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.


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


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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss