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Road Test: Proton Satria GTI

Review by Mathew Salzone - 13/December/2007Proton Satria GTI review

In 1996 the Malaysian car company Proton bought a 63.75% share in the small yet world-renowned British car manufacturer Lotus. This purchase gave Proton the use of Lotus' entire research and development arsenal, the years of automotive know-how and racing experience now at their fingertips.

A synergy of companies benefited from the merger but the real winner was us! Lotus' first task was a grim one indeed: turn the standard runabout Satria into a boy-racing rocket.

Proton needed this flagship to top off its ever-growing family of fleet and runabout vehicles. Did they succeed? Well yes and no. 

They defiantly fell short of the flagship status they aimed for; even though this car is far superior to the standard Satria it definitely leaves a lot to be desired compared to the current Australian hot hatches on the market at the moment.

So where is the yes you ask? "Yes" was the most intelligent thing to pass my lips while I hurtled around my first corner, tucked firmly in for the most surprising ride of my life.

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Make: Proton
Model: Satria GTI
Price: $28,990 (1999-2004)
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Engine: 1.8-litre, Inline 4-cylinder, petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: Driver's airbag

Drive: 4/5

Proton Satria GTI review

Sold in Australia between 1999 and late 2004,
the Proton Satria GTI handles well on corners

Proton Satria GTI review

Riding on 16-inch wheels with 205/45 tyres,
the Proton Satria GTI still cuts a sharp figure

Engine: 4G93 1.8-litre 4-cylinder

The 1.8-litre fuel injected engine (1,834cc) features double overhead camshafts (DOHC), 16-valves, and has a 10.5:1 compression ratio.

Fuel Economy: 6.9l/100km

Max Power: 103kW @ 6000rpm
Max Torque: 164Nm @ 5500rpm

Proton Satria GTI review

While the Proton Satria GTI handles well,
the engine could have used more work

Proton Satria GTI review

With twin exhausts, flared wheel arches, a
drop body kit and a spoiler, the Satria GTI
was considered a radical design in its time

Proton Satria GTI review

Factory-fitted Recaro seats was
a very nice touch for the interior

"I want a car capable of gliding through all corners like it's on rails but I don't want to spend very much money." 

This was a task the Lotus engineers would have cringed at, however they succeeded in this task gloriously.

To turn the standard Satria, which started a borrowed life as a Mitsubishi Colt, into an artistic masterpiece that steers well is mind-blowing. I take my hat off to them every time I look at this car, let alone sit in it - and the sitting is where the story begins.
This car loves corners, lapping up everything you can throw at it. Being more battle-axe than knife edge it's also easy for the novice to drive as it leans slightly towards understeer in the sticky situations. 

The ride is a little on the stiff side but won't rattle the fillings out of your teeth. The brakes are adequate for the abilities of the car and the gearbox (being borrowed from the more powerful Mitsubishi CC Lancer GSR) handles quick shifts fine and has a relatively short gate. It's only a 5-speed transmission however, and does feel a little wound up on the freeway. 

Petrol consumption would also be a lot lower with a 6th gear. 

The shift from first to second needs a little effort but you'll get bigger shoulders as a result and one major negative that can’t be ignored by the performance purist is the lack of a Limited Slip Differential (LSD). 

The car also has drive shafts of unequal length, which in extreme driving conditions produces a front left single spinner.

Still, for a front-wheel drive hatch back, this car can dance on a windy road.

Engine: 3/5

When I first drove the Satria GTI, I was indeed impressed with the way it drove and most of this was suspension tuning. I do feel that the engine bay was overlooked though. 

Sure, Lotus did their thing with revised engine mounts and the GTI did get a larger 1,800cc capacity but the selection of motor could have been better to begin with. 

Once again Proton went looking into the Mitsubishi archives to find the CC Lancer GSR engine, take off the turbo, add some high compression pistons and presto - you have a N/A monster right? Far from it... 

A badly designed exhaust manifold and rear muffler, a cold air intake that leads nowhere at all and the spark plug leads are prone to misfire and failure. 

For a car released in the prime of variable valve timing technology it seems very unwise to not have such a fundamental feature, and this alone leaves the GTI behind in the Stone Age. 

More bad news comes when you discover you have the later Siemens ECU driven model, 2002 onward. The car stalls when cold; running far too rich, which in turn causes flat spots throughout the rev range. The steering wheel also shakes at idle resonating with the plastic trim. 

It's not all bad however. The 4G93 engine still produces 103kW of power and in the car weighing only 1100kg this is enough to make it move. 

If you take one of these little weapons to your nearest drag strip you will only do a 16 second quarter mile but around a circuit expect to be very competitive against higher capacity motors.

Exterior: 4/5

I fell in love with this car when I saw her happy face; the body kit on the Satria GTI has hints from its lotus Elise and Exige bigger sisters. The curves on this car give it a complexity needed to disguise the Colt underneath. 

Lotus obviously once again are having a big hand in the design of the talon-produced body kits. 

Flared and studded guards give the car a unique racecar look and allowing bigger 16-inch wheels to be squeezed underneath. You can also get the GTI in an arrangement of colours as long as it's silver. Quicksilver to be exact, a surprisingly hard colour to find and colour match when the car is being restored after an accident. 

The body panels are also very expensive to replace after a driving misfortune, and the front bar alone costs over $2000 unpainted. The tow hook cover is is prone to breakage when parking so look out for those concrete stoppers in car parks.

Interior: 2/5

The first thing you see when you open the door to this car is a pair of factory Recaro seats staring at you, the big bolsters capable of holding you comfortably through any corner. 

The steering wheel is leather bound, although it's too large for such a small sporty car, but the aluminium gear knob is a nice touch. 

Aluminium pedals look fantastic but have no rubber on them and are very slippery with wet shoes, though factory GTI floor mats are provided reminding you that this was Proton's flagship car. Sadly that's all the nice things I can say about the interior...

The fake carbon fibre-look plastics on the instrument surrounds are hideous, the lower XLS model having a more attractive finish. 

The car creaks, squeaks rattles and moans. The rear parcel shelf continued to unhook itself and jump up and down over bumps and very few of the interior panels fit together well. In the dash in front of the passenger seat there is an airbag-sized pocket that would fit maybe a few coins or a set of keys. 

No passenger side airbag option is given and it's sad to see them cut a corner like this on a safety feature.

Overall: 3/5

Costing $26,990 the Proton Satria GTI is very good bang for buck. This car while looking "out there" for some is perfect for others usually the young and young at heart. 

Coming right out of the box handling like a race car and looking the part too its easy to see why this is Protons highest selling car. At the end of the day Proton built a car to a price, corners were cut and some mistakes were made. 

They however got some things very right, the car with all its faults and flaws still somehow wins the hearts of some. When you drive this car you become a part of a group, you see each other on the street, you wave. You see the other owners smile along with their little hatches and your smiling too. 

Its just about a fun drive and for that I thank you Proton. Would I buy one? Yes I would and I did and she still makes me smile.



  • Handling
  • Sporty Looks
  • Lotus Name Adds Cred
  • Reliable Engine
  • Goodyear Eagle NCT-5 Tyres (cheap)
  • Siemens ECU is Rubbish
  • Build Quality

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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