ROAD TEST:

Proton Savvy 1.2 Style review

by David Finlay (8 May 2006)

Engine
1149 cc, 4 cylinders
Power
75 bhp
Transmission
5-speed manual
Fuel/CO2
49.6 mpg / 134 g/km
Acceleration
0-62mph: 13.9sec
Top speed
99 mph
Price
From £7988.00 approx
Release date
01/12/2005

A marketing person once told me that if you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one. I was reminded of these words when I read the Savvy press pack, which claims that the car will "transcend all age boundaries" thanks to its combination of sporty styling, superior ride and handling, low insurance group and low price (all designed to entice young buyers) plus a wealth of features intended to impress older folk. That, as they say, remains to be seen.

I take up a more definite position about Proton's claim that the Savvy is "the ultimate city car". Marketingspeak should never be taken too seriously, of course, but this is just absurd. One of the key requirements of any city car is that it should be easy to drive, and most of the Savvy's rivals, whatever their pros and cons in other departments, are just that. The Savvy, to an almost unbelievable degree, isn't.

Or at least it probably would be if you paid top dollar and went for the automatic transmission option. The car tested here is a manual, and it has the spongiest clutch pedal I've experienced in years, along with the stiffest, notchiest, downright cussedest gearchange of any car I can think of on sale in the UK.

You might think this was because the car was very new, but in fact it had more than 3000 miles on the clock when I got it. I'm forced to conclude, therefore, that that's just the way the Savvy is, and that the effort you have to put into changing gear at all (a common feature of city driving, let's not forget) is just part of the deal.

On the open road the Savvy is a little more promising. Its 1.2-litre engine produces a maximum of 75bhp, which isn't bad for the size. I'm not sure I'd want more power than that; the car feels skittery enough on country roads as it is - superior ride and handling, indeed! - and there's a bit of an issue with wandering in crosswinds.

The shape, which is certainly distinctive, didn't appeal to any of the teenagers who saw the car while I had it. Nor did they have the first idea what the word "savvy" meant, which may not be good news for Proton considering they surely represent part of the target market (or at least they will when they have driving licences).

Packaging isn't a strong point either. From the outside you would think the Savvy would hold four adults quite easily, but although there's plenty of access (the car has five doors as standard) there's not a lot of room once you're in there. The front has loads of headroom, but tall drivers won't be able to get far enough away from the steering wheel and pedals; in the back, conversely, legroom isn't bad but the rear seat is raised so high that anyone six feet tall or over will find their head jammed against the roof. Even in the city car class, that's well below average.

Luggage capacity is 207 litres with the rear seat up. With the 50/50-split seat down entirely the volume reaches 909 litres.

The list price of the test car is £6995, though you can save £1000 by opting for the Savvy Street. The Savvy Style shown here gets 15" alloy wheels (the Street has 14" steel ones), locking wheelnuts, body-coloured doorhandles and mirrors, electric front windows, air-conditioning (with pollen filter) and front foglights. If you want the automatic transmission you have to go for the Style, which in this form costs £7695.

All these prices assume that your Savvy is painted Chilli Red. There are four other colours - blue, grey, green and black - and they're all metallic, adding £300 to the cost of the car.

Standard equipment includes a reverse parking sensor, which of course is a useful piece of kit on a city car. My only issue with it as that the proximity warning comes in the form of a piercing squawk which, though usefully unambiguous (you wouldn't mistake it for the song of a nearby nightingale, for example), is also quite painful.

The same noise doubles as a sonic reminder that you're about to engage reverse gear, and that means you're almost certain to hear it at least twice in succession, since in my experience it's nearly impossible to manhandle the lever into reverse at the first attempt.

Prices include six-year unlimited mileage bodywork warranty, three-year unlimited mileage paintwork warranty, three years' RAC assistance and vehicle recovery and a 24-hour accident care line. These, as far as I can see, are the best reasons for buying the Savvy, but bear in mind that much better city cars have pretty good support schemes too.

Second opinion: The Savvy was not particularly easy or pleasurable to drive, especially with regards to gearchanging. While it was not too bad to live with for a week, I wouldn't want the Savvy to be outside my house every day. It's not much to look at, and screams budget at every angle. The price is quite reasonable, but if it were my money I'd be looking for a more comfortable secondhand car. Claire Lumb.

115stars

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