Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds, 42.8mpg
Worth considering: Fiat Grande Punto, Seat Ibiza, Suzuki Swift
This week, our readers try out the latest model from the Malaysian manufacturer Proton. The badge on the tailgate says Satria Neo; the "Neo" bit obviously signifies that it is new, and Satria, apparently, means "warrior" in Malay.
I have to say, I was slightly disappointed to discover that Satria is a proper word and not some artificial confection, if only because it put paid to my favourite theory about how Proton arrives at its quirky model names. This involves an elaborate boardroom ceremony resembling a cross between an FA Cup draw and an episode of Countdown, during which the chairman's wife draws half a dozen or so scrabble tiles at random from a velvet bag.
Anyway, the tail of the Satria Neo is a rather crowded piece of real estate because, as well as the usual badges showing the model name, maker and engine size, there's another that says "Handling by Lotus".
Now, just in case you're sceptical about the extent of Lotus's involvement in the development of this modest Malaysian motor, let me say that, if anything, this badge understates the role of the Norfolk sports car manufacturer, which is, after all, owned by Proton.
In fact, Lotus was responsible for several aspects of the car's design, including the drivetrain, styling and body engineering. Lotus seems especially proud of the new Satria's stiffness - a vital factor in a car's handling - which exceeds that of its own Elise.
The engineers set out to give the Satria what they describe as "pointable" steering, limited roll and well-controlled pitch and heave. These qualities are apparent in the car's behaviour on the road, where they are matched by a willing if a bit raucous engine, which needs to be revved.
If you've been paying attention over the years, you will know that there isn't really anything new in Proton giving us cars that get the basics right, look attractive and are good to drive.
With the Satria Neo, however, the company has worked hard to address the criticism that some previous Protons have attracted for the quality of their interior trim. Many of the materials seem better than those used in the past, and the darker colours chosen are more in tune with European tastes. The generously sized seats are comfortable, although the range of adjustment is limited.
Proton is expecting the Satria Neo to appeal mainly to customers from social groups C1, C2 and D, which, in everyday language, means that they don't expect to sell many of them to posh people. That's a pity, because badge snobs will miss out on a surprisingly appealing car.
Ricky J Lee, 30, sales and marketing director, Doncaster
USUAL CARS: BMW 5-SERIES, BMW X3
I was pleasantly surprised with the Proton experience. This car gained my respect out on the road. The Lotus input became apparent when we took the Satria from the monotony of a motorway to some twisting B-roads. I thought the handling was surprisingly good. It was composed and solid and I felt safe. The engine seems to enjoy being pushed and that centre exhaust gives it a little presence as you are pushed along. The lack of refinement became apparent back on the motorway, it did have a few squeaks, suffered wind noise and the engine then felt a little harsh. But the seats were very comfortable. Pick the right colour for this car and be aware of its limitations.
Gary Heywood, 38, IT Contractor, Belton, Lincolnshire
USUAL CARS - VW PASSAT 2.0 TDI, VW BORA 1.9 TDI
I must admit I wasn't expecting a lot when I heard the car was a Proton. How wrong I was. The styling on the outside was mean looking and the interior was a vast improvement on previous Protons. Once we got out on the back lanes it performed really well, the handling was precise and the steering felt purposeful. Any roll and pitch on corners was kept to a minimum. If you got the revs above 5,000, then the acceleration was impressive. Equipment levels were good for a car costing under £10,000 - rear parking sensors, air con and CD player all as standard. Overall, it's a good value, racier alternative to some of the bigger manufacturer's similar-sized offerings.
Mike Wiggins, 58, retired engineer, Tadcaster, Yorkshire
USUAL CAR: VOLVO S40 T4SE
I really liked the Satria Neo. The steering, suspension and ride quality are superb. Controls are light and a foot rest is provided. Brakes are a trifle vague. The engine compartment is well laid out, with all the vital fluid levels easily checked and replaced. Most of the switches for electric mirrors, windows and CD could do with being a bit more chunky. Performance is fine, but the engine needs to be revved quite a lot to get the best response from the available power. The car is quiet and comfortable to the extent that it wouldn't tire you on a long motorway run or the dreaded commute. Generally a great effort from Proton and Lotus, but oh dear, those alloys and the name!
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