Guilty Pleasure 2005 Proton Savvy
I put it to you that the Proton Savvy has aged rather well for a budget car launched in 2005. You’ll notice that I’ve chosen images of the postfacelift Savvy for my defence of the Malaysian city car; the 2007 revamp tidied up the tailgate and improved the grille. I’d like to draw your attention to the central exhaust, flared arches, clamshell bonnet, kink along the window line and snazzy yellow dials as reasons to appreciate the Savvy. It’s certainly more interesting to look at than the contemporary Kia Picanto, another car you probably care very little about.
The Picanto was one of the external factors behind the Savvy’s relative lack of success in the UK. Although Kia had yet to introduce its famous seven-year warranty, the Korean city car offered better value for money than its Malaysian rival. Both were lumbered with interiors that were barely acceptable in the eighties, but the Picanto benefitted from economical petrol engines and a hefty advertising budget. Kia spent £15 million on a launch campaign for the £5500 Picanto, including a clever animated television ad directed by Pete Candeland, who worked on music videos for Damon Albarn’s band Gorillaz. Kia dared to be different, using a feel-good campaign to target young females. Without a chunky advertising budget, Proton’s approach was a little more blurred. There was only going to be one winner, especially once the motoring mags had laid into the Savvy.
Top Gear labelled it ‘another improbably unconvincing motor’, claiming that ‘only very dim, totally unsavvy people will buy this car’. Auto Trader said it ‘looks and feels like a car from a bygone era’, while Auto Express slammed the gearbox, saying it was one of the worst it had ever tried.
Denis Wong of Autocar was feeling more charitable following a first drive in Malaysia. ‘The Savvy’s unusual lines give it a spunky persona: the flared arches, pronounced shoulder line, and wheel-ateach corner theme is Renault Clio-ish, but chunkier, and adorned with neat touches such as honeycomb-style rear lamps, steeped front window sills and a bold snout incorporating Bangle-inspired headlamps.’ I’d like to call upon Mr Wong to support my case for the defence of the Proton, m’lud. Nobody ever said the Picanto featured a ‘spunky persona’. Nice reference to an old Proton model, Denis. Proton CEO Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel Tengku Ariff famously (infamously?) labelled the Savvy ‘my first Lotus’, but while the Impian and GEN-2 benefitted from Hethel’s input, the city car didn’t. The CEO’s statement was deliberately vague: ‘We wanted a small car that offers practicality, fuel economy, generous space and great all-round performance. It’s not a sports car nor does it look like a Lotus, but certain elements have been engineered into the car that’ll give you a taste of what it’s like to drive one of the world’s best handling vehicles. The results are outstanding.’
I’ll defend the Savvy until Bernard Matthews’ turkeys come home, but you’re unlikely to feel the Lotus position after driving the little Proton, even if the Norfolk mustard yellow dials hint at something hot from Hethel. That said, some Lotus influence must have made its way to Malaysia, because the Savvy is far nicer to drive than its contemporary Japanese and Korean rivals. The Renault-sourced 75bhp 1.2-litre 16-valve engine, while noisy at high revs, gives the Savvy a decent amount of poke, although only the brave would attempt to reach the top speed of a very precise 98.7mph. It’s just a shame that the driving experience is ruined by a low-rent steering wheel, a poor driving position and an awful clutch. My first Lotus? More like my first step up from the Little Tikes Cozy Coupé. Still, I was always a sucker for a clamshell bonnet and central exhaust. I’m also unsavvy and dim.