Proton Persona CNG - Test Drive Report
On paper the Proton Persona CNG is a winner. The specifications look good, and the price is very reasonable. The Persona undercuts rivals on price, while seemingly offering more. But this is all on paper.
This week I got behind the wheel of the Persona CNG, and would like to share my opinions after a short drive. I'm going to focus mainly on the ride quality, comfort, and performance in this article. Where applicable I'll also draw some comparisons to other cars in this segment.
Driving position and comfort
Finding a driving position in the Persona was reasonably easy. With the driver's seat pushed all the way to the back of the rails, I was pleased to find that this was exactly right for me. The steering wheel didn't need adjustment either, and everything seemed to fall nicely to hand right away.
The Persona CNG comes in 3 grade levels. There is a Medium Line Manual, Medium Line Auto, and High Line. I drove the Medium Line Auto. This lacks the leather wrapped steering wheel, leather seats, passenger airbag, ABS and other stuff like that of the High Line. It did have a driver's side airbag though, so I felt reasonably confident as we set off.
The Persona CNG uses the same 110 bhp 1.6 litre Campro engine as the Medium Line Gen 2 and although the High Line Gen 2 has the 125 bhp unit, the Persona retains the standard engine across the range. At low speeds the engine is quiet enough, and refinement seems good.
I try not to break the law, so if you want to know what the Persona is like above the speed limits then you'll have to look to other sources. However, as the revs climb the engine starts to sound a bit rough, but no more so than in other cars of this power and class. I would put it somewhere close to the Nissan Tiida or Toyota Vios. But neither of these cars are what you would call smooth.
The weight of the CNG tank in the boot probably doesn't help with 0-100 km/h times, but I found the car to be responsive enough. The clear leader in this category has to be the Honda City. The 120 hp unit is constantly willing to press on, and never seems to feel flat. In the Persona, the 4-speed auto seems to work very hard to keep the car going. Kick-down seems to take two steps at times, and I could see this getting slightly frustrating.
Taken for what it is the Persona is a reasonably powered car and if you don't ask too many questions then you won't be frustrated when it doesn't have the answers. This is a family sedan. Forget any claims of Lotus engineering when it comes to power at least.
The Persona CNG does a decent job of taking care of rough roads at slow speeds. I took the car through some residential streets complete with poorly designed speed bumps, and the Persona meet my expectations for a car in this class. The long wheelbase (2,600 mm) helps here and the Persona felt smooth and composed.
Back out on the road and cruising at 80-100 km/h the Persona felt capable. The Proton guy started to brag about Lotus tuning at this point, but I was actually surprised since the car felt softer than I'd expected from all the hype about sports suspension. But, as I understand it, the Gen 2 is harder, and the Persona has been made a little softer. Overall, I would say this is probably for the best, and your kids will probably not complain too much about the ride.
The car soaked up the bumps pretty well, and felt sure footed cornering, but when road surfaces were rougher (like most of the surfaces in Bangkok) I was surprised to hear a rather loud noise from the rear of the car. The sound was almost like a mixture of grinding metal and a twisting spring kinda sound. The Proton people insisted that it must have been that one of the seats wasn't latched down properly in the back, but I am certain that this noise was either from the rear suspension or possibly the CNG tank assembly in the trunk. I didn't get to poke around under the car or have a look at the CNG tank, but whatever the cause, a new car should not make this kind of noise.
Although I will agree that the roads also should not be this bad, it should be noted that I did subjected the Honda City and Nissan Tiida to similar road conditions and didn't have any issue like this.
Another gripe is that cornering on rough surfaces seemed to result in quite a lot of under steer. Perhaps I was just expecting too much from the car given all the hype Proton do here in Thailand about the "LOTUS TECHNOLOGY."
Despite the long wheelbase, room in the back seat is pretty restricted. Headroom is about the same as the City and Vios, meaning that anyone over 6-foot tall will have their head pressed against the roof lining. The Nissan Tiida leads the field in rear passenger space.
From the driver seat things are quite cramped too. The driving position was fine for me, but there is something strange about the design of the door panels directly below the window. They encroach on the cabin space and make things feel a little smaller. Perhaps there is some safety related reason for this.
Again, I'm left slightly disappointed here. Despite the longer wheelbase and physical size, the Persona doesn't live up to the promise. But, if find you are able to fit comfortably in the car, then you will find it is reasonably comfortable.
Niggles and Problems
I've kept the really negative points to the end. And there are a few. The first major problem I noticed was the brakes which were probably the worst I've experienced in this segment of the market. Now, it should be noted that I was driving the Medium Line model, which doesn't have ABS etc, but the brakes were not at all sharp. Actually, they were unpredictable. Sometimes they would bite quickly, and sometimes the pedal would feel spongy. I was told that the High Line model is better, and I hope that's true.
The mirrors all wobble going over bumps. This is more of a niggle than a serious problem, but the fact is that it is very annoying, and shouldn't be the case. The Nissan Tiida I drove had this problem with the rear view mirror, but not the door mirrors. The effect can be quite irritating. Perhaps road conditions in Malaysia are vastly better than here in Thailand? I think not.
Staying with the mirrors, the door mirrors taper off to a point and this design leaves a small mirror area which gets smaller towards the outside. While this may look cool, the result is that you end up with a larger blind spot than usual. Combine this with the fact that the mirror is wobbling around in its frame on bumpy roads and checking the mirrors isn't exactly a pleasant task.
Apart from the extremely obvious noise mentioned earlier, the car also exhibited various creaking noises, buzzing sounds, and rattles which seemed to depend on the speed or engine revs. All cars eventually start to exhibit these sort of noises, and the solution is to just turn the volume up on the radio to drown them out. But this is a new car, and I would not be satisfied if my car was delivered like this, or started making these sort of noises with less than 1000 km on the clock.
In contrast, the Honda City is quiet and engenders complete confidence that it will remain so for some time. The Proton does leave something to be desired in this area.
The rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, which is great in the standard Persona, but all but useless in the CNG version because of the placement of the CNG tank behind the rear seats. But when PTT puts the price of CNG up maybe you'll want to remove the tank!
In places there is a very flimsy feel to parts of the car. For example, if you lift up the rear seat you see it is hinged by very weak metal. It looks like you could rip the seat out with a swift yank, or that it could be broken if something was dropped against it while folded forward.
There are plenty of things to like. The Persona looks good and drives pretty well. Even with the large CNG tank taking up boot space, there is still enough space for a family trip, or the weekly shopping.
The interior offers up a decent level of practicality, with the usual assortment of cup holders, and stowage.
Safety specification is good on the High Line model, but even the base model includes a driver's airbag, although you do have to go to the top model for ABS brakes.
But, even though the Persona is between THB 80,000 and THB 100,000 cheaper than rivals, and even accounting for all the positive factors, it is still very hard for me to recommend the Proton Persona.
Is the Proton really good value? Toyota and Nissan will both throw in free insurance which will cost you THB 20,000 baht in the Proton. Interest rates also make a difference, and Nissan and Toyota are both promoting their cars with low interest rates on repayments. Honda doesn't have to worry because the City is selling itself.
Finally, when you consider that the Persona will not hold its value anything like as well as a Toyota, Honda or even a Nissan, and the advantage Proton has with the lower initial price point is completely nullified. And the Persona can't really trade punches with the Vios and City.
On paper the Persona CNG looks like a great deal. What is it they say about things that look too good to be true?
I feel obligated to make this very clear: I do not recommend the Proton Persona CNG.
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