KATHER­INE FIRKIN

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Onroad -

IT’S easy to be im­pressed when you start with rock-bot­tom ex­pec­ta­tions, but this car has def­i­nitely sur­prised me.

The Pro­ton S16, one of Aus­tralia’s cheap­est car, has been a win­ner from the start. The lack of lux­u­ries aside— be­cause let’s face it, there are none— this car is great to drive.

It’s a lovely change driv­ing off in a new car with­out feel­ing like you first need to read a man­ual. Ev­ery­thing is sim­ple and easy to use, and there are no nasty sur­prises.

The car comes with power steer­ing and is easy to han­dle.

Duck­ing in and out of busy city traf­fic is a breeze and even the horn is sur­pris­ingly pow­er­ful.

Space in­side the car is also im­pres­sive. Un­like many of its cheap coun­ter­parts, the Pro­ton S16 won’t cause too many cramped legs or squab­bles over who gets to ride in the front pas­sen­ger seat.

Hav­ing said that, you prob­a­bly also won’t have friends queue up to go for a ride with you. It’s also un­likely to raise your so­cial sta­tus, im­press prospec­tive dates or in­tim­i­date that jerk who cut you off. But the car has char­ac­ter, de­spite be­ing ba­sic.

I even found my­self gig­gling when I dis­cov­ered I had to use a key to open the boot — very old school.

It’s biggest down­side is the sin­gle driver’s-side airbag.

An­other short­com­ing is the sound qual­ity of the stereo.

With just two speak­ers, mu­sic lovers will be want­ing to up­grade their stereos straight away — or risk lis­ten­ing to tinny, faint tunes.

There is no au­to­matic ver­sion of the Pro­ton S16 yet, though that’s com­ing this year. But while shift­ing be­tween first and sec­ond gears in bumper traf­fic is not al­ways a joy, you’ll be sur­prised how quickly you move through the five gears on an open road.

For a small— and cheap— car, the Pro­ton S16 is sur­pris­ingly pow­er­ful and reaches 100km/ h rel­a­tively ef­fort­lessly.

It is also fairly fuel ef­fi­cient, with an econ­omy of 6.3 litres ev­ery 100km.

The bar­gain price means you prob­a­bly also won’t have too many con­cerns squeez­ing into tight park­ing spa­ces or nav­i­gat­ing hec­tic shop­ping cen­tre carparks.

So should you buy one? As a ba­sic, daily com­muter car the Pro­ton S16 is great value. But as a fam­ily car, or peo­ple mover, the safety fea­tures are not re­ally good enough. Likes: Easy ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity; vis­i­bil­ity; fuel use. Dis­likes: Lack of pas­sen­ger side airbag; sound qual­ity; lack of com­part­ment space.

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