Test-driving a brand new model is always a pleasure and testing a completely new Proton is a much-awaited ‘event’. In the case of the Proton Waja, Proton had broken from past practice where first sight of the new model was also the same time that the test-drive occurred. For the Waja, a preview of the model took place in May with enough details to build up interest – and generate all sorts of speculations – but actual testing of the car by the media only occurred today.
Only the Waja 1.6 will be produced for the time being, the Waja 1.8 expected to be available by the end of the year. Thus test-drives could only be done on the entry-level model – and the lowest-priced one at that. Proton won’t reveal the price till August 31st when it officially goes on sale but I can tell you now that the cheapest version (rumours place the price at around RM67,000) will not have ABS nor airbags. These two items (only a driver’s side airbag will be installed for domestic versions) will be standard in the Waja 1.6X which will definitely carry a higher price.
But buyers of the Waja 1.6 will get 195/55×15 tyres as standard (Goodyear Eagle NCT3 or Simex Astra) and 6.5JJ JRD-supplied alloy rims. The rather low profile seems inappropriate for local conditions but Proton’s chassis engineers managed to use it without compromising ride comfort – a commendable effort indeed. Apparently, the choice of 55-series tyres were influenced by Proton CEO Tengku Datuk Mahaleel, who is a skilled rally driver and therefore performance-oriented. And like the Wira, disc brakes are standard front and rear, these having a 14-inch diameter.
The 1.6-litre engine in the Waja has also been widely discussed as it is not the same as the Wira engine, although it is a Mitsubishi-based powerplant. Coded 4G18, this 1584 cc long-stroke engine differs from the Wira’s in the way the transmission is located on the left side of the engine instead of the right (as many engines are). Various reasons were given for this configuration but it was largely influenced by the fact that the future engines planned for the Waja will also have transmissions on the left side.
Correcting public perception concerning the output of the engine – 76 kW/6000 rpm; 140 Nm of torque at 2750 rpm – Waja Project General Manager Muhamad Aman said that the power output is actually 10% better than the current Wira’s and is considered adequate for the car which weighs 1185 kgs (manual) and 1205 kgs (automatic).
Behind the Wheel
The seating position of the Waja is well designed for Malaysians, as would be expected. And to fine-tune the backrest angle, there is a rotating adjuster… something which owners may find less convenient than then lever-type adjuster most Japanese cars have. Encik Muhamad gave the reason for this type of lever to allow for better fine-tuning of the angle to personal preference. Personally, I still prefer the lever and don’t mind if I can’t get the angle to the exact one degree for comfort.
The steering column is also adjustable for height although I felt even in its highest position, it was still low. However, the view of the larger meters was not obscured in the least and the steering wheel itself has a nice style with audio controls on the steering wheel pad corners.
As you drive off and want to signal your intentions to turn left or right, you would probably – like most Proton owners – nudge the stalk on the right side to activate the signal indicators. The wipers come on! Many people are going to experience this irritating experience before getting used to the fact that the signal stalk is on the left side like many European cars. It was something criticised by buyers of the Proton Tiara, which was based on a Citroen, but eventually people learnt to live with it.
When asked about this point, Encik Muhamad said that it was partly to “give a European feel” to the Waja. I suspect it could also have been something to do with manufacturing rationalisation although that would suggest that Proton has given higher priority to export models than to domestic ones. In any case, as I said, it is just a matter of getting used to the arrangement.
My first drive was in a Waja 1.6 manual and the very first impression was ‘nippy’ and midrange acceleration was fairly strong. In fact, with peak torque coming on at less than 3000 rpm, it appeared that a lot of attention was given to flexibility at the low end and you can actually potter around at fairly low speeds in high gear without jerking.
Peak power comes in at 6000 rpm but from about 5500 rpm onwards, the engine does not seem particularly willing and the noise level also inhibits pushing it to the 6500 rpm redline – not that many people would want to drive at such rpm anyway. I would not be quick to criticise the engine as it was a brand new engine, hardly run in and I feel sure that an engine with a few thousand kms would not have that ‘tight’ feeling.
There were no opportunities to do timed runs so for the time being (until Proton provides registered cars for a longer period), you’ll have to go by factory claims which are 12 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h. Top speed is claimed to be 186 km/h, which Proton engineers say is easily achieved. And although I thought the 2800 rpm at 100 km/h in top gear was somewhat on the high side, Proton claims that the car can do up to 16.4 kms/litre (about 46 mpg) at a constant 90 km/h.
At high speeds, the Waja sits firmly on the road but for some reason, I still had a feeling of ‘lightness’ inside the car. With the highlighting of how much stiffer and stronger the bodyshell is, I had expected a feeling of solidity within, something you would feel in most European models. This is not to say that I disbelieve the claims as the engineering details are impressive and certainly world-class in the Waja’s segment.
Assessment of handling was limited as there were no winding roads to use. But on the skid pad, I found that the car had very high limits of traction, with a progressive break into understeer at a very high turning velocity. Underlining the ‘in control’ tagline of the advertising for the car, the Waja appears very well balanced in the handling department and for most drivers, it should be foolproof. The chassis, tuned by Lotus, can take a lot more power and during the coming F1 race, you will see a Waja pace car which has a 155 kW/210 bhp engine under the bonnet. That’s how capable the chassis is…
I was quite impressed by the steering response which was a good balance between light effort for low-speed manoeuvring and yet having sufficient feel at faster speeds. But getting from full left lock to right lock seemed to take many turns (actually 2.8) but the turning circle did not seem too large either.
Ride comfort – top marks
The most significant achievement, to me, is in the ride comfort. Rarely have I come across a car in this class with 55-series tyres which could still be considered comfortable. The low height of the sidewalls tend to reduce the shock absorption capability and bumps go straight up to the occupants. Not so with the Waja and this was clearly evident as I drove it over their special multi-surface track which has many different types of road conditions – including our infamous raised manhole covers!
The manhole covers were the greatest test and yet I did not find driving over them unpleasant. Just a thud somewhere under the car and no jarring effect at the steering wheel. Even on cracked surfaces, the car’s suspension soaked up the irregularities and transmission of noise was sufficiently subdued.
However, there are two types of Malaysian road conditions which I would be interested to see how the Waja performs over and those are the speed-bumps and the potholes. If the Waja can cope with them as well as French cars, I would take my hat off to Proton’s engineers.
The constant vibrations of the rough surfaces would have shown up any poorly fitted items but the Wajas I drove had no such noises. However, I noted that the front ashtray was a candidate for rattles in the long-term. Its design and material used detract from the high quality evident in the rest of the car (Encik Muhamad has taken note of my criticism and said that it is something which can easily be improved, if necessary).
Of the Waja Automatic, the same high marks given to the manual apply except that it felt more solid and quieter, a usual perception with automatics. The 4-speed automatic is a conventional unit with no fancy programming and from what I experience, the shifts went up and down fairly smoothly. A position indicator is provided between the two meters to keep the driver informed. I understand that the Waja 1.8 with the Renault engine will have an automatic transmission with the French programming which is somewhat unusual when you first try it. But assessment of that can only be done at year’s end when the model is available.
As I told many of the Proton engineers who were present, public expectations for this car are high because many superlatives have been used to describe it. It is always dangerous for a manufacturer to over-promise and the product doesn’t live up to expectations. There is likely to be some criticism and disappointment that ABS and airbags are not provided as ‘standard’ in the cheapest base version which will be in the showrooms. But this is a marketing issue and Proton believes that Malaysian consumers are still very price-sensitive and will put price before features. The extra-cost ABS and airbag will be available in the Waja 1.6X which can also be ordered now but deliveries will only occur in October.
I give high marks to the engineering of the Waja which is undoubtedly right up there with the 1.6-litre models sold by leading manufacturers. Its modular assembly should prevent many of the quality problems that consumers have criticised in earlier Protons. And in 1.6-litre form, its performance can be described as respectable and suitable for the kind of buyers Proton is aiming for.
OFFICIAL RETAIL PRICE
FOR PROTON WAJA 1.6 MANUAL
Net selling price : RM46,852.54
Excise duty : RM4,823.46
Sales tax : RM4,381.40
Total Sales Price : RM56,057.40
Metallic paint : RM450.00
Roadtax (1 yr) : RM249.40
Registration fees: RM300.00
H-P ownership claim : RM50.00
Embossed numberplates : RM95.00
Insurance (1 yr) : RM1,761.50
On-the-road price : RM58,963.30
For Waja 1.6 Automatic : RM62,840.69
Optional accessories package : RM2,258.00
1. Car comes with standard air-conditioner, audio system, anti-rust treatment, alarm, central locking system and power windows.
2. ABS and airbags are not included in this price.
3. Customers are not required to accept the accessories package and should inform Proton if they are forced to do so.