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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
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

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable