In a recent chat with a senior member of Proton’s product development team, I learned that one of the earliest exercises conducted by both Proton and Geely post-marriage was the alignment of the framework with regards to model management and lifespan.
So there are now clear benchmarks on what constitutes a full model change, a minor, and major update, and low volume special edition cars that keep the buying public interested in a single product over the course of 6 to 8 years.
Hence now, a mid-life facelift for any Proton will include updates in terms of styling, equipment levels, and safety, on par with Geely’s best practices. Beyond all the pomp of upcoming new models - and licensed technology – it is the more nuanced underlying efforts such as these that are transforming Proton into a truly global car company.
Note too, that bamboozling your new car with tech is all well and good, as long as vendors and parts suppliers are technically competent and able to deliver components of quality, within the tight timeframes required by the manufacturer. This too has been an area of focus for Proton and Geely.
As evidenced by some 367 updates the Iriz has received during the mid-life facelift, I’d say that Proton have done a comprehensive job, not to mention at a substantially lower price range than before.
Specifications for the 2019 Proton Iriz 1.6L Premium CVT
- Price: RM 50,700 (OTR without insurance)
- Engine: 1.6-litre, inline four-cylinder, VVT
- Power: 107 hp @ 5,750 rpm
- Torque: 150 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
- Transmission: CVT-type automatic, front-wheel drive
- Safety: Six airbags, ABS with EBD, Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC)
- Origin: Manufactured in Tanjung Malim, Perak.
First launched in 2015, the 2019 Iriz and Persona duo are the first pre-Geely era Proton models to receive an update under the new management. The aforementioned 367 updates have all been focussed on improving safety, Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) levels, braking, and driving refinement.
At the front, the most notable cosmetic change is the grille trim piece called the Ethereal Bow, first seen on the X70, which is now flanked by the same headlights fitted on the Persona. The most notable change at the rear is the addition of the ‘Proton’ script on the rear tailgate. Both the front and rear bumpers have been redesigned: the rear features vertical garnish inserts, at either side of a new central strip on the lower edge of the bumper which lends the rear fascia a much more rounded and purposeful look. The ‘Iriz’ logo design is new too.
On the inside changes are more subtle; the most notable highlight is the new analogue meter cluster with an LCD multi-information display. There’s also the seven-inch infotainment unit with the "Hi Proton" voice command. However, unlike the X70's more advanced system that can control the sunroof, windows, and air-conditioning, the Iriz’s unit is limited to music, weather forecast, and navigation features.
Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the new car is the pricetag across all five variants, which starts off at RM 36,700 (1.3L Standard MT), reaching up to RM 50,700 for the 1.6L Premium CVT as tested. Pound for pound, that’s RM 6,000 less than the entry-level Myvi 1.3L G MT (RM 42,790) and just under RM 4,000 less than the top-spec Myvi 1.5L Advance AT (RM 54,090) – hence the Myvi might not be the king of value anymore.
The exterior updates, though minor have been rather purposeful in giving the Iriz a fresh new look. The sporty front bumper with its three large air inlet zones, and blacked out trim panel on the rear hatch with the Proton script all serve to accentuate the width of the car and give it a stronger stance. The pre-facelift model, if lined up alongside now, will look slightly bulbous and pudgy in places, especially at the rear end.
Along the flanks, the new 15-inch alloy wheel design lends the Iriz a sportier look befitting its fun and funky personality.
Looks are subjective, but the Iriz definitely can hold its own next to the Myvi 1.5L Advance. The Myvi, given its snazzy style, bright colours, and nicely designed wheels, appeals to a wide variety of buyers, from young professionals to car enthusiast types. The Kia Picanto is a somewhat new but competent player in this highly competitive field; the topmost GT Line variant offers unique styling bits, a sunroof, and 16-inch wheels, albeit for slightly more dosh.
Besides the highlight 7-inch infotainment system, the Premium variant receives an LCD multi-info display in the meter cluster which displays crisp graphics. One gripe though is the backlit display for the fuel and engine temperature which (given their white illumination) do seem a tad dim for easy legibility in the daytime. Elsewhere, it’s worthy to point out that the new gear lever and clear plastic rear view mirror are top notch too.
The GKUI ("Hi Proton") infotainment system is a big step up from the previous head unit, with sharp graphics and information such as the weather forecast and media playlist presented neatly. Some functions, such as activating the Bluetooth and MirrorLink do take some practice to get right but it’s no deal breaker.
Take note though that the proprietary music streaming service that comes with the new system has a decent playlist of songs – I even managed to find tunes from Rod Stewart and the Scorpions – but, the file sizes are large (circa 6-8 MB per song), which I suspect will use up the complimentary 1 GB data package supplied with the car pretty quickly. As an alternative, you could stream Spotify via Bluetooth connection, but the app isn't preloaded on the system, so one would still have to select songs off their smartphone.
Do note also, the GKUI Infotainment system does not support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, so your phone screen does have to stay on when using the Mirror Link (only for Android), which is not going to be good for battery life.
I have to say I’m a big fan of the new black headliner and supportive semi-leather seats. It gives the interior a very stylish and upmarket feel and the print that runs down the centre of the seat delivers a slightly retrospective look and feel without being over the top. That aside, the dashboard plastics aren’t too scratchy, and fit finish isn’t too bad.
Save for the fuse box cover underneath the steering wheel (which is super flimsy) and the notchy operation of the air-conditioning controls (the Myvi offers a slick digital system mind you), I’d conclude it’s been a great effort on Proton’s part, and for the most part, on par in terms of ergonomics and practicality with what’s offered in the Myvi.
I suppose we’ve got to a point that we can almost expect a great driving experience from any current Proton on sale, and the Iriz doesn’t disappoint.
From the get-go, the most appreciable aspect of driving the Iriz is the urgency of the recalibrated CVT-type gearbox – there’s virtually no ‘rubberband’ jerky response at low revs anymore, initial acceleration is far more fluid and miles better than the pre-facelift model. It’s also noticeably quieter with much less of that characteristic CVT whine during acceleration and while moving in traffic.
Given its eager 1.6-litre engine, it builds up speed from standstill up to around 100km/h with relative ease. It cruises at the speed limit at circa 2,200 rpm which is great for long distance driving, given that the engine is pretty relaxed. Quite impressively, at 3,000 rpm on the highway, the Iriz does about 130 km/h so overtaking or uphill climbs can be done right in the meat of the powerband. On an empty stretch of road, I managed to get well into three-figure speeds, hence the Iriz has more than enough pace for a car of its size, and I might add, with far more composure than I remember being offered in the Myvi.
Fuel consumption isn’t bad, but it isn’t very impressive either – in-town crawls return between 8.8 and 9.8 litres/100 km and that number comes down to approximately 8.0 litres/100 km while on the highway. Proton has recalibrated the engine for better fuel economy which has definitely improved those numbers, but for the most part, the engine technology is still a tad older when compared to its competitors.
The chassis setup is sublime: I can’t think of any car at this price range that is as composed and poised as the Iriz - the Picanto comes close, but it’s definitely more talented than the Myvi. At low speeds, it’s extremely capable of soaking up road bumps, undulations, and the commonplace pothole, and as you speed up it maintains a very stable demeanour.
The body rigidity is a major contributor of this, allowing the suspension to do the work while isolating occupants from the harshness of the road. The Iriz feels mighty surefooted and tracks well at speeds of up to 165 km/h. It’s not out of depth if you fling it into a set of corners either, with quick and pleasantly precise steering and an impressive level of mechanical grip (even on less than impressive Silverstone tyres). Throw a set of proper rubbers at the Iriz, and it'll be a sterling performer on any given road.
Braking has also improved, there’s far better pedal modulation and the initial bite point is more predictable now.
Proton’s efforts to improve in-cabin refinement have been great – aside from the aforementioned noisy Silverstone tyres at highway speeds and the whine from the gearbox under hard acceleration, the cabin, for the most part, is vastly improved over the pre-facelift model.
To itemise the strengths of the Iriz – it offers a superb driving experience, a refined and very practical cabin space which no doubt will appeal to a wide audience, the connectivity technology is a sure-fire segment leader, and safety equipment levels are good. Overall value and vehicle reliability are other strong points of the Iriz too.
Downsides? As impressive as the Internet-enabled voice command infotainment is, it doesn't support Android Auto/Apple CarPlay and you can only use Chinese apps, which means that you will still end up running Spotify via Bluetooth and Waze off your phone rather than the head unit. Keep in mind that this is still miles ahead of what's offered in the Myvi.
Also, while improvements to the gearbox have been remarkable, I still believe the fuel consumption of the Iriz in the city - where it'll undoubtedly spend most of its time - is still a tad on the high side. The Iriz 1.3-litre manual might fare better in this respect.
The Myvi on the other hand, aces the Iriz in terms of the active safety systems, crucially adding Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking in the top-spec 1.5L Advance variant which is undoubtedly important. It too offers exemplary practicality and impressive levels of comfort, plus its proven reliability is arguably the strongest selling point.
Both cars are pretty level in terms of performance and fuel economy, though I’m pretty sure the Myvi, with its nicely geared four-speed automatic, still accelerates from a standstill with more verve, however proceedings pretty much level out at highway speeds.
The Iriz would be my pick if my daily travel included a substantial amount of highway driving, because the more refined Iriz just drives better than the Myvi. The Myvi however, squeezes more space inside and it has a proven reputation for steadfast dependability.
While I have little doubt that the Myvi will still remain the sales leader among the two, being the traditional choice of careful, smart consumers, the improved Iriz now enjoys better support from a substantially improved Proton dealer network and build quality, basically neutralizing the traditional advantages of a Myvi over an Iriz.
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