New Proton Saga 1.3 Premium: From budget to value-for-money car

The 2019 model features an all new gearbox.

This new model is an update of the 2016 Saga, with the following changes:

  • An all-new gearbox
  • New wheels and hub size
  • Larger brakes
  • Stability control & hill hold assist
  • A new instrument cluster
  • A completely revamped interior
  • A new infotainment system
  • A refreshed exterior design

So while it is still a facelift model, this updating is rather major.

The mechanical changes

The same 1.3-litre VVT engine still produces 94hp and 120Nm of torque. The four-speed conventional automatic however, is new for the Saga.

It’s sourced from Hyundai, but all the programming and testing has been done by Proton’s engineering team. It’s actually quite well-tuned and responsive. On the highway, it knows to shift down into third gear when the accelerator pedal is sufficiently depressed.

The gearbox has three programmes that govern its behaviour. In Drive mode, the gearbox is mapped for maximum efficiency, shifting up as soon as conditions allow.

In Sport mode (which is marked by an “S” on the shifter column), the gearbox no longer enters fourth gear. Not being able to access Overdrive does significantly impact fuel efficiency, but apparently does not lower its top speed.

The front grille features the Infinite Weave and Ethereal Bow pattern.

The third setting kicks in when the car detects it’s above a certain elevation. This map kicks in automatically while in “D” and shifts to a lower ratio when climbing and descending.

Overall, the gearbox and engine are mated together professionally. It’s done extremely well and makes the previous CVT look clumsy in comparison.

Another important addition under the hood is Electronic Stability Control (ESC). It’s important because the Saga is now the most affordable car to feature this safety feature and in fact, the only car under RM40,000 with it.

The new car also comes with front brake discs from the updated Iriz/Persona. These are an inch larger than before. The rear drum brakes are still present.

All the little changes add up to a huge difference in the way the Saga drives. It’s measurably quieter and more responsive.

It has always handled rather well, but its weak bargain basement tyres, suboptimal driver ergonomics, hard plastic steering wheel and elbow touch points still hold the Saga back from its full potential.

Still, we’re talking about a car that costs less than RM40,000 here. And with that in mind, it’s the best car in its class and price bracket.

The boot is spacious enough for your holiday suitcases.

Aesthetic and functional concerns

The most glaring thing about the exterior is the Mercedes-Benz inspired styling.

From the rear bumper with its fake vents to the rims with its 5 twin-spoke alloys, it feels like nothing new was attempted here.

Carmakers have paid homage (MX-5 to older British roadsters), taken inspiration (Kia Sportage to Porsche Macan), parodied (Tata Nano to an actual car) and then there’s outright copying.

The Saga falls close to the inspiration category, but threads dangerously close to being an outright imitation too.

Yes, while the Saga is handsome and proportional, its bag of tricks has a three-pointed star on it. Not what one would expect from a brand looking to re-establish a family look on the world stage.

Again, RM40,000. So this is a complaint that ultimately does not matter to potential owners.

The PCD114 rims.

What might matter is the spacing of the lug nuts. The pre-facelift Saga featured PCD100 rims. This has PCD114 rims. This does not affect tyre size or prices, but if you’re someone who wants to soup up the car with new wheels, you’ll need to keep this in mind.

The front grille now features the Infinite Weave and Ethereal Bow pattern to suit the Saga’s look and size.

Step inside and you’ll see where the work was really done. There are so many changes here.

Take the 17.78 cm floating touchscreen infotainment system for instance. Features Bluetooth, and EasyConnection for screen mirroring with Android devices and revised 4-speaker set up with custom and pre-set equaliser.

New instrument cluster with white backlight, now shows which doors are open, average and real-time fuel consumption, range and two trip computers. The tachometer is a little unresponsive than before, but not a big deal.

As mentioned, this is more than a facelift, it’s a refocused and refined product. And yet, with all the value-added and professional work done, they’ve managed to bring the price down.

The Saga has officially gone from being an option to consider for budget buyers and Grab drivers to the value-for-money car to beat.

You’ll need to readjust your perspective and remember that this is an A-segment car below RM40,000 when you get inside it, but that just goes to show how well done it is.

17.78 cm touchscreen and new instrument cluster.

Proton Saga 1.3L Premium specifications

Engine: Inline 4, VVT
Capacity: 1332cc
Gearbox: 4-speed Conventional Automatic
Max power: 94hp @ 5750rpm
Max torque: 120Nm @ 4000rpm
Price: RM39,800

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