Motoring: Road Test - Extreme, as in not too bad

Malaysia's Proton are giving it some welly in the hype department to boost their entry into the hot hatch market. `Handling by Lotus,' it says here. But does their advertising campaign protest too much? Could it be that their deep-throated GTi just a lot of hot air?

Proton. Is that not the car your retired uncle drives? Suits him fine, actually. It is based on an old Mitsubishi, does not go wrong, did not cost a lot. The glamour quotient is negligible, but that does not bother uncle.

But it does bother Proton. Future Protons will not be based on Mitsubishis, now that the company has a research and development department in its native Malaysia and one in the UK in the form of Lotus, most of which it owns. Proton needs to attract new, younger buyers. Hence the cred- enhancing street-racer you see here.

It is called the Proton GTi and it comes with Loaded-literate advertising such as: "More screws per car. Guaranteed"; "Men have G-spots too"; "More effective than rhino horn". Priced optimistically high at pounds 14,499, it is cast as a proper, hard-edged GTi along the lines of past Golf and Peugeot 205 GTis, a reaction to the overdose of softness and subtlety that has seeped into the hot-hatchback canon of late.

Thanks to the work that Lotus has done on the starting point for this car (the Proton Compact, based on the previous-generation Mitsubishi Colt), the GTi can wear "Handling by Lotus" badges. It also wears 17 GTi badges, to make sure no one misses the message.

But you do not really need to get within badge-reading distance, because the car has fat, six-spoke wheels, deep-throat air intakes, side skirts, spoilers and wheel-arch extensions to set the tone. Two rectangular exhaust pipes, too: very Max Power. The "More screws" relates to the wheel-arch attachments, by the way.

Inside, the old Colt-like cabin is spiced up with a textured aluminium- look fascia finish that is echoed on the upholstery of the body-clamping seats (maybe it is a reference to the chain mail you might wear for battle) and those essential markers of the modern hot hatchback, aluminium pedals and a machined aluminium gear-lever knob (with rather sharp edges). You get air-conditioning and a CD-stacker, too.

For many Max Power readers it could happily end there, as their macho- looking cars often contain the lowliest of engines to keep them insurable. Here, though, we find the 1.8-litre, 133bhp engine from the Proton Coupe, plus shorter, stiffer springs, revised dampers and suspension pivots and firmer mountings for the steering rack. Suspension arms are strengthened, and the front anti-roll bar is linked to the suspension struts for sharper steering.

The GTi's project leader, Graham Sutherland, worked with John Miles, one-time Formula One racer and long-time Lotus suspension guru, to hone the Proton into shape. Mr Miles would have liked to do more, but he is quite pleased with the result. The Proton GTi is, in some ways, very good indeed. For example, it is unerringly stable if you swerve or if you suddenly need to slow down in a fast corner. I tried to get it unsettled on Lotus's test track, but it just gripped and gripped. No one with a no-claims bonus to preserve need fear this car, which comes with a year's free insurance for buyers over 25.

This GTi is also quite fast, with a fair punch through most of the engine's speed range. It makes quite a racket at high revs, and it is a flat, characterless noise. The gear change feels neat, though, thanks to a positive, Lotus- engineered linkage. Such precision counts for a lot when you are forming first impressions. A firm, chunky ride and positive, meaty steering help, too.

But you drive a few more miles and you start to wonder. Does the suspension need to be so firm, or is it just that way to make a buyer feel that he - or, ads notwithstanding, she - is driving something that must be a bit sporty because it is banging over bumps? And is the whole experience proving a shade, well, wooden? Is the G-force maybe missing that G-spot?

Good hot hatchbacks, and indeed Proton's successful rally cars, tuck harder into a corner if you decelerate, then let you power out of it in a sort of drift. This "throttle steerability" adds to the fun but demands some sensitivity - as intuitive in most of us as the ability to ride a bicycle - from the driver. But the GTi does not really do that, because Lotus has made it idiot-proof.

It looks like a hairy monster and feels at first as though it may be one, but in the end it proves insufficiently stimulating to the brain's pleasure centres. It is extreme in appearance only. The insurance company will not mind, though.

Specifications

Proton GTi

Price: pounds 14,499

Engine: 1,834cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 133bhp at 6,500rpm

Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive

Performance: top speed of 126mph, 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds, achieves 28 to 33 miles per gallon

RIVALS

Citroen Saxo VTS: pounds 12,000. Smaller and cheaper than the Proton, and considerably more fun. One of the best.

Fiat Punto HGT: pounds 13,495. New Punto is as well-equipped as the Proton GTi. But has a similar shortfall in the fun factor, too.

Ford Puma 1.7: pounds 14,995. A coupe rather than a hot hatchback, and a quick, smooth and entertaining one. Cramped, though.

Peugeot 206 GTI: pounds 13,995. Fast, fun and refined, this is how to make a hot hatchback mature without losing the plot. Terrific.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0: pounds 15,955. Relaxed, not-very-sporty. Epitomises the softening of the hot hatchback in the Nineties.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Law Costs

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

    Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

    C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

    Clinical Negligence Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

    Day In a Page

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution
    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state