Before I get started I have to say this. The Proton P321A, (shown here leaving the picture because this article isn’t about it) is not based on any Mitsubishi, Honda, Volkswagen, Kia or whatever brand you can think of. It is Proton’s own design based on an evolution of the Proton Persona/Gen2. I have decided to state this because someone used Google and typed “what car is p3-21a based on?”. This must be one of those individuals who thinks wants it to be a Mitsubishi so that they can put the Mitsubishi badge or one of those Ralliart stickers on the car if and when he or she buys the P321A. I believe this is the only reason why someone would conduct such a search. Trust me. I think I am quite in tune with the Malaysian motoring psyche.
Anyway, Proton’s motorsport division has been busy. R3 is part of this and from the looks of things they have been busy too. At the Power of 1 event the guys from R3 delivered the next R3 makeover Proton. This time it is a Proton Satria GTI (above) and while I am not fond of the green they used for the car (it must be the bloke’s favourite colour) I like the fact that Proton R3 decided to use its custom carbon fiber airbox in the car. This time the makeover did not seem like a slap of paint and new seat covers, but a proper build. That airbox alone is worth over a grand in Malaysian Ringgits.
Next up is the nice little chat I had with a senior member of the motorsport marketing on the future of the Proton Satria Neo and in fact the rest of this article is about the Satria Neo. It seems this hatchback is going to be produced again after being on a production hiatus of over 6 months or so. Proton had basically moved the tooling for the car from its main plant in Tanjung Malim over to Shah Alam. I suppose the small numbers and the need for Proton to make more room for their best sellers (and the new Persona P321A) is why this move occurred. The best thing about this move is that the Satria Neo will have a major change made to it based on the limited edition Satria Neo R3 version.
That model is the one Proton launched sometime last year and costs over RM70,000. That car is basically limited to about 150 units and you can still buy it due to slow demand (it IS an over RM70k Proton hatchback, some people would baulk at the idea of paying that kind of money for a Proton). Anyway, the major change that will be incorporated into the next production run of the Satria Neo are the seats that you see in the Proton Satria Neo R3.
The seats are a good one inch lower than the current Satria Neo and while it isn’t something totally great, it does make the Satria Neo more suitable for normal non-hobbit-like people or those who are at least 5foot 7inches and like to drive like they’re in a rally or a touring car (people like yours truly). One little inch is what the guys at R3 settled on even though they could have gone even lower. This is simply because they were saddled with the Satria Neo’s design. If the engineers lowered it some more, they would basically cross the safe height limit of the front air bags. No one wants to have an airbag blow up in one’s face instead of where it’s supposed to do so.Those who remember would know that no one taller than 5foot 7 could properly drive the car due to its sloping A-pillars and roofline. The car is so bad ergonomically that you cannot use the sun visor as if you did, you can never see the road in front of you. Proton’s senior management basically told the designers to keep making the roof lower and the engineer who was in charge of the interior specs had already signed it off making it impossible to alter it significantly. It was a sad pathetic moment in Proton’s history and the excuse at the time was that the ECU was situated under the seat and that is why Proton couldn’t get the seats any lower. Yeah right, the ECU was the size of a supercomputer instead of something the size of one’s palm.
The point that I am trying to bring across here is that R3 designed the new seats in the Satria Neo R3 and these seats will be installed in the next batch of Satria Neos but without the Nappa Leather trimming. Normal synthetic leather will be used instead as it isn’t a limited run vehicle and Proton also knows that you guys out there won’t pay so much for a Satria Neo. Expect the improved Proton Satria Neo to be back in production in April of this year and on sale very soon after that. I had a chance to sit in the Satria Neo R3 pictured above and while one inch isn’t much, it does help make the Satria Neo a better car than before. Now who would have thought that an inch would go a long way in a car. Wish it was more, but as stated, it was the best they could do with the airbag tolerance and flawed design in the first place.
I also managed to ask about one of life’s greatest mysteries - The 25 unit RM115,000 Proton Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing (displayed and pictured above). It really was one of those days when Proton allowed their people go totally bonkers. It was purely a marketing ploy and one that even attracted attention of Lotus enthusiasts over in the UK. Unfortunately the Satria Neo with the very long name could not be sold over there as it was not homologated to UK specs.
Even Ohlins, manufacturers of the Lotus Neo Satria (forgive me as its late and the name is long) very expensive absorbers told Proton that they were mad to ask them to design, develop and manufacture shocks in such limited numbers. Amortizing the cost of the shockers over 25 cars was something unseen. This is why they actually cost so much (Proton says it cost over RM30K) and it is also why the Satria Lotus Neo cost RM115K – amortizing costs over so few units.
Of course, this goes to show that sometimes these people are indeed slightly mad. So mad that I do not think such an exercise would ever be done again. To increase brand awareness you say? I suppose so. But the car is actually superbly mad – Imagine someone drive into Sunway and tells the shop to go totally bonkers. This is what will happen and you will have to note that the people who did this also know that the car may not even be able to chase down a FD2 Honda Civic Type-R. It’s just there to tell you that they can and that if you own the car the registration papers state the car as a “Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing” instead of just “Satria Neo 1.6CPS” or what not. Is that worth RM115K? You have to ask the people who bought them as if you asked yours truly over here, I’d tell you that Proton must have been totally bonkers and I’d run out and buy something else. But I now know the names of three notable Malaysians who actually bought this car. Now that was an eye opener that I am keeping to myself for now.
Anyway, Proton is somehow gearing up the Satria Neo as its performance flagship in some ways. I suppose this is basically milking the success the car is getting in the World Rally Championships with the Satria Neo S2000. R3 displayed the Artiga (R3, get it?) concept car that has a different front end compared to the Satria Neo. Those of you may notice that this front end could be the front end of the P321A Persona replacement and the new corporate nose of future Protons. It however features a slightly ugly body kit with wider fenders front and rear. They should have just gone for the S2000 looks. That car is suitably aggressive. This car looks weird, and is in left hand drive form too. Why the heck is the steering in the wrong place? Homologation? Or just a chassis left over being reused for development?
And this is where things get interesting, Proton may launch a limited edition of the Proton Satria Neo called the Proton Artiga in September of this year. Up to 600 units may be built with a bodykit similar (but slightly less aggressive) than the S2000 rally car and another 600 units dressed up to look like a touring car (WTCC look) based on the Persona (badged Gen2 in the UK) touring car. I personally believe that they should just come up with the Satria S2000 variant as it basically rocks.
The Satria S2000 is a Proton that has somehow become Championship winning material and one that could actually make Proton have some proper motorsports heritage. Heritage goes a long way in my opinion. Just look and see what happened to Subaru with the Impreza or Mitsubishi with the Lancer Evolution – people want it based on what it did in the WRC and more. Of course sometimes we also have WRC champions like Peugeot or Citroen who’ve won a lot but do not actually have something similar on sale for its fans. Maybe people aren’t so fanatical these days. Who knows.
Oh yes, Alister McRae, the chap who drives the Proton Satria S2000 pictured above is/was in town for this event, demonstrating the S2000 and some other cars from both Lotus and Proton’s stable.
But bodykits aside, the Proton Satria Artiga may come with a more interesting variant of the forced inducted engine we’ve seen in the Exora Bold. The Artiga may have up to 182bhp and over 240Nm of torque and it may not have a turbocharger but a belt driven supercharger as seen in the photo above. If Proton can come up with one that costs less than RM80,000 they may have a winner here folks. Especially if it comes with the Satria S2000 bodykit. This could be a Proton that most enthusiasts would love to purchase. Fingers crossed.
With thanks to the good people over at Proton’s Motorsports Division for most of the information above.