Proton took the right approach when they launched the 2019 Proton Saga facelift. Offering improved features and drivability at a lower price point for consumers.
Their strategy of giving better value for money to the consumers is being rewarded in their sales numbers, with a monthly average of 3,500 cars delivered. The Saga facelift was crucial in helping Proton achieve their 2019 sales target of 100,000 units.
Even as archrival, Perodua launched their updated Saga competitor, the price tag is just not as attractive as the Proton – and we know how price-sensitive shoppers of this segment are.
We think that the Proton Saga 1.3L Premium facelift will continue to top the sales chart for many more years to come and here’s why.
Exterior - Improved the aerodynamics because they can
Initially, I thought the changes to the exterior are nothing to shout about (especially when compared to the Perodua Bezza facelift), just a slightly revised body kit with a rear spoiler, new wheel design, Proton lettering across the boot and LED daytime running lights for this Premium variant.
However, we learnt from Vehicle Programme Executive, Engineering Division, Desmond John Pinto, that the new design elements are all backed by engineering reasons. The new body kit was designed and tested in a wind tunnel to achieve better aerodynamic efficiency stability.
This exercise gives the Saga facelift lower drag (for better fuel economy and lower wind noise) and greater high-speed stability. Which explains the smooth front end and neatly tucked rear spoiler that is standard across the range.
The new alloy wheel design on the Saga 1.3 Premium variant is an interesting one, that too has an engineering motive behind it.
Since Proton-Geely era began, our national carmaker has learnt plenty on the areas of manufacturing from their new strategic partner. To lower the cost of production, the Saga now uses the same front brake rotors shared with the Proton Iriz and Persona that is 1 inch larger in diameter compared to the pre-facelift Saga.
The enlarged brake rotors have in turn changed the PCD (pitch circle diameter) of the wheel hubs from PCD100 to PCD114. Wheel size remains unchanged at 15-inch for the Premium variant shod in 185/55 R15 tyres. This means that the facelift Saga now has better brakes and sharper wheels but bad news for those thinking to fit the new wheels on their old Saga.
Build quality is consistent throughout the car with no more than 1 mm difference in panel gaps. The paint finish on the Saga facelift is also consistent throughout the entire body ranging between 102 to 117 μm.
Interior - All eyes on the floating touchscreen
Pinto said this at a media roundtable session “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.”
They’ve managed to close the gap alright. Not in just perceived quality but also build quality. For starters, the doors now close with a reassuring ‘thump’ rather than hollow ‘clank’ in the pre-facelift Saga.
The new floating 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system exclusive to the 1.3 Premium along with the instrument cluster with LCD multi-info display (MID) leaves a modern and high-tech impression.
It’s not just for show either, the execution on these new technologies are faultless. The touchscreen is slick, and the sound generated from the 4-speaker set up (yes, only four) is uncannily crisp and bassy. I would be asking too much for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity given the price point of the Saga.
The MID reads all the vital driving information while the speedo and tachometer both have legible fonts. What’s impressive is that the door open indicator on the Saga facelift not only tells which individual doors are open, it even lets you know about the engine hood and boot! How’s that for a sub-RM 40,000 car.
If there is one thing to fix, it is the cabin light. The LED dome light in front of the cabin looks but it doesn't work as well as it looks. The light throw is off, shining too much light into the occupants eyes rather than the rest of the cabin. At night, the rear cabin remains dark, even with the light switched on, making it hard for you to look for things behind.
Driving experience - Best in class ride & handling
I have to put a disclaimer out there; I have no issues with Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT). When done right, I think CVTs are the best transmission to have for city driving and highway cruising – which is what the majority of car owners would use it for anyway.
But the Punch-sourced CVT is perhaps the worst in the business. It’s jerky at stop-go, noisy at speeds and doesn’t respond when you want it to. Although Proton has done all they can to rectify the CVT’s flaws in the updated Iriz and Persona, it still wasn’t quite good enough.
Which is why the switch back to a conventional 4-speed automatic was a welcomed move for many. The Hyundai-sourced torque converter may seem like a step backwards for some but in the real-world, the improvements couldn’t be more profound.
In town, the 4-speed automatic is much smoother to operate and doesn’t hesitate in stop-go traffic. It also offers much more direct and linear power delivery which adds to the driving engagement. However, most importantly, it no longer generates the dreadful CVT whine.
If there’s one aspect that you can trust Proton on is their expertise in Ride and Handling. With the improved braking performance and aerodynamics, Proton engineers took advantage of that to revise the suspension of the Saga.
The front dampers are now slightly stiffer to reduce ‘nosedive’ effect – where the front of the car dips forward under hard braking. The ABS and ESC (on the Premium variant) are also recalibrated as a result.
On the highway, you’ll get a sense of easiness and confidence from the Saga’s good body control. Compared to the Perodua Bezza, the difference in handling prowess is night and day.
Ride comfort - Many cars can’t match the Saga
Despite the stiffer dampers, ride comfort did not appear to suffer as a result. It still irons out bumps elegantly and potholes don't upset its composure all that much.
Cabin insulation is still exceptional in the Saga as we recorded 70 dB at 110 km/h. That is almost on par with the Volkswagen Vento (68 dB) and Toyota Vios (69 dB). We reckon that the Saga’s NVH could benefit greatly from better tyres (Silverstone Kruizer NS800 from factory).
The Saga also benefits from a retuned steering rack for lesser resistance. This means the Saga facelift is more effortless to manoeuvre at low speeds which is great for parking and navigating through the city centre.
However, the slight trade-off is that the steering can feel a bit vaguer than the old car but still miles ahead of the Bezza in terms of steering feel.
Fuel efficiency - Not great in the city but acceptable
Proton claims that the new 4-speed automatic transmission is more fuel-efficient than the CVT automatic that it replaces. To test that out, we covered 64.6 km in mixed driving conditions and used 4.328 litres of fuel which works out to 6.7 litres per 100 km.
The Saga has a fuel tank of 40-litre capacity fuel tank which works out to a theoretical range of 597 km per full tank. However, we noticed fuel consumption to deteriorate drastically when crawling in the city. Low-speed city driving will offset the low fuel consumption of highway cruising and return you poorer combined fuel consumption. The Bezza, on the other hand, thanks to its more advanced engine set up is more efficient in the city.
Conclusion - RM 40k but feels a lot more than that
The 2019 Proton Saga facelift impressed us in our short stint with it earlier and continues to do so in our extended test drive with it. At this price point of RM 39,800, the Saga is not only an affordable choice as an A to B commute, but it also offers fantastic driving experience and premium touches here and there.
It’s not just a car you buy because it’s cheap, it’s a car that you genuinely want to buy and own it for the long term. For the money you’re paying, the Saga makes you feel good sitting in it, driving It and using it.
Sure, there are some areas can be improved like having adjustable headrest for the rear passengers, better thigh support for the rear bench and possibly a larger boot. But there’s no denying that there is nothing else at this price point that can match the value proposition of the Saga.