So, the latest incarnation of Proton’s most important car in the stable – the Saga, is finally here and it has many great responsibilities on its ‘shoulders’.
Among them are attracting new buyers, reclaiming the ‘Kereta Rakyat’ title which has been held by Perodua over the past decade, and most importantly rebuilding the trust people once had in Proton.
Despite all the drama and the internal issues, what Proton has done this year alone is nothing short of impressive – New management, new vendors, new partners and four new models in four months.
With three down, only the Ertiga MPV is left to be unveiled officially next month, completing Proton’s new product portfolio with a model each in the A, B, C, D, as well as the compact MPV segment.
Coming back to the Saga, we managed to get our hands on the car earlier this week and drove up to Ipoh and back in order to see what’s new and if it has improved at all compared to the outgoing model.
Engine: 1.3-litre, Inline-4, VVT
Power: 94hp @ 5,750rpm
Torque: 120Nm @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual / CVT, FWD
Safety: 2 airbags, ABS, ESC, EBD, Traction Control, Hill-Hold Assist, ISOFIX (rear)
Origins: Locally-manufactured at Shah Alam
Launched last month, the new Saga is offered in four variants:
- 1.3 Standard M/T
- 1.3 Standard CVT
- 1.3 Executive CVT
- 1.3 Premium CVT
Whilst the Standard manual variant kicks off the pricing range at RM37,800 on-the-road with insurance, all three CVT variants reside on the far side of RM40k. The 1.3 Premium CVT variant tops the range off at RM46,800, level with the entry-level Persona 1.6 Standard manual.
Built on an improved version of the outgoing model’s platform, the new Saga is powered by the same 1.3-litre VVT Campro engine which first debuted in the Iriz. Unlike the predecessor, there will not be a 1.6 engine this time but only one engine.
The 1,332cc engine produces 94hp and 120Nm which is identical to the current model, but according to Proton, fuel consumption has improved thanks to the implementation of variable valve timing (VVT) technology.
As with the Persona, Proton now sits the Saga’s engine on three mounting points as opposed to four previously for improved refinement. Another common enhancement shared with the Persona is vastly improved CVT software calibrationthat reduces the dreaded droning noise as well as sharpening the transmission’s responsiveness.
Measuring at 4,352mm long, 1,689mm wide, and 1,509mm tall with a wheelbase length of 2,465mm, the new Saga is 74mm longer, 9mm wider, and 11mm lower than the outgoing model. The wheelbase length remains the same though.
Thanks to the changes in dimensions, the Saga’s cabin is slightly roomier now, especially in the rear. Boot space also gets a 7-litre boost from 413 to 420 litres and can be further expanded by a single-piece folding rear seat back to carry long objects.
Measurements aside, the design of the Saga has improved a lot from what it was, especially when seen from the rear. In front, the car gets new bumper, new headlights, as well as a new grille but it still looks a lot like the outgoing model.
From the rear however, the car looks like a mini BMW E90 3-Series. Even top Proton officials admitted that the new Saga’s rear looks better than the front and it is why most of the posters and billboards show the car from the back.
In case you’re wondering how to distinguish between variant to variant, the standard manual and CVT variants come with 13-inch wheels, only rear fog lamps, and black door handles, while the executive variant gets 14-inch tyres, both front and rear fog lamps, body-coloured door handles and a boot lid trim. The premium variant on the other hand comes with even more goodies like 15-inch tyres, chrome boot lid, and also a reverse camera.
Like the exterior, the Saga’s cabin has been given a makeover as well. One might not notice the differences at a glance but when you look closer, you’ll be able to notice the neater looking new dashboard, redesigned air-cond vents, the additional two USB ports, the larger gear lever, the new steering wheel as well as the new instrument panel.
The seats are all upholstered in fabric even in the executive and premium variants, with plain black on the Standard, and patterned trim higher up. In the rear, the seat backrest is more upright than before, and there’s slightly more knee room than before too, thanks to the design of the front seats.
The cabin is not only roomier than before, but looks neater and feels a bit more solid. Yes, it is still hard plastic everywhere but at least it doesn’t look cheap.
In terms of comfort, four full grown adults can actually sit through a decent long distance journey in the new Saga as there is decent head and leg room for four. After certain speed, it does get a bit noisy but the surprisingly good audio system makes it up for it.
As neat and comfortable as the cabin is, Proton has compromised a few things in the name of cost-cutting.
For instance, only the executive and premium variants of the Saga get electric controls for the side mirrors. In the base variant, the only way one can adjust the side mirror is by winding down and pushing the side mirror using his or her hand. In fact, the base variants don’t even get pockets behind the seats.
So, to be frank, those of you who are considering this car shouldn’t bother wasting your time with the standard variants as they are only as good as a car which came out 20 years ago. If you want a properly equipped car, go for the Premium variant.
During our stint with the new Saga, we drove both the entry level standard manual and the Premium CVT variants along highways as well as some B-roads from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh.
On paper, 94 hp and 120 Nm might not look that impressive but the Saga is anything but underpowered. On highways, the car could cruise comfortably at speeds of 120- to 140km/h without showing any signs of struggling.
It’s just that power doesn’t come instantly. So, it is pointless to put the accelerator pedal to the floor as there will be nothing more than engine noise for a couple of seconds before the car starts to move faster.
So, it’s best to be progressive rather than aggressive in throttle application while driving the Saga. In the manual however, things were more exciting as the car was more responsive and power delivery was more instantaneous.
Further complementing the enjoyable drive were the tweaked suspensions, which absorbed all the bumps and lumps respectably, both in town and on the highways. We even intentionally drove through a couple of potholes along the roads near Gopeng town to see how harsh the ride was going to get but the car tolerated it really well.
Brakes were soft as we expected, and needed some getting used to but within 20 minutes or so we managed to familiarize ourselves.
Overall, the Saga is quite a capable car on the road. Unlike Peroduas that are typically punchy in the city but tend to lose the plot on highways, the Saga felt planted even when it went beyond the speed limit.
The Saga’s main rival; the Perodua Bezza starts off with a lower entry price than the Saga, and also offers better equipment levels where the higher variants are concerned. The Saga, however, is hands down better to drive, with its chassis feeling significantly more composed than the Perodua.
Compared to the current Saga BLM, the new VVT version is definitely a step forward. Despite being built on a carryover platform, enhancements that have been applied by Proton to the car make it a much better package.
Yes, there are still small things that can be improved such as the finishing, but overall, the Saga is affordable and still remains a respectable car.