Proton GEN-2 (2004 - 2012)

Used car model guide

6.4 out of 10

Proton was a company that had one or two tricks up its sleeve, working in the early years of this century with Lotus to evelop budget models that proved to be surprisingly good to drive. The Impian was the first Proton to really raise eyebrows with its crisp road manners but it was always too conservative on the inside and a little dated on the outside to appeal to a wide audience. The Malaysian company fixed that in 2004 when it launched the GEN-2 hatchback. With modern styling and a chassis carried over from the Impian, this was a car that needed no excuses. Or not many anyway. Inexpensive to begin with, a used GEN-2 nets you a lot of car for your money.

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Detailed ratings

Overall
64 %
Economy
5 / 10
Space
7 / 10
Value
8 / 10
Handling
7 / 10
Depreciation
6 / 10
Styling
6 / 10
Build
4 / 10
Comfort
6 / 10
Insurance
8 / 10
Performance
6 / 10
Equipment
7 / 10

History

Before the GEN-2 was launched in 2004, previous Proton models had bought in design and engineering expertise from other companies. This family hatch though, was developed as a proper in-house project, with a chassis that was shared with the Impian saloon - a good start. Back at the turn of the century, the Impian was one of the better handling compact saloons of the period and that model's dimensions, when translated to the GEN-2, gave this hatch a squatly purposeful, wheel-at-each-corner stance. Its exterior detailing showed a number of well-judged contemporary features - from the sculpted headlamp units to the bold design of the hatch and the coupe-like window line.
First arriving in dealers in May September 2004, the GEN-2 received quite a lot of critical acclaim, many commentators observing that this was the car that would punt Proton onto the shortlists of a new cadre of car buyers. As it turned out, quite a lot of residual badge resistance remained and sales were slow as a result. Buyers were offered this five-door hatch with the choice of 1.3 or 1.6-litre petrol engines, both available with manual or automatic transmission. In 2008, a more fugal 'Ecologic' version of the 1.6 was introduced at the same time as 1.6-litre buyers were also offered a four-door model, the GEN-2 Persona saloon. The GEN-2 vanished from the price lists when Proton left the UK market in 2012.
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What you get

The cabin is a bit of a treat if you're used to acres of dull grey plastic and boring details. It was styled by the Lotus Design Studio and features a set of vertical air-conditioning knobs on the centre console support and a nice metallic finish; the result is a feel that's a cut above the class standard for this era in terms of aesthetics. If only the quality of the plastic was a little better. The steering wheel is also massively more sporting looking than the apologetic tillers seen in most cars of the Proton's ilk, as is the instrument panel with its twin cowled binnacle and metallic look to the dials themselves. Everywhere you look there are neat design touches, from the unorthodox handbrake grip to the semi-circular door pulls.
All models got twin airbags and if you can find yourself an example featuring plusher 'GSX' trim, you'll get yourself side airbags, a tailgate spoiler and body coloured door mirrors and door handles and (in automatic form) cruise control. Virtually all models were fitted with air conditioning, an adjustable steering column, electric front windows, power steering, a CD stereo, reverse parking sensors and audio controls mounted on the steering wheel. One grouse is that anti lock brakes weren't featured across the range, with only the top 'GSX' model getting ABS as standard. Work that one out.
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What to look for

Not a lot goes wrong. The interior fittings are not of the highest quality and the centre console does look a lot better than it feels. Make sure the car you're looking at has been serviced on the nose. Other than that, this is one of the less troublesome budget cars you can buy.
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Replacement parts

(Based on a 2008 1.6GLS ex vat) A brake disc will be about £55 - though you could pay up to around £75 for a pricier brand. A set of brake pads will be about £33 and you'll pay £4-£5 for a spark plug and about the same for a headlamp bulb. An oil filter is around £9 and an air filter is around £30.
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On the road

Although the GEN-2 usually sold when new on the basis of its looks and value proposition, a great deal of attention was paid to how the car drives. Quick-witted steering and an alert feel are Lotus trademarks and the GEN-2 isn't found wanting in this department. Factor in a chassis that corners without a great deal of understeer or body roll and you have a setup which will be more than adequate for most of the target market. The more demanding minority may well find themselves wishing for a little more engine, so good is the ride and handling. The ride is firm without lapsing into harshness and float over longer undulations is well suppressed.
There were only two engines offered - petrol units of 1.3 and 1.6-litres in size - and neither are bad units. The 1.6-litre 110bhp CAMPRO unit was developed in collaboration with Lotus and develops reasonable torque in the mid and upper ranges, but you'll need to resort to the gearbox to make progress in the lower gears. Fortunately this isn't too much of a hardship as the standard manual gearbox is a slick system. The 1.6-litre GEN-2 will cover the sprint to 60mph from rest in 12.6 seconds and run on to a top speed of 118mph. A combined fuel consumption figure of 39.2mpg and CO2 emissions of just 169g/km are both extremely competitive.
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Overall

Although it's not the most obvious choice, the Proton GEN-2 could make a very sound bet if you're after a cheap, modern-feeling family hatch and funds are tight. Find a good, well looked-after example and it'll be a bonus that this car is so good to drive. Cheap and cheerful was never this good.
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