the new Saga is smaller than the Persona. Visually, however, the Saga’s proportions and silhouette look and feel more natural for the profile of a three-box sedan. There are some angles, particularly when viewed from the rear, the Saga even seems like the bigger car. The rear doors of the Saga look notably long too, reminding one of the Volkswagen Jetta.
Inside, we see more obvious traces of the predecessor's DNA. Whilst sporting improved material textures and detail, the dashboard top piece is noticeably carried over with all control elements mounted in familiar places even if the centre console fascia is significantly rehashed. Buttons also noticeably exhibit improved tactile feel.
Key Talking Points
- Carryover Platform With Improvements: Less than a ground up redevelopment, but more than a mere facelift; the new Saga builds upon its predecessor’s platform, but receives a number of key improvements. It lacks the more advanced hot-press-formed (HPF) steel construction featured in newer models, but structural integrity is nevertheless improved – torsional stiffness is up from 10,000 Nm/degree to 12,000 Nm/degree.
- Not 5-Stars, But Still Safer Than Before: Because the car continues to employ the same construction technique and materials as the previous model, Proton is unable to engineer the new Saga’s body structure to attain a full ASEAN 5-Star rating within reasonable cost. Still, the new car improves on the predecessor’s 3-star rating to obtain 4 stars. Dual airbags and ISOFIX are standard for all variants; and ESC joins the equipment manifest, albeit exclusive to the Premium model only, which is understandable at this price point. What we don’t quite agree with is making ABS available only for the Exclusive and Premium variants.
- Hydraulic Power Steering: Almost every new car launched in recent memory utilize electric power steering. The new Saga, on the other hand, retains its predecessor’s hydraulic-assisted setup. More fuel-consuming and the added cost of periodic power steering fluid changes to think about, but the enthusiasts would perhaps welcome this for the hydraulic rack’s more feelsome and communicative nature.
- Foldable Rear Seatback: The outgoing Saga offered a respectable 413 litres of boot space, but no variant ever offered the option of foldable rear seat backs. The new car frees up an additional 7 litres of cargo room with the added practicality of a single-piece foldable rear seat back thrown in to carry bigger items; no split folding or flat loading floor, however.
- 5-Year Model Cycle: The original Saga, in its various iterations, was on sale for over 20 years; the second-generation BLM model soldiered on for nearly a decade. The new one will only be in the market for half the time. Proton has planned for the new Saga to have a product life cycle of only five years, pencilling 2021 as the year for the next generation model to be introduced. In that period, Proton targets average monthly sales of 5,000 units, adding up to 300,000 cars in its entire model run.
How does it Drive?
Considering that this is a car built on a carryover platform, the quantum of improvement seen in the new Saga over the outgoing model is impressive. As it currently stands, the Saga is already noteworthy for its above average ride and handling in the context of its segment. The new one not only shows signs of maintaining that, but also seems to exhibit enhanced levels of refinement.
Just as we experienced with the Persona, the new Saga’s standout characteristic is its significantly reduced noise levels over its predecessor. On the banked test track, we touched speeds of 140-150 km/h and was still able to carry out conversations at normal voice. High speed stability was similarly reassuring as well.
Back in 2011, the Saga was the first Proton model that migrated from the venerable Mitsubishi-sourced 4-speed torque converter automatic to the Punch CVT that new perpetuates the brand’s entire line-up. Those early CVT units were much maligned for their excess droning and severely lagged response. How far Proton has come since then. The new Persona incorporated improvements in its transmission control software that finally made for a decent experience with the Punch transmission, and the new Saga receives those very same enhancements.
Performance of the 1.3-litre VVT engine is adequate for the purpose; allied with the much improved CVT, acceleration is delivered with satisfactory smoothness that far exceeds its predecessor’s. The manual version unsurprisingly pulls with greater conviction, but the experience is blighted by a somewhat loose if still reasonably precise gear change. We will revisit this little issue when we have the chance to cross-examine an actual production unit.
Launching two all-new cars, built on two disparate platforms no less, within a month of each other is a challenging undertaking for a manufacturer of any size. Based on what we’ve experienced thus far with both the Persona and Saga, it has turned out to be a task that Proton seems to be handling reasonably well.
Time will tell if the company has did the necessary ground work to ensure that vendors, production, and aftersales have been adequately prepared to ensure both these vehicles hit the road without too much hitches. From a product standpoint, both can lay claim to be excellent vehicles within the context of their price range.
Whilst a fuller evaluation awaits pending a more extensive stint behind the wheel, our first impressions of the Saga are rather positive. For buyers with a tight budget, here is a vehicle that is likably styled and one that is decently refined on the move.