Review: New Proton Persona 1.6 Premium CVT – Building Value Where It Matters

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Review: New Proton Persona 1.6 Premium CVT – Building Value Where It Matters

First launched in 2016, the Persona offered more family-oriented customers with the design, equipment, and safety levels of the Iriz - which it is based upon - but with the added practicality of a generous boot. 

As you would have known by now, the Iriz was recently given some much needed upgrades. Naturally, its non-identical twin - the Persona - was also given a makeover. 

Among the upgrades received are improved transmission control software for the CVT automatic gearbox, better quality materials, and improved refinement levels. Here's a quick look at how the new and improved Persona fares.

Specifications for the 2019 Proton Persona 1.6L Premium CVT

  • Price: RM 54,600 (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.

Overview

Launched alongside the new Proton Iriz, the Persona has received no less than 303 different updates (the Iriz received 367) with the aim of improving refinement, connectivity tech, fuel economy, and driving performance.

Much of the buzz revolves around the “Hi Proton” internet-enabled voice command infotainment system which is also offered on the Iriz. However, unlike the more advanced system fitted on the Proton X70 - which can control the sunroof, windows, and air-conditioning - the functions in the Iriz and Persona are limited to music, weather forecast, and navigation features.

Perhaps most importantly, prices have superbly dropped despite the added equipment; four variants are offered, starting from the Standard 1.6L Manual variant (RM 42,600) to the Premium 1.6L CVT (RM 54,600), as tested here. It also happens to be one of the best bargain buys of 2019. The revised prices make the Proton Saga (RM 33.5k – RM 41.8k) look a tad expensive now.

But unlike the Iriz, the Persona doesn’t have the unenviable task of fending off a parallel model from the Perodua stable. Perodua’s only sedan, the Bezza, goes up against the Saga. But what the Persona has to do though, is convince more affluent buyers that for a bit more than half-the-price of Honda City and Toyota Vios, they're getting similar amounts of safety, reliability, and most importantly, quality. 

Exterior

On the outside, the facelifted Persona now comes with an updated front fascia featuring the 'Ethereal Bow' front grille, similar to what is found on the X70 SUV. Further down, new LED DRLs and a restyled front bumper help give the Persona a fresher look. The same treatment has been carried on the rear, with a new rear bumper and bootlid spoiler. The “Proton” script is applied across the boot lid trim in the same manner of the Iriz.

The 8-spoke dual-tone alloy wheels at each corner are new too.

While the changes are more subtle than those on the Iriz, the styling updates have given the Persona a somewhat grown-up, elegant outlook.

Interior

The tested Premium variant receives the Geely (GKUI) system replete with a 7-inch infotainment head unit and the “Hi Proton” voice command system, 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity, music streaming, navigation, Over-The-Air updates, and a reverse camera with dynamic guidelines.

The gripes are the same as the Iriz: the GKUI system does not support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay so you're left with the Mirror Link, which requires your phone screen to be on the entire time. Elsewhere, while the GKUI comes with its own pre-loaded music streaming service, the audio files are pretty large and it simply cannot compare to services like Spotify (which can only be streamed via Bluetooth) in terms of song selections and customisability.  

So while it’s intrinsically talented, the GKUI still needs a bit more fine-tuning before its perfect for most Malaysian users. Nonetheless, it’s a decent piece of kit and serves as a unique selling point of the Iriz and Persona.

Elsewhere, the screen clarity and reverse camera resolution are all up to par.

Proton has done a nice job sprucing up the interior fabrics and common touchpoints. The semi-leather seats, offered on both the Executive and Premium variants are comfortable and supportive even over a long drive. The leather-wrapped steering wheel also feels tactile and somewhat premium for a car with its price tag.

The dual-tone (black and cream) interior plastics might not be the easiest thing to keep clean over time in my opinion but it does serve to give the interior a nice airy feel. Personally, I think the Iriz’s black on black interior just looks sharper and would probably stand the test of time better.

Fit and finish is decent all around and besides the flimsy fuse box cover (under the steering wheel) and notchy AC controls, it’s a nice place to be in.

With 510 litres of bootspace, the Persona actually offers a smidge more volume than the Vios (at 506 litres) but trails the City’s 536 litres. To put that into further perspective, the Proton Perdana – essentially the previous-generation Honda Accord in a new cloak – offers just 470 litres.

Driving Experience

I suppose, given that the Persona is just an Iriz with a bigger boot, one would expect both of them to drive pretty similarly, but that might be an oversimplification.

Under the skin, there are subtle but detectable differences. Unfortunately, the test unit I was given had pretty shoddy tyres having been previously used for driving demonstrations hence the road noise I was hearing was substantially higher than what others had experienced in other cars. In any case, the supplied Silverstone tyres aren’t that great to start with anyway, and I say this again - both the Iriz and Persona would be far more able to exhibit their range of driving abilities if they had better tyres fitted from the factory.

With that said, the Persona definitely feels like it’s comfort biased, more so than the Iriz. Where the Iriz feels sharp and urgent, the Persona’s responses are slightly more docile. Over some tighter back roads, the steering is still pretty sharp allowing the driver to place the car where it needs to be and despite its added size and weight still feels decently agile in the bends. On the highway at speed, it’s surefooted and stable, and surprisingly able to handle long journeys in a single sitting given its decent refinement levels.

The brakes are vastly improved over the pre-facelift model; there’s far better linearity in the pedal response which helps build driver confidence quickly.

The updated CVT-type gearbox is also much better now, being noticeably less jerky at low speeds and far more intuitive when you need to accelerate. Performance from the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre won’t set your pants on fire, but for what it’s worth, it has pretty decent go when you need it.

Fuel consumption is a tad higher than in the Iriz. With a sensible right foot, it returns between 8.4 and 9.9 litres/100 km in urban driving and drops to around 8.0 litres/100km when cruising on the highway. Proton has recalibrated the engine for better fuel economy which has definitely improved those numbers, but I suspect it still trails the in terms of efficiency to newer engines found in cars like the Vios and City.

Conclusion

All-in-all the Persona is a very sensible choice for Malaysians who want a B-segment sedan for far less money than what non-national models like the Vios and City are selling for.

It’s a substantial step-up also, from the entry-level sedans such as the Bezza and Saga, so in terms of product placement its right where it needs to be. Priced as it is, it's superb value for money as well.

While the voice-enabled infotainment system doesn’t work as well as it needs to in our market, no other model in its segment or the segment above it offers similar equipment. Personally, give me a good audio system and Bluetooth, and I'd call it a day.

While the Persona isn’t as lithe on its feet like Vios or City, performance isn’t too shabby, and for the most part, drives almost as well for half the price. Safety features and the Persona’s tough bodyshell are other strong points to take note of, making it ideal for people with small or growing families.

For the latest deals on Proton models, click here.

Gallery: Review: New Proton Persona 1.6 Premium CVT – Building Value Where It Matters



Arvind

Arvind

Arvind describes a car in the same way he would describe a woman; this is not very healthy. Unlike the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, soulful naturally-aspirated soundtracks and trigger quick (self-applied) gearshifts are all that fill the darkest recesses of his mind. Arvind is still trying to understand women...


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