Dynamic Drive with Iriz and Persona

By Lee Pang Seng

IT MIGHT have been three years since we last drove a Proton but the impression that stayed with us since then was the good ride comfort of the Persona. We got to re-affirm this aspect of the Persona during a drive from Proton’s Centre of Excellence in Subang Jaya to Tanjung Jara via Kuantan in the updated Persona and Iriz.

Both facelift models were introduced recently at a motor show and come with more than just fresh looks and new brand styling touches. Proton says that each model featured more than 300 improved parts and styling changes as well as first-in-class smart features to stand the Iriz and Persona apart from the rivals in the B segment.

It includes an intelligent infotainment system that is hailed as a first-in-class feature ‘to revolutionise this market segment’. Available only in the Premium 1.6 CVT (continuously variable transmission) variants, the system uses an embedded eSIM card to stay connected to the Internet.

It also offers apps for music streaming, online navigation and voice recognition accessed via a 7-inch touchscreen featuring a full colour display and 16GB of internal memory. It also offers a mirroring function with Android smart phones.

Like the X70, the voice recognition app is activated via the catchphrase ‘Hi Proton!’ following which, the user could access a range of options using voice commands. Proton says this allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road and not be distracted while performing searches for destinations or songs.

The system would also receive Over The Air (OTA) updates periodically with new apps added when they become available. As part of the launch package, Proton is providing five years free internet data of 12GB a year as well as the ‘Agreed Value Coverage’ for up to 12 years, among other attractive offers.

Given these updates, Proton has obviously called the east coast motoring adventure an ‘Intelligence Drive’ involving the Premium variants that top the respective model range. As we are no techie and hopeless with such ‘intelligent’ systems, we were more drawn to the visual updates for the Iriz and Persona.

Although Proton says both were given a comprehensive exterior redesign, there is no change in body profile but more of a facelift in the styling aspects. With the X70 having set the ball rolling on the new brand styling signature, the latest Iriz and Persona clearly reflects this fresh direction with the former being the more outstanding in makeover.

As the Iriz draws appeal from younger Proton customers, with apparently more than half of them being female, Proton has given the compact hatchback a more outgoing and punchy look. This is focused on the Ethereal Bow and Infinite Weave pattern grille and that on the Iriz sees a sharper interpretation of the former to reflect a sportier and more exciting look that would endear younger customers. The Persona, being the family sedan, takes on a more conservative design with the Ethereal Bow design being similar to that on the X70.

This bolder touch is also seen on the rear of the Iriz in a black garnish that carries the Proton name. It has given the rear a more solid and distinctive look that should set it apart from rivals on the road. In a way, the rear is as much a new ‘face’ as the front, making the styling exercise a complementary one between front and rear to the point of almost making the latest Iriz a completely new model, rather than a facelift.

Apart from these design changes, other refresher exercises were also carried out on the front and rear bumpers and new design alloy wheels for both, while the Iriz now comes with a shark fin antenna and the Persona has a new boot spoiler.

Dimensionally, the only difference between the Iriz and Persona is in the body design, the former being a hatchback and the latter a sedan. Both has the same 2555mm wheelbase and is of the same 1722mm width and 1554mm height. As a sedan, the Persona is longer at 4362mm while the Iriz’s overall length is 3945mm. In kerb weight, the Iriz Premium CVT tips the scales at 1178kg and the Persona Premium CVT is 15kg heavier at 1193kg.

They share the same engine too, this being the 1.6-litre multi-point injection engine with double overhead camshafts and VVT (variable valve timing). It is undersquarely configured with a 76.9mm bore and 80.0mm stroke to displace 1597cc. Engine output is rated at 80kW (109PS) at 5750rpm and 150Nm at 4000rpm.

We started with the Iriz and initial acceleration was strong as expected with CVT roar being low and easily tolerated. On the highway, keeping up with the lead car, a Proton X70, meant driving at 120-140km/h with engine speed from 3500rpm to almost 4000. During the occasional bursts to 160-170km/h, the engine was turning around 4500rpm. The Persona that we drove on the second leg (Kuantan to Tanjung Jara) was just as quick on the highway.

Driving at that robust pace makes the Iriz quite a thirsty car. We started with a full tank (40 litres) but when we approached Kuantan, it was down to two bars or the quarter level for our Iriz. We learnt that one Iriz had the low fuel light flashing on the instrument panel. Apparently, it was the same story with the Persona and all the cars had to be refuelled in Kuantan for the second leg.

Based on the average fuel mileage guide on the instrument panel in the Persona, we noticed that it could register higher than 16km per litre during legal speed driving. This would fall quite quickly to below 8km per litre when we hit the accelerator pedal hard for the high speed runs. The message is all too clear; pay more for fuel if you want to catch the wind!

The comfortable ride factor that we remembered with the Persona in 2016 was again enjoyed, first in the Iriz and subsequently in the new Persona. We had our share of bumpy and rutted roads, and both the Iriz and Persona took them all in good stride. The ride quality reminded us of that experienced in the Continental range of cars and we believe this is the direct benefit of the Lotus tuned suspension.

Both Proton models are independently sprung all round with MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle. There is only an anti-roll bar in front and both models come standard with Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control systems. Likewise, the Electric Power Steering, six airbags, ABS (anti-lock braking system) and EBD (electronic brake distribution) systems. The tyres fitted as standard to the Iriz and Persona are the 185/55 R15 Silverstones Kruizer NS800.

The Iriz could carry quite a lot of speed through fast sweepers with little body roll though a consistent characteristic was noted in some degree of vagueness in steering direction through corners. This was also noted in our previous drive impression with the Persona. Nevertheless, it didn’t dampen our ardour in pushing the Iriz through winding stretches to gauge its limits.

However, this was best experienced during the dynamic drive at the Gong Badak stadium in Kuala Terengganu. A course was laid out where we drove both cars in succession over planks nailed to the road, a slalom course and a moose avoidance manoeuvre. The speed through the course was recommended at 60km/h.

A bit too slow, you might say. From our experience in driving through such courses, the speed is about right for this segment of cars. Going through such courses at higher speeds of up to 80-90km/h was only for more powerful and sports cars. And don’t be surprised if the cars become quite a handful at such ‘low speeds’.

In fact, we were a bit too ambitious with the Persona, the first car that we were slotted in for. While the comfortable ride aspect was re-affirmed when driving over the wooden slats, we entered the slalom section that followed a bit too quick at 65km/h. By the time we reached the third cone, the Persona was already trying to break away in gross understeer and we lost control, knocking into a few cones and bypassed one section completely as we couldn’t bring the car back to its desired course.

We followed the recommended 60km/h speed on entering the avoidance manoeuvre section but even so, the Persona was quite a beast when we turned the steering almost full lock in a mock avoidance of something or someone coming onto our path. We had to lift our foot off the accelerator at the same time and that lightened the load on the rear wheels, inducing an oversteering action.

This was followed by correcting the car’s direction back to the original lane through turning the steering wheel the other way. The exercise was to use the car’s steering to avoid collision with an animal that suddenly run across our path by turning quickly to one side and returning to the original path of travel.

We managed the second section better by not knocking over any cones but the squeal of the tyres as the car scrubbed off speed and the greater body roll experienced just about gave us an idea of its dynamic limits. The Persona might have traction and electronic stability control but when it is pushed beyond its limits, physical forces take over and car control could easily be lost. We could imagine how much more difficult the car would be to manoeuvre at higher speeds.

The Iriz hatchback, being more compact and without a rear end like the Persona, was more manageable through the slalom and avoidance sections, but only just so. There was less of a rear mass to prompt the car into an oversteering moment and we could drive at a similar speed without going all over the place and knocking the cones down.

Dynamic aspects aside, what draws appeal for the respective Proton car from the younger set and family types are the good level of standard features that are available across the model variants. In addition, the voluminous 510-litre boot for the Persona should endear it to the family man while the smart good looks of the Iriz would continue to gel with young and outgoing buyers.

It’s little wonder that Proton sales are on the increase now, elevating the brand to be the second best seller in April, having sat in third place for the previous 37 months. With the updated Saga and Exora due in the coming months, no doubt with the new brand signature styling, the sales momentum looks likely to be maintained for the rest of the year. Bravo, Proton.