(Price w/o insurance + insurance premium = OTR price)

Persona 1.6 Auto H-Line: RM54,186.50 + RM1,613.50 = RM55,800.00
Persona 1.6 Manual M-Line: RM48,342.50 + RM1,457.50 = RM49,800.00
Persona 1.6 Auto M-Line: RM51,264.50 + RM1,535.50 = RM52,800.00
Persona 1.6 Manual Base-Line: RM43,671.50 + RM1,327.50 = RM44,999.00*
Persona 1.6 Auto Base Line: RM46,593.50 + RM1,405.50 = RM47,999.00*
Persona 1.6 Manual Base-Line: RM44,095.50 + RM1,353.50 = RM45,449.00
Persona 1.6 Auto Base-Line: RM47,017.50 + RM1,431.50 = RM48,449.00

Note: Prices are for Peninsula Malaysia, private registration and metallic finish except the two Base-Line versions marked with *. Extended warranty and security etching on glass included. Interest rate for 7-year loan from Proton financing partners is 3.88% per annum.

The launch of the new Proton Persona has been long-awaited and departing from its usual paranoia and super-secrecy (which even led to getting the police involved when spy pictures of the Gen2 appeared on the Net), many details of the new model were made public well before today ? including price indications. This is the right way of marketing and it didn?t take a genius to figure that out because people will find out one way or another before a model hits the market and rather than keep them in the dark so they will hesitate ? and many do with Proton ? providing advance information about a product ? even a single image ? can make a difference to their decision. So it?s not surprising that at least 2,200 bookings have already been received as of last night and even more impressive, 350 customers can start driving their Persona today.

Earlier, Proton had hinted that the new model might not be called a ?Gen2 Sedan?, as most people assumed, even though it is using the same platform and styling. Instead a new name ? Persona ? has been chosen and when you consider how significant the changes made are to turn the Gen2 into a sedan, it seems justified that the model should get its own name.

Though sharing platform with the Gen2, a new name has been chosen and it is justified as the differences are significant

?Persona? is not exactly new to Proton as it was used for the Wiras sold in UK and Australia and in some ways, its adoption for this new model is appropriate. Using Wira was felt to be unsuitable because that model, Proton?s second one, was based on the Mitsubishi Lancer and Proton wants to break away from that era so a new name is necessary even though the Persona can be considered the true WRM (Wira Replacement Model).

Contrary to the ?explanations? given by certain forummers (who think they know everything) about the meaning of the new name, it has nothing to do with ?impress? and Proton says it means ?A Vision of Beauty? and ?represents amazing beauty and character, a car that excites you through both its exterior and interior grandeur?. A mouthful perhaps but where ?excite? is concerned, yes, that is going to be true to a large extent.

With the bulk of development costs ? usually on the platform and engine ? having been spent many years ago for the Waja, the Persona?s development costs were far lower and to date, Proton has spent RM95 million only ? below what was budgeted.? RM21.9 million was spent on the R&D part which is a commendable achievement. The Waja cost almost a billion RM in total to develop and the Gen2 was said to have cost RM500 million.

Though we have already seen unauthorised pictures of prototypes of the Persona, the real thing ? minus the black tape over the rear end ? actually looks better than expected. The ?third box? for the boot has not been simply grafted on nor the short rear end of the Gen2 stretched out. It is clear that a good deal of thought went into ensuring the proportions would be balanced with the rest of the car and the result is a nice appealing profile.

New roofline has improved rear headroom, something which was a complaint in the Gen2

Forward of the centre B-pillar, the metal pressings are the same as for the Gen2 but from there all the way back, they are all new and so is the roof which is not the same pressing as that on the Gen2. This is not only because of the different rear end but also because the issue of headroom has been addressed and the slope reduced.

The bootlid has the same style as that on the Gen2 with the concave vertical panel that following drivers see their cars reflected upside down on. A horizontal chrome trim adds a touch of classiness while also helping to visually widen the car.

Apart from being larger than the Wira, at 4477 mm, the Persona is a longer car than the Gen2 by 167 mm ? which would all have gone into the boot -? and the width of 1725 mm is identical to the Gen2 (35 mm wider than the Wira) As mentioned earlier, the roofline has changed and overall height with standard 15-inch wheels now 1438 mm, 38 mm taller (over 50 mm taller than the Wira). The wheelbase is the same as the Gen2 since the platform is the same one and significantly longer than the Wira.

While not focussing on the dimensional differences with the Gen2, Proton has set the Persona?s sights on not just the Perodua Myvi but also at the Toyota Vios and Honda City. While many may scoff at the idea of Proton taking on Japanese makes, it is not as outrageous as it seems because the two Japanese models were developed as low-cost models and there is no reason why the Persona cannot challenge them, especially when it is cheaper. The dimensional comparisons are very much in the Persona?s favour as it is larger all round ? and if nothing else, Malaysian buyers like their cars big! Even the 50-litre fuel tank of the Persona is larger, another selling point.

Against the Myvi, the Persona is obviously larger and though not in exactly the same price range, the fact that the Persona is a sedan will be a big draw against the hatchback and many may be willing to pay the extra money for it.

No CPS or variable intake yet. Only 1.6-litre Campro engine available, with programming for automatic transmission changed to give better low-end performance.

No surprises that the Campro engine (which can run on RON92) is under the bonnet but sorry, no Cam-Profiling System (CPS), the mechanism from which Proton?s own engine got its name. Nor is there the variable intake system that will eventually come. There had been rumours that it would finally get this mechanism which varies valve opening and closing time, and/or a variable intake system, which is also not present. But before you are totally disappointed, the good news is that these two missing features should appear in Campro engines before the year ends although whether they appear in the Persona is not clear. From what was presented on product plans, it is possible that the Campros with the features ? which will certainly offer better performance ? will go into sporty versions of the Gen2 which is to be re-positioned as a sporty model so as not to clash with the Persona in buyers? minds.

Engine output numbers are exactly therefore the same as for the current Gen2 ? 82 kW/111.5 bhp at 6000 rpm, 148 Nm at 4000 rpm. As this is the replacement for the Wira, it may also be worth noting that the evergreen Wira 1.6-litre engine produced 76 kW at 6000 rpm and 140 Nm at a low 2750 rpm. However, before you assume that the power-to-weight ratio is better for the Persona, the body weight of the new model is much heavier (largely due to making the bodyshell stronger) and compared to the Wira Sedan which had a kerb weight of between 980 and 1000 kgs, the Persona?s weight is between 1170 and 1240 kgs (the Gen2 is also around the same weight).

There is no 1.3-litre Persona planned for the Malaysian market at this time though it can be fitted into the car for certain export markets if there is a requirement. It is likely that Proton wants to avoid any clash with the Iswara replacement (BLM) which will come in early 2008 and will have a smaller engine. A Persona 1.3 is not entirely ruled out though and it will depend on feedback from Malaysian buyers but unlike the confusion following the launch of the Gen2 when 1.3-litre versions were in showrooms (plus prices!) and Proton stupidly denied their existence, the situation is very clear at this time.

While it is the same 1.6-litre engine as the Gen2, there is a difference in the programming of Transmission Control Unit (TCU) of the 4-speed automatic transmission which, like the manual transmission, is supplied by Mitsubishi Motors) which makes a difference to the driving characteristics by improving low-end acceleration, one of the major criticisms of the engine. Due to the absence of CPS, the engineers could not tune the engine to develop enough torque at the low end of the rpm range so the Gen2 has been sluggish around town.

Rear backrests of M-Line and H-Line versions fold flat for more cargo space

With the new programming, ?hunting? of gears is also said to be eliminated while kickdown (automatic selection of a lower gear when the pedal is fully depressed) is quicker. This would give the driver more confidence during overtaking and it also provides a more positive take-off. Feedback from owners also showed that the transmission had a tendency to shift by itself when it seemed unnecessary, especially when going downhill. This was probably a flaw in the original programming which did not take into account sudden changes in pedal pressure which induced the transmission to shift. This too has been eliminated, it is claimed.

Finally, the lock-up feature which is common to all modern automatic transmissions, has also been improved. Basically, what this does is to create a mechanical connection to the axle, bypassing the fluid drive of the transmission itself. This creates something similar to that of a manual transmission and therefore reduces power losses, ultimately improving fuel economy. The improvements are said to be in the selection of speeds at which the lock-up takes place automatically.

For the 5-speed manual transmission, there are no changes. It doesn?t have a TCU so nothing can be done in programming (although one engineer joked that the ?human TCU? can always be reprogrammed!). It would have been nice if the engineers had more choices of gear ratios to use but the options available from Mitsubishi Motors are very limited.

The chassis is essentially the same as that under the Gen2 which itself was an improved variation of the Waja?s. The front suspension has MacPherson struts with coil springs and shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar. The load path of the spring is separate from the load path of the shock absorber and having two separate elements gives better impact absorption as well as eliminates damper lag in extreme conditions.

The rear suspension is a multi-link arrangement with a transverse link to each wheel coming off a subframe. Having multiple links allows the wheels to be held in a specific geometry more tightly and also enables more specific reactions to different forces during cornering. Needless to say, both the front and rear suspension tuning, as well as the chassis, have ?Lotus DNA? which is one of the more noteworthy things in post-Waja Proton models. The Persona?s suspension has been retuned to take into account the different weight distribution compared to the Gen2 which has a shorter rear end.

Dashboard same as Gen2 but materials are better

You now get a glove compartment!

The cabin is the same as the Gen2?s in overall design but has been substantially upgraded and refined with the materials no longer having the cheap look that the Gen2 started out with. The dashboard layout has been untouched, which means that impractical audio panel is retained, but a glovebox has been added for the passenger (which Gen2 owners used to complain was missing). It has been cleverly incorporated in the original design so it has not been as expensive as having to completely re-design and re-tool for a new dashboard.

Also of note is the movement of the power window switches to their more logical position on the front doors and there is a separate button for locking the doors too. The handbrake lever now has a conventional design, which should have been the case all along. Some new storage areas have been provided though the cupholders still seem shallow. MP3 capability is now available on the audio head unit (M-Line/H-Line only) and as before, the audio system can be operated by buttons on the steering wheel which is the same one as the Gen2.

In the rear, the seats have the same height but because of the new roofline, headroom is definitely improved. The backrests for the Medium and Upper Line Personas can fold flat to extend boot space.

Bootlid can now be opened from outside the car using either key or pressing a button on the key (some versions). Wiring for electric boot release is exposed when it could have been easily tucked away.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice a keyhole below the Proton badge and yes, you can now open the boot from the outside of the car, unlike the Gen2 where the only way was to open the driver?s door and pull on the lever by the seat. This may have saved a few ringgit but it was an inconvenience that should not have been imposed on owners. So that too has been addressed and for the top version, you also get remote unlocking by pressing? a button on the key. That?s a feature you don?t find on cars in this class!

Power window buttons moved to the doors. Note that the handbrake lever design is now a conventional type

Proton has typically given a lot of attention to body strength which is important for protection of occupants during a crash. This has been crucial as Proton has yet to provide airbags as standard in all its cars so the next best thing is to at least make the body strong enough to withstand (and dissipate) the nasty effects of an accident.

An airbag is provided for the driver in the Medium-Line version while the High-Line gets one more for the front passenger as well and in both versions, the seatbelts have pre-tensioners to enhance the restraint. ABS and EBD (for balanced braking with different loads on board) is standard only for the High-Line. Since the Wira, rear disc brakes have been standard on most Protons and the Persona is no exception but for the base version, there are drum brakes on the rear to get the price down to a ringgit below RM45,000.

Build quality was the thing which muddied the Gen2?s image and dragged Proton?s reputation further down. One would have thought that the disastrous experience with the Tiara would have been remembered and a model not rushed into the showrooms before it was completely ready but for various reasons, the former CEO of Proton insisted on it and that caused a lot of damage (even to the extent that it was felt that to call the Persona a ?Gen2 Sedan? might not be a good idea because of the association with a product that had drawn negative feelings). Worse, of course, was a lack of admission about the many problems that occurred with the Gen2 which required time-consuming efforts and additional expense to fix and fortunately, the Gen2 of today is much improved.

With the Persona, a supreme effort was made to ensure that the car would be of top quality and Proton insiders said that the CEO himself was at the plant more often than he was in his office. Many processes were introduced to catch faults along the line and not allow them to get out of the plant. He also made sure that the suppliers didn?t mess up the new model either and demanded that the owners of the companies personally pledge to deliver parts and systems of the highest quality.

?Proton has manufacturing processes which are similar to other automakers but compliance has been poor so the quality has not been good,? admitted Proton MD, Datuk Syed Zainal Abidin. ?We have now pushed harder to instil discipline and greater compliance in all areas and though I have to say we are not 100 percent there yet, it is much better now and you can see it in the Persona.?

The Wira, originally launched in 1992, is finally retired and succeeded by the Persona. Production will be transferred to Indonesia.

His confidence was justified because the units the media used for their initial drive were impressive in build quality ? and they were mass production units fresh off the line. ?These are the same quality as what our customers will get and honestly, we did not do anything to prepare them for your viewing and testing,? said Datuk Syed Zainal Abidin at the media preview two days ago. He agreed that consistency would be the important thing and stressed that there are processes to ensure this and that whenever problems were identified, counter-measures would be developed faster.

While no one usually asks about the power windows on a new model, this is something that is asked about new Protons since the power windows ? or rather their very short service life which has required owners to replace them even within less than a year ? have so strongly become associated with the company. So what about the power window systems in the Persona? The Proton CEO said it was not unexpected and gave assurance that there should be no problems because the mechanism was completely changed. In fact, he was even willing to bet his money with this writer that there would be no problems with the power windows to the extent that they would be considered a ?standard? feature.

Toyota Vios, Perodua Myvi and Honda City are targets for Persona to draw customers from and achieve at least 4,000 units a month

A lot is riding on the Persona ? it is crucial for Proton that it meets the target of 4,000 units a month. Bold forecasts of monthly sales for the past three models have not been met and failure for the Persona to do so would be another embarrassment for Proton. Furthermore, having stopped production of the Wira, the Persona has to at least sell in as many numbers as the 15-year old model which was around 1,500 units a month. But more seriously, if Persona sales are weak, it will mean that consumer trust in Proton has been lost to such an extent that even a sedan priced so affordably is not readily accepted. That would be bad news for the next model to be launched in early 2008.

But for now, there is every indication that the Persona could be the turning point for Proton in as far as sales are concerned. Proton is fortunate not to have suffered the destruction of a war, as many of the global players did but it has reached the brink of disaster and perhaps that is what was really needed to wake up those who work in it and supply parts; the complacent attitude that was the result of years of market dominance and protection needed to be removed and the shock of such substantial market share and volume may have done it.

The Persona is here to stay and is not going to be thrown out before its model cycle is up even if Proton gets a new alliance partner. It would be a waste to do so since it is a good product and money has been spent developing it. Datuk Syed Zainal said that if and when there is an alliance partner who offers platforms or models, these would be added to the Proton range rather than replace models; whatever product plans already approved (including a MPV in 2009) will still go ahead.

Comparison of equipment and features for the three versions. Seven colour choices available.

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