Throughout the years, the Proton Saga, in efforts to retain its budget car credentials, went through a series of segment downsizing. From the Honda Civic fighter in 1985 to the Perodua Bezza competitor that millennials are more familiar with today.
A little over three years have passed since the third-generation Proton Saga made its debut and Proton decided to introduce a midlife facelift. A little early in this model's life cycle but this process was accelerated with Proton's new partner, Geely who has a comprehensive action plan to turn Proton around.
After launching the Proton X70, the brand's first SUV, the next move is to revamp Proton's core model line up. The Persona, Iriz, Exora and 2019 Proton saga , cheekily referred to internally as PIES, all received an update one after another.
Unlike the Iriz and Persona, the team working on the 2019 Proton Saga facelift project, led by Vehicle Programme Executive, Engineering Division, Desmond John Pinto, had a lead time of 14 months to work on the project. They also had the luxury to reference the Proton Iriz facelift and Persona which allowed the team to make better decisions based on what the customers want.
According to Pinto, the primary target for the 2019 Proton Saga facelift was to bring the perceived quality of the Saga closer to the X70. "Since the launch of the X70, which is our halo model, the discrepancy in quality (between X70 and Saga) is huge. We want to close the gap with the facelift," said Pinto in a private roundtable session with the media at the official 2019 Proton Saga media test drive event.
Emphasis has been placed to enhance not only the perceived quality but also build quality. It all starts from the moment the occupants close the door which now shuts with a more reassuring "thump" as opposed to the hollow "clank" of the outgoing model. Off to a great start in my books.
2019 Proton Saga Facelift Interior
The cabin of the 2019 Proton Saga Facelift will take many by surprise, giving off a modern and high-tech impression with its 7.0-inch floating touchscreen infotainment screen, new instrument cluster with LCD multi-info display and LED map lights. All these in a car that undercuts RM 40,000? Impressive.
The reason Proton was able to include all these features was thanks to its partnership with Geely where they were able to access Geely's shared parts bin to pick and choose the suitable features at a reasonable cost. It is also why Proton was able to adopt a Hyundai-sourced 4-speed torque converter to replace the much-debated CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).
After you're done awing over how the cabin looks and start to interact with the touchpoints, you'll be amazed how the little 2019 Proton Saga Facelift continues to impress.
The seats although fabric, has a denim-like texture that you find on high-quality jeans which Proton engineers have confirmed are (light) scratch and water-resistant.
Moving over to the centre floating touchscreen and while it doesn't come with the full GKUI "Hi Proton" voice command feature, the sleek smartphone-like response and crisp graphics will more than makeup for it.
2019 Proton Saga Facelift Sound System
Yes, we know, you are sceptical at the 4-speaker set up and so were we. But after spending long highway miles from KL-Ipoh and back, we are convinced that 4 is all you need to throw a party.
The clarity and bass from the system is spot on and doesn't fizzle even when you crank up the volume. There is even an equaliser setting in the menu to further fine-tune the audio frequency.
The sound quality is further highlighted by the Proton Saga's unmatched cabin insulation that is only hampered by the tyre roar generated by the Silverstone Kruizer NS800 rubbers.
2019 Proton Saga Facelift Driving Performance and Handling
There is really no other competition in the A-segment sedan space other than the Bezza but that didn't give Proton a reason to take a back seat in R&D. In fact, they have upped their game in the ride and handling department.
For starters, the 2019 Proton Saga Facelift now comes fitted with larger front brake discs (1-inch up) taken from the Iriz and Persona. However, as a result, the PCD (Pitch Circle Diameter) of the rims has also increased from PCD100 to PCD114. Wheel sizes and tyre profile remains unchanged at 15-inch for the Premium variant shod in 185/55R15 rubbers and 14-inch on Standard variants wrapped in 185/60R14 tyres.
With better braking performance, the engineers had to recalibrate the suspension settings to prevent nosedive under heavy braking. Proton also took this opportunity to introduce a plusher ride quality as well as retuned the hydraulic steering for lesser steering effort – in other words, a lighter steering feel.
Steering feel did in fact suffered from being overly light at high speeds with an unfathomable sense of vagueness. The flip side is that in town, manoeuvring the 2019 Proton Saga Facelift is now almost effortless which the majority of the consumers would appreciate for its intended purposes.
To give credit where it's due, the Saga's handling characteristic is confidence-inspiring, to say the least. Be it at a highspeed cruise on the highway or carving corners at the B-roads, the 2019 Proton Saga Facelift had a sense of dynamic sophistication that its rival just couldn't demonstrate. I've always believed in a good handling car is always the safer car and the 2019 Proton Saga Facelift is the better handling car here.
2019 Proton Saga Facelift Engine & 4-speed automatic Performance
Many thought the switch to a 4-speed torque converter is a step backwards from Proton but in reality, it is progress. The Hyundai-sourced 4-speed automatic is not only more economical to maintain it also promotes a sportier driving feel with stronger and more direct in-gear acceleration.
There is even a Sport Mode which holds onto a lower gear up to the 6,500 rpm limiter and has the highest gear set to 3rd. Proton claims that drivers can achieve top speed in both 3rd and 4th gear but stopped short at revealing the maximum velocity reading.
In the city, the dreadful hesitation and jerkiness of the Punch-sourced CVT is now no more and immediately you'll notice (and appreciate) how confident the 4-speeder shifts and delivers power.
The CVT was a mismatch with the 95 PS and 120 Nm 1.3-litre naturally-aspirated VVT petrol engine, making the car appear even more underpowered than it actually is. The 4-speed automatic brings a more direct power transfer which in turn injected a newfound enthusiasm to the 2019 Proton Saga Facelift.
The 2019 Proton Saga Facelift is impressive on paper and even more so on the road. The fact that Proton is listening to the consumers and plan their products according to what kind of car the people want to buy vs. a car that they want to sell proves that the company have matured dramatically in terms of product planning.
With its unrivalled price tag (RM 32,800 to RM 39,800), high-tech features and improved safety (ABS with EBD now standard across all variants), the 2019 Proton Saga Facelift has once again shown that it lives up to the legacy it set since 1985 – being the People's Car.