Proton’s a Skaife bet
Top Gear is a great test, writes NEIL McDONALD
WHEN V8 Supercar star Mark Skaife gets behind the wheel of a humble hatchback on the track, one of two things can happen.
The experience will go swimmingly for the brand, or it will backfire horribly.
So when Skaife got behind the wheel of a Proton Satria for his stint as a celebrity driver on the local version of the UK hit Top Gear, Proton Australia executives were justifiably nervous.
However, managing director John Startari says the whole experience turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
‘‘When you get people like Mark Skaife commenting on how good our car is, that’s been beneficial,’’ he says.
‘‘We are happy to sign on for the next series.’’
Apart from Skaife, Startari appreciates the feedback from the other celebrity drivers who have completed the track drive.
The Top Gear Australia Satria has sailed through its various track challenges without missing a beat, apart from a few minor scrapes.
‘‘Again, that’s good news,’’ Startari says.
He says he was initially sceptical about supplying a 1.6-litre Satria for the show, based on what happened in the British series, which allowed celebrities to thrash a Suzuki Liana and, more recently, a Chevrolet Lacetti, sold here as the Holden Viva.
‘‘I was a bit concerned about how the car would be portrayed, based on how the UK show treats its car,’’ he says.
‘‘But the producers reassured me it would be fairly treated and used appropriately.’’
The positive exposure has been a good thing and is helping Startari build the case for a GTi version of the Satria.
With the aid of Top Gear, he is keen to reignite interest in a GTi.
‘‘We also want to leverage our Lotus relationship after we build some market share,’’ Startari says.
But he claims the company needs the right engine, whether it be a four-cylinder turbocharged unit or a high-performance naturally aspirated one.
In the short term, Proton Malaysia has shown off a hotter Satria hatch with the Campro CPS engine, which will probably be here early next year.
The CPS engine gets a variable valve lift system and a variable intake manifold system to lift power and better low-down response.
The Satria CPS develops a modest 94kW at 6500 revs and 150Nm at 4500 revs.
The hatch gets a wider front and rear tracks, body kit, lower suspension, 16-inch alloys, rear diffuser and a huge rear wing.