Quite simply, this is Australia’s cheapest car; the Proton S16 sedan is priced at a mere $11,990 which includes on-road costs. That makes it the equivalent of about four month’s average income. A truly stunning price.
Value for money is obviously the biggest appeal in this Malaysian car and to achieve this some corners have been cut in the levels of equipment, although not to the extent you might have imagined. You get air conditioning, power windows on the front doors (but not on the back ones), a reasonably good CD AM/FM stereo, intermittent windscreen wipers, a height adjustable steering wheel, central locking, an alarm system, power steering and a five-speed (not four-speed) manual gearbox.
While some of these features may not seem all that striking in this day and age, they weren’t always the norm in lower priced cars a decade ago. And that we had stepped back a decade in time was our first feeling when we got into the Proton S16. It has a slightly old fashioned feel to it in the way it sounds and feels on the road. The gearing is relatively low to get the best in performance from a smallish engine in quite a large car and refinement isn’t as good as that in a typical car of this class – albeit one that costs thousands of dollars more.
Another feature of the 2010 Proton S16 is a pair of rear doors. Any other car that’s remotely close to the Proton’s price is a three-door hatchback with a small boot. The Proton S16 is a four-door sedan that provides plenty of room for four adults, thanks to good legroom and headroom in the back seat. Three adults can be carried in the rear, but a trio of children makes a lot more sense.
Proton also has a good sized boot that not only has a big volume but also is easy to load thanks to a good sized opening. On the downside, the old-fashioned design of the boot lids mean the hinges intrude into the luggage space – so you have to be careful not to damage items in there.
The price has also been kept down by skimping on some safety features. There’s only a single airbag (for the driver) and ESP (Electronic Stability Program) isn’t standard. Note that some features, safety and otherwise, can be specified on other Proton S16 models selling at higher prices. We suggest you contact your dealer for full details of these.
The S16’s cabin is cheap and cheerful with what seems to be acres of featureless grey plastic. Storage spaces are large and easy to use with a sort of bin moulded into the dash on the passenger side above the glove box. There’s also a handy coin / mobile telephone space just in front of the manual gear shift and another storage area between the gear shifter and the hand brake. Each of the doors has plenty of room and is fitted with a drink holder.
An irritating feature in any manual car is a blinker stalk that’s on the wrong side. While this can be tolerated in cars with left hand drive, the Malaysians drive on the same side of the road as we do, so why can’t we get their stalk system?
The instrument binnacle houses a large circular tachometer and speedometer. Inside the tacho display there are bar graph displays for fuel level and water temperature. We don’t like fuel gauges of this type as they are rather too vague to rely on. The radio controls are small, which is one of our pet hates. Just under the audio system are the ventilation controls which are large and user-friendly.
Proton’s 1.6 Campro engine is the best powerplant that we have driven in this Proton design. We have criticised it in the past but the engineers have done a nice job of making it work well. It’s happier at lower revs than in previous iterations and provides good torque that lets you use higher gears than previously. It’s reasonably willing to run to the higher end of the tacho, and revs out to 6500 rpm if you need that little extra. It does become slightly harsh once you are over about 5000 rpm.
The five-speed gearbox is a little notchy in its change action, but not to the extent that it’s annoying.
The handling is good, being Lotus tuned, as the Malaysian company has owned that British marque for some years now and has made use of the skills of the sports car maker. However, the Proton S16 lacks some of the superb finesse of the more expensive cars in the range.
Value for money in this new Malaysian car is amazingly good and many will like to have a brand new car with a three-year unlimited distance warranty sitting in their driveway for less than the price of most used cars under about two years old.
AT A GLANCE
Proton S16 G 1.3-litre four-door sedan: $11,990 driveaway
Proton S16 GX 1.6-litre four-door sedan: $12,990 driveaway (manual), $14,990 driveaway (automatic)
ABS Brakes: Not offered
Air Conditioning: Standard
Automatic Transmission: Not offered on G, $2000 option on GX
CD Player: Standard
Central Locking: Standard
Cruise Control: Not offered
Dual Front Airbags: Driver only
Front Side Airbags: Not offered
Stability Control: Not offered
Traction Control: Not offered
SPECIFICATIONS (Proton S16 G 1.3-litre four-door sedan)
Capacity: 1.332 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Head Design: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Maximum Power: 70 kW @ 6000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 120 Nm @ 4000 rpm
Driven Wheels: Front
Manual Transmission: Five-speed
Automatic Transmission: Not offered
Final Drive Ratio: 4.705:1
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4257 mm
Wheelbase: 2465 mm
Width: 1680 mm
Height: 1502 mm
Turning Circle: 10.6 metres
Gross Vehicle Mass: 1445 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 40 litres
Towing Ability: N/A
SUSPENSION AND BRAKES:
Front Suspension: MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension: Semi-independent, torsion beam, anti-roll bar
Front Brakes: Ventilated disc
Rear Brakes: Drum
0-100 km/h Acceleration: N/A
Type: Petrol 95RON
Combined Cycle (ADR 81/01): 6.0 L/100km
GREEN VEHICLE GUIDE RATINGS:
Greenhouse Rating: 7.5/10
Air Pollution Rating: 6.5/10
Three years/100,000 km