The far eastern marque's acquisition of Lotus purchased a wealth of suspension and handling expertise which it put to good use in the Satria GTi - launched last year in the UK to some acclaim. Now, the same 'Handling by Lotus' tag is sported by the GTi's larger stablemate - the Wira - the Malaysian word for 'hero'.
Proton was one of the first manufacturers to reduce prices in response to the Competition Commission's report on new car prices, and as a result, the asking price of a shade under £11,300 buys you a lower-medium class car with a pretty impressive package of goodies. Standard equipment includes ABS, two front airbags, air conditioning, alloy wheels, electric front windows, central locking and a six-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Despite the name change and makeover, the fundamentals of the Wira are largely the same as when it was launched as the Persona four years ago - a car which was largely derived from the even older Mitsubishi Lancer. Such an aged platform is always going to limit the scope of improvements to driving dynamics and ride refinement and although the Wira is undoubtedly a better car as a result of the Lotus treatment, it's starting to show its age when judged against more recent competitors.
Thanks to 'tardis technology', cars are getting bigger on the inside, but compared to its more modern competitors, the Wira feels a little on the small side. The hatchback configured five-door makes efficient use of the space on offer, but the boot is pretty shallow and judicious use of the 60/40 split rear seat was required on a recent Christmas shopping expedition.
From the driver's seat, the Wira's dash and instruments betray the vehicle's age. The layout and quality of plastics is straight out of the late 80s with more modern accoutrements such as airbags and air con controls almost shoe-horned in as an afterthought. In Lux mode tested here, there's liberal use of plastic wood, which does nothing to improve matters. Otherwise, the cabin is a perfectly agreeable place to be, with comfy, albeit slightly squishy cloth seats and good all-round visibility.
On the road, the Wira is a thoroughly competent performer, offering pretty solid and dependable driving characterstics. Don't let the spoiler and alloys fool you into thinking it has any sporting pretensions though - it's more of a plodder - reaching 60 mph in just under 11 seconds. The 1.6 litre power unit is willing enough and pulls strongly above 4,000 rpm, but if pace is a priority, the 126 mph 1.8 SRi is a better bet - although it carries a £1,700 premium.
The brakes are man enough for the job, although the ABS system does feel very much first generation compared with the new-fangled four channel electronic brake force distribution jobs on more recent models.
Fuel consumption is less than spectacularly frugal at an average 35mpg, but CO2 emissions are in touch with the pacesetters at 198 g/km leaving the driver with an extremely tax-efficient bill of 22 per cent of the Wira's already modest list price in 2002.
Handling is ultra safe and predictable, but don't expect any Elise-style excitement - the Lotus engineers haven't made THAT much difference. Similarly, ride is perfectly acceptable, but you're more aware of tyre and suspension noise than you would be in most of the Wira's competitors. Again, it's better than it was, thanks to suspension tweaks and extra noise insulation, but you know you're driving a basic design that has the best part of a decade under its belt.
So while the Wira is admittedly some way behind the front-runners in engineering terms, it's in the value for money stakes where it certainly can compete. As Proton is quick to point out, the Wira is nearly 10% cheaper than a Daewoo Nubira 1.6 SE, and it's certainly on a par equipment-wise. It's also better built, better dynamically and has none of the uncertainties associated with its Korean competitor. As an unashamed budget motor, backed by one of the best warranty packages in the business, the Wira offers big bangs for not so many bucks.