Proton has just introduced the Satria Neo R3 this week and we have driven it, albeit for less than 15 minutes. While we’re going to save the full review till we actually get to spend more time “testing” it, the 15 minutes spent behind the wheel was enough to leave a pretty good impression of the new Satria Neo R3.
Unlike the earlier Neo R3 of 2008 which just featured a combination of a fancy kit like a bodykit, wheels, bucket seats, Momo steering, and not much else, the new Satria Neo R3 you see here is a product of two years of development and testing. The Satria Neo Lotus Racing Edition (SNLR) – a hardcore, uber expensive, fully kitted out variant of the Satria Neo – was actually this very same car that was pulled out halfway through R & D as the bosses had asked for something special to celebrate the partnership between Proton and Lotus with the 1 Malaysia Formula One Team.
The SNLR was put together in just 6 weeks but even then it was quite an amazing car to drive. Maybe it was the Ohlins suspension and AP Racing brakes, but it still required some very good engineering skills to bring it up to mark, especially for a car that cost RM115,000. Even with the exorbitant asking price, Proton still managed to shift all 25 units of the SNLR, indirectly proving that there is a small, niche market for well kitted Satria Neo’s.
Now, over a year after the SNLR was introduced and after completing 2 years of R & D, Proton has finally introduced the finished product at over RM30,000 cheaper than the asking price of the SNLR. At RM79,797 on the road, the Satria Neo R3 is definately a car that’s going to go down in the history books as one of the most loved Protons. It’s color scheme and overall stance can only be described as inviting and there won’t be many who will be able to resist its allure.
The attraction starts with the exterior. Though the Neo R3 retains the standard Neo CPS bodywork, the kit comes with some additions that include a front splitter that works to reduce underbody turbulence while increasing downforce, a new R3 rear spoiler, and a new central exhaust tip. Painted in “Fire Red” and featuring a black roof, the good looks are topped off by R3’s own 16-inch Gunmetal wheels.
The interior is also a surprisingly pleasant place to be in. There’s still the usual plastic bits from the standard Neo, but the red theme topped off by a great sitting position is definitely a plus if I were in the market for such a car. The steering wheel is wrapped in “Trivel Fiber”, an Alcantara like leather, and the design of the new seats also does wonders in clearing headroom, a thorn on the side of the standard Neo. The seats are placed on the same rails as the standard car, but a deeper cut clears more headroom. They are surprisingly supportive too, with thigh, hip and shoulder support for spirited driving. They held me in place around Proton’s oval test track, and I’m not exactly small sized, all credit to the new design of the seats there.
Topping off the interior is a 2-din touch screen entertainment system with a built-in GPS system.
So the first impression of the car has been great with the overall design, color and stance of the car contributing greatly to its wow factor. The performance of the car is also something I was quite impressed with. For a few minutes lets forget about immense horsepower and lets talk about usable power, something friendly for day to day commute and yet provides thrills whenever you need a dose.
145hp and 168Nm of torque may not sound like much, and it may propel the 1200kg Neo R3 to 100km/h in a not very exciting 9.2 seconds, but that’s a commendable increase over the stock car’s 125hp and 150Nm of torque. This was achieved by using a combination of new products and skilled tuning. For starters the camshafts have been reprofiled to increase valve lift sooner, and to aid breathing, which in turn is aided by a K&N air filter with a R3 carbon fiber air box. The used air exits via a 4-2-1 exhaust system – the same as the SNLR except that its stainless steel without ceramic coating – and out via the new tail pipe, providing a deep, bassy exhaust note. Other than that new lightweight adjustable camshaft pulleys and a R3 ECU with a revised fuelmap provides the final punch.
Familiarity says the Campro CPS engine is a very rev happy engine and is more comfortable at the red end of the rpm meter than it is at the beginning, and that’s no different for the Neo R3. Horsepower is available at 7000rpm and maximum torque at 5000rpm, so you got to really work the revs to get the maximum potential. Aiding you in that cause is a 5-speed close ratio gearbox that see’s off each ratio in a short, somewhat soft, throw from click to click. It may lack the Euro or Japanese feel when shifting, but it works well to get the gears banging home decently quick. A soft clutch makes this car a brilliant daily driver as well.
Finally, the ride and handling. A lot of time was spent developing this special segment of the car as all R3 cars are known to handle very well, so there was quite a reputation to live up to, and it does. R3 chose to stay with the standard OE suspension set up and that turned out to be quite a good decision for two reasons; it keeps the cost down and it handles well. The springs are now shorter and firmer than the standard car, and the whole car sits approximately 10mm lower. This not only aids with the handling but also greatly improves the visual appeal of the car.
We got to put the new suspension set up and brakes at the test track and the Neo R3 took it all in its stride. The brakes come with stock calipers but with an increased operating temperature of 400 degrees make it a great track day trick ensuring full braking capability even for the most hardcore track junkie. The ride was compliant and soaked up quite a bit of the bumps and ruts that were put out for it. At the slalom test I found the car to be a little too soft as there was more body roll than what I would have liked but still there were no signs of understeer as the car kept up with the quick change in direction, a great testimony to the amount of thought that went into making the Satria Neo R3 stand out in a crowd.
So, with a gorgeous color scheme and body kit as well as an engine to match its ride and handling characteristics, the new Satria Neo R3 has proven itself to be worthy of its asking price. Is it worthy of being compared to the legendary old-bodied GTI and GTI R3 though? Rumor has it that the wizards at R3 are already working on something even more hardcore, so we’re just going to have to wait and see. Meanwhile, we’re waiting to take this car home for a full review, watch this space.