- Proton's ambition to compete in the hatchback B-segment market was far from a bed of roses
Four days and slightly over 600 km later, I reluctantly returned the range-topping Proton Iriz 1.6 Premium. To me at least, I am convinced that the little Iriz may be the best Proton model out there, and I’ll be doing a quick comparison against an older Japanese competitor. Read on to find out more.
Proton's ambition to compete in the hatchback B-segment market was far from a bed of roses. Many years ago, Proton had a short collaboration with PSA Peugeot Citroën to come out with the Proton Tiara. Production of the Tiara lasted just 4 years, and the Proton Savvy was conceptualized as the Tiara replacement. While the Proton Savvy was miles ahead of the doomed Proton Tiara, the Savvy was far from perfect as well.
Enter the Proton Iriz, launched last year with much fanfare. It was meant to be a turning point for Proton, and supposedly had better build quality than earlier Protons. But is that really the case? I got my hands on a 2008 Suzuki Swift and did a quick comparison.
Before you question the choice of the Suzuki Swift, allow me to explain. The car was purchased used from a second hand car dealer, and had clocked about 87,000 km over a seven year period. It was also the only car I could get on short notice, and the Swift was to be the benchmark for the Iriz to follow. Now let’s take a closer look.
While looks can be very subjective, the Proton Iriz certainly is a looker, especially in this range-topping Premium trim. Up front, the Iriz gets a pair of LED daytime running lights and projector headlights. The bodykit is available on the Executive and Premium trim of the Iriz, while LED tail lights adorn the rear end. The Suzuki Swift, on the other hand, has seen its rims replaced by bigger items by its previous owner, as well as the addition of an absurdly huge rear spoiler. Design wise, the Swift has a timeless design which still looks quiet fresh, seven years on. The Swift does not get any LED lights anywhere, however. One down to the Iriz then.
Moving on, we took a look inside, a well known Achilles heel of a lot of Protons. Inside, the Iriz features a very modern interior, with a large 6.2-inch Android-powered touchscreen infotainment taking centre stage. The interior of the Iriz certainly looks more well designed than its siblings, the Preve and Suprima. The faux leather stitching certainly played a part, as that gave the Iriz’s interior a subtle, yet premium impression. Elsewhere, the Iriz has leather seats, three USB ports and a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel. The Swift has certainly aged inside, sporting a rather drab interior with not much toys inside. Despite its drab interior, the Swift has an ace up its sleeve.
Interior design is one thing, feel is another. While the Iriz certainly looks better than the Swift inside, the Swift claws back with its better built interior. Buttons feel so much better on the Swift, with each press returning a nice tactile feel. Even the air conditioning dials feels more solid on the Swift, something that Proton needs to work on in the Iriz. Certainly the Iriz has dials that look better, but when it comes to actual use, the dials feels cheap and does not offer the same tactile feel as the Swift. Does that mean that the Iriz is bad? No, far from it actually, as you may find out below.
The Proton Iriz we reviewed has clocked over 23,000 km of hard mileage. With such torture, one is sure to wonder how well has the interior held up. In short, the interior of the Iriz has held up very well. The life of a media review car sure is tough, with different journalists having a go at the same car. This is definitely a test of the interior’s durability, and I am pleased to report that the Iriz has scored top marks in this department. During my time with the car, all the buttons and knobs continued to work as they should, with no broken buttons or clips to be found. The only sign of wear the car had was the door unlock button. The glovebox also does not sit flush with the dashboard. Signature Proton rattling noise you ask? Apart from the faint knocking noise from the rear, the rest of the car was still feels solid.
Perhaps due to some wear in the suspension components, the Swift had some weird knocking noise emitting from the front suspension when the roads are rough. Nothing the nearby Suzuki workshop can’t fix, I suppose. Also, due to the large wheels on the Swift, ride comfort was somewhat compromised as the car was rather bumpy. Not to mention that there was an annoying rattling sound from the rear parcel shelf. Despite the odd rattling noises and bumpy ride, the Swift tramples the Iriz with a significantly quieter drive. The Swift may only have a four-speed automatic gearbox, but credit to where credit’s due, the gearbox works perfectly fine. A bit slow to respond to kick downs, but still smooth and noise-free nonetheless. Despite Proton’s best efforts to mask the CVT whine in the Iriz, the noise is still present. Bummer, a disappointment to a really well packaged car.
Behind the wheel, the Iriz does shine, notwithstanding the CVT. As much as I would like to pit the Swift against the Iriz, that would have been unfair as the Swift does not feature the factory-installed wheels. Furthermore, when it comes to safety, the Iriz is a clear cut winner, though it shouldn’t be compared directly to the much-older Swift.
Proton certainly has a very convincing contender with the Iriz. The little hatchback looks great, has a pleasant interior and drives very well. Despite that, Proton still has a lot of work to be done on the Iriz, and the CVT is the main culprit here. Built quality has certainly improved, but small manufacturing faults are still present, like the glovebox.
2016 is definitely an important year for Proton, as they have quite a number of cars that will debut. With the Iriz as the current benchmark, future Proton models will be interesting, to say at least. As a Malaysian, I certainly want to see Proton succeed on a global scale. We all do.