The Proton Savvy is a cheap Fiesta-sized hatchback, but the compromise in quality isn't worth the saving

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The Proton Savvy is the firm’s first attempt at a compact five-foor city car, conceived with the intention of widening brand appeal to attract more dynamic (read ‘younger’) buyers. Proton’s UK market base isn’t generally in the first flush of youth. 

It’s not a bad looking car and displays a modicum of aesthetic flair. The stepped window-line may look slightly uncomfortable for a car so stubby, and the ‘sporty’, centrally positioned chrome exhaust should not be interpreted as promising performance. The truth is, you will find yourself yielding on many a green light stampede.

The interior looks like it belongs in a car built 20 years ago

The Savvy’s 1.2-litre unit’s linear power delivery serves up 75bhp at 5500rpm and 77lb ft at 4250rpm, but it’s a harsh, vocal delivery, especially when stretched to its 6100rpm red line. There’s also an intrusive booming noise in the cabin as you approach peak power which encourages you to make the most of a five-speed gearbox that feels both sloppy and stodgy. There’s also a five-speed automatic available, if that’s your preferred option. Claimed economy for both automatic and manual variants is 49.6mpg with CO2 emissions of 134g/km. 

The interior is roomy enough for a car of this size (3710mm long, 1643mm wide and 1480mm high overall) but it’s lacking in refinements and creature comforts. There is a confusing use of interior plastic colours and the three-spoke steering wheel, complete with TT-mimicking aluminium ringlet, is similarly low-rent.

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The lack of reach and rake adjustment of the steering wheel is likely to impede taller drivers' views of the top of the day-glow yellow dials. The Proton's gearlever and handbrake lever gaiters are tailored out of that '80s vinyl plastic which feels worse than it looks, and the glovebox on our car didn’t sit flush to its mountings. Not having a key-operated boot release is also an oversight. The boot itself can swallow loads of just 207 litres with the seats up, which isn’t great but fair enough, stretching to 909 litres with the split-fold rear perches in the prone position. 

But it’s not all bad. The Savvy’s ride is firm but comfortable, coping well with pot-holes, drain covers, cats eyes and other road detritus, but vague steering prevents the experience from being anything an enthusiast might describe as ‘fun’. The rear seats offer impressive space and all-round visibility is good, which compensates for the standard but useless-in-practice rear-parking sensors. 

When it first appeared the Savvy was a positive move for Proton. But now the opposition, not least from Proton’s own home-market rivals Kia and Hyundai, has upped its game to a quite considerable degree. As a new supermini, the Savvy doesn't offer anything different. And with Kia and Hyundai pitching their base Kia Picanto and i10 models respectively at prices within a hair’s breadth of the Proton it’s no longer got the USP of being a low-cost, budget option. In short, and in the light of how the budget city-car game has moved on recently, the Savvy lacks polish and the brand lacks credibility, and that makes it tough to recommend. 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Proton Savvy 2005-2012 First drives