Review: Proton Persona, is the facelift enough to save it?

2019 Proton Persona front

(2019 Proton Persona Specs & Price | Gallery)

Mid-life updates are a common occurrence in the automotive scene – cars are updated a couple of years after its debut so that it can remain relevant to the market.

First launched in 2016, the Proton Persona needs some freshing up and what you see here is the new 2019 Proton Persona.

Exterior – How much Botox?

Let’s not beat around the bush – the Proton Persona is far from winning a beauty pageant contest. The proportions are just odd. 

The new front and rear design works well to give the car a more current look but the side profile is where things start to fall apart, as the tall roof and tiny wheels make for a comical-looking sedan.

With that said however, build quality of the Persona is actually pretty decent, as variance between panels did not deviate more than 1.5 mm. Paint thickness is also one of the most consistent ones we’ve tested to date, averaging around the 100 micrometers mark throughout the exterior of the car.

Interior – Black yes, beige no

Since its introduction back in 2016, we never quite understood why Proton chose to give the Persona a dual-tone black and beige interior.

2019 Proton Persona dashboard

Granted, the dual-tone interior does make the Persona look a bit more stylish, but the beige parts will stain easily. If you travel with young kids, good luck keeping it clean.

2019 Proton Persona head unit

New to Proton Persona is the fancy ‘Hi Proton’ voice command infotainment system, allowing drivers (and passengers) to issue voice commands to the car.

2019 Proton Persona climate control

However, unlike the more sophisticated system found in the Proton X70, the Persona gets a more simplified version that is limited to music, navigation, and weather forecast, and no commands for body control functions like windows. The ommission doesn't bother us at all.  

The infotainment system also lacks support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, something we’d gladly trade for the embedded 4G internet connectivity for.

2019 Proton Persona rear seats

Build quality of the interior is a hit or miss (mostly a miss), as our loaner had some weird squeaks and the 60:40 split folding rear seats also failed to latch properly after releasing.

Driving Performance and Handling – Everything starts to fall apart, almost

Just like the Iriz we reviewed some time back, the Persona gets its power from a 1.6-litre VVT petrol engine that does 109 PS and 150 Nm.

During our tests, the Persona completed the 0-100 km/h sprint in 11.7 seconds, while 100-0 km/h braking distance took 45.5 meters.

But performance figures aside, the biggest pitfall of the Persona is its Punch-sourced CVT-type automatic transmission.

2019 Proton Persona gear shifter

Not only is it jerky, it is also noisy and unrefined (everything a CVT shouldn’t be).

Granted, the CVT has improved leaps and bounds over the years, but when compared to rivals such as the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris, the Persona’s CVT is archaic by comparison.

Ride Comfort – There’s no denying Proton’s capabilities here

When it comes to ride comfort and handling, Proton’s capabilities cannot be denied, as the Persona is able to strike the fine balance between ride comfort and handling.

2019 Proton Persona wheels

Throw the little Persona into a corner, the front end just grips and takes it in stride. Even uneven roads failed to unsettle the Persona’s finesse.

2019 Proton Persona front seats

However, some rivals have caught up with the ability to balance ride handling and comfort, so Proton’s strongest unique selling point (USP) for the Persona may not last for long.

At 110 km/h, the Persona’s cabin registered 69.5 dB. At idle, the cabin registered 47 dB, with the air-conditioning switched on.

Fuel Economy – Blame the ageing powertrain

During our time with the Persona, we covered roughly 91 km, through a mix of urban and highway conditions.

2019 Proton Persona meter cluster

After refueling, we calculated an average fuel consumption of 8.4-litres/100 km.

Conclusion – Facelift does little to mask its flaws

All in all, the Persona is a mixed bag – we like the ride and handling aspect of it, but the CVT detracts the otherwise decent driving experience.

2019 Proton Persona front grille

Furthermore, the inconsistent build quality of the interior is another testament of Proton’s quality still needs a lot of improvement.

Priced from RM 54,600 for the range-topping Premium variant, the Persona comfortably undercuts its Japanese and European segment rivals, yet the Persona, in its range-topping Premium guise, offers comparable safety equipment.

2019 Proton Persona side view

So it boils down to what you really want in a car.

If a refined ride is what you seek, then the Persona isn’t quite up to the task, as the CVT bogs down the overall driving experience of the car.

2019 Proton Persona tail light

But if value for money is your priority, and you’re willing to overlook the shortcomings of the CVT, then it’s hard to argue against the value preposition offered by the Persona.

What Are The Alternatives?

Proton Persona
Proton Persona