Proton Perdana Test Drive 25

Everyone has an opinion on the new Proton Perdana. While that’s only to be expected for any fresh model from the national carmaker, it’s more so for one that costs above RM100,000 and is based on an old Honda Accord, with out-of-the-box styling to boot.

Last month, we covered the launch from all angles, and delivered a first impressions report from a preview drive conducted at Proton’s test track. But not all of us drove the car, and like many of you, this writer had preconceptions of Proton’s new flagship from the armchair, although nothing was expressed via the keyboard.

Nothing like driving a car out of town to find out where in stands in the segment, and if there are hidden charms that may not be apparent in the showroom. To find out, we drove the new Perdana to Melaka and back over two days.

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The new Proton Perdana is based on the eighth-generation Honda Accord that Honda Malaysia stopped selling in September 2013, as it had then launched the ninth-generation Accord that’s still in service today in original pre-facelift form. Proton’s collaboration with Honda also yielded the Perdana for government-use – that one, a straightforward rebadge job of the eighth-gen Accord, surfaced in December 2013.

What we have here is the civilian version of the new Perdana, so to speak. While the bones are borrowed, it’s clear that Proton has given the “Mk2 Accordana” a character of its own, design-wise at least.

The unique face features Proton’s wing design on a wide grille and shapely wraparound headlamps, as opposed to the sharp, square ones on the Accord. Ditto the lower bumper design. The ‘eyes’ of the big sedan feature LED daytime running lights and a cluster of LEDs as signal lamps, which are rather unique.

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The donor car was a squarish three-box, but Proton’s design team went out of the box with the Perdana, which features a fastback profile that’s unusual in this segment. There are some similarities with big cars sold in Europe – the first- and second-gen Mazda 6 hatchbacks, the Ford Mondeos and definitely the Jaguar XJ, which Proton head of design Azlan Othman said was one of the designs they studied.

It’s all Proton aft of the B pillars, and the Perdana’s rear end is the design talking point of the car. The similarities between the Proton’s light and garnish relationship with the rear end of the Vauxhall/Opel Insignia is clear, but GM Europe’s products are hardly household names here, even with car enthusiasts.

The sloping roof line and tall rear end don’t just set the Perdana apart from its D-segment classmates, but successfully distances itself from the old Accord. Striking yes, but perhaps a touch too heavy for this writer, with a rear lower bumper that’s the busiest in the business, with multiple elements there fighting for attention.

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The chrome bordered reflectors try hard but the ultimate winner of the brawl are the simulated tail pipes. Proton points out that others are employing similar visual tricks (that’s Mercedes-Benz, where the standard round tips are inside; Perdana’s single pipe is on the driver’s side, points down) but the problem here is that the items are in body colour, with no attempt to disguise their decorative purpose. A simple DIY fix would be painting the whole ‘diffuser’ section black.

Also unnecessary for me is the protruding front lip of the RM138,888 2.4L, which also adds on side skirts but not rear bumper extensions, leaving the tail ‘hanging’ when viewed from afar, as the side profile pic above shows. Looks are subjective of course, but I prefer the 2.0L’s ‘pure’ design without the addenda. No dual-tone rims, front lip, side skirts and rear spoiler for the RM113,888 base variant.

Speaking of variants, Azlan says that the decorative chrome plate on the front wing (the ‘gills’) could act as a marker for future variants of the Perdana, like how BMW has little side emblems to denote Sport, Luxury or M Sport trim lines. In a presentation to kick-off the drive event, he showed renderings of a lowered and kitted Perdana, replete with GT-wing, Recaros and body stripes. A hot variant to coincide with the NE01 2.0L turbo engine next year?

Love or loathe, no one can accuse Proton of playing it safe, design-wise. If you’re already a left-field choice, why not take a punt and be bold, instead of trying to out-mainstream the stalwarts. Something which could also describe the Jaguar XJ, of course.

The ‘two-and-a-half box’ Perdana makes a big visual statement, and that’s partly due to its sheer size. Measuring 5,020 mm long (4,999 mm without the 2.4L’s lip), 1,845 mm wide and 1,475 mm tall, with a wheelbase of 2,800 mm, the Perdana is a lot longer that the 4,849 mm Accord donor car, which is still one of the bigger D-segment saloons in town.

For some context, the current-generation Accord is 4,870 mm long, while the Toyota Camry is 4,850 mm long. Mazda’s 6, visually the largest among current Japanese D-segment sedans, is 4,865 mm long.

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The interior redesign team was less cavalier. The double-curve dashboard is pure Accord, down to the distinctive brushed effect of the main dash trim panel and dials. Of course, the Honda’s original audio system won’t be good enough for today, and that’s the main interior change made by Proton.

The new infotainment system makes use of the Accord’s original dash-top screen, and adds another one below the air con controls; the latter with colour for the 2.4L. The top screen was rather ‘wasted’ in the Accord, but with equipment such as front/rear park assist, reverse camera and navigation (2.4L only), the Perdana makes better use of it.

A note on the new features: the navigation’s graphics aren’t very slick and the front/rear park assist sensors confuse more than they warn. The latter is a screaming match that doesn’t subside even when the transmission has been put in N or P. Both need refinement.

The lower screen is where one does the controlling, and it responds to smartphone-style swipes, although the font/look of the buttons and fit do not perfectly match the row of Honda AC buttons directly above. We’re nitpicking, but there are more who would find fault with the beige leather and light wood trim combo of the 2.4L.

An acquired taste and a little bit old fashioned, Proton was probably attempting a ‘classic British’ look for its flagship; think along the lines of Connolly leather and Burr Walnut wood veneers. Even Jaguar has moved away from that sort of cabin these days, but the old-school brand of luxury might still have some fans. It does make the Perdana’s already cavernous cabin feel even more spacious, though.

The 2.0L’s black themed cabin is more universal in appeal, and its part-leather black seats probably more resistant to wear and dirt in the long run as well. It’s wide and comfy from the driver’s chair (centre armrest pretty thin on padding), although like in the old Accord, there’s slightly too much lumbar for my liking.

Plenty of legroom at the back, even for tall folks, and two big adults can sit on the same side of the car with no issue. It appears that the sloping roofline was achieved at no cost to rear headroom as well, while the boot is deep enough for a couple of bodies, never mind bags.

The Perdana retains the i-VTEC engines and gearbox from the Honda it’s based on, which means the familiar R20 2.0 litre SOHC engine with 154 hp at 6,300 rpm and 189 Nm at 4,300 rpm; and the K24 2.4 litre DOHC unit with 178 hp at 6,500 rpm and 222 Nm of torque at 4,300 rpm. Both are paired with five-speed automatic transmissions. No manual override for the 2.0L, steering paddle shifters for the 2.4L.

The “bones” of the Perdana are unchanged from the previous-gen Accord. Hydraulic power steering (before EPS became default), all round disc brakes (fronts are ventilated), front double-wishbone suspension and rear multi-links are under the skin. In fact, the only running gear element Proton has been able to change are the tyres, with Goodyear EfficientGrip donuts replacing old Accord’s Goodyear Excellence rubber.

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We started with the Perdana 2.0L, and it felt familiar from the get go, especially the way the Honda drivetrain works. It has been some time since I drove the old Accord, and encountering the R20’s enthusiastic and smooth revving nature felt like meeting an old friend. One that I was rather fond of.

Honda’s five-speed automatic was for a long time my torque converter automatic benchmark, and while it’s getting on in age now in terms of forward ratios, there’s still no faulting the box’s execution and intuition. It never put a foot wrong and the lack of manual mode isn’t a deal-breaker when a slushbox does its job well.

Just like an Accord review from years back, the Perdana 2.0L is probably the better balanced engine in terms of performance and efficiency. The 2.4L K-series motor is a fine example of a naturally-aspirated motor in the old school, with a distinct peaky character. It starts off rather sluggishly, before gaining a second wind at around 4,000 rpm that’s sustained to just below 7,000 rpm. “VTEC kicked in” was more than just a meme in the old days.

The stepped response of the K24, while amusing initially, isn’t ideal in a big executive sedan like the Perdana, where things should be more effortless. We’re not sure about efficiency – which should be some distance away from stellar – but in performance terms, the Honda-powered Perdanas aren’t completely outclassed by today’s crop of D-segment sedans. The game hasn’t moved on by that much.

What has moved on in this class is NVH and drivetrain refinement. It’s no surprise that the Perdana lags behind the incumbents in these aspects, because the eighth-gen Accord wasn’t class-leading in its prime. Proton says that the tyre model change and better aerodynamics from the rear end have contributed to lower noise levels compared to the Accord, but we can’t be sure without a back-to-back drive.

What’s for sure is that the Perdana lacks the isolation and refinement of today’s Toyota Camry and Nissan Teana, which both feel more effortless to drive and more serene to ride in. It’s not disastrous, and if refinement is not top in your list of priorities (the Mazda 6, a relatively noisy fella, has proved to be quite a hit), it won’t be a deal-breaker.

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The big Proton feels its size on the move, and the soft suspension and loping gait means that you won’t be throwing it around corners very often, if at all. The steering is a little loose just off-centre, but provides decent feedback, and the rather substantial low speed weight of the hydraulic rack is a contrast from the big cars of today. Ride comfort on 17-inch wheels is good.

So, what do we make of the new Proton Perdana based on an old Honda Accord? The deal makes sense for Proton. Having a proven ready-made car to work on greatly improves speed to market and saves Proton the massive costs needed to develop a fresh and competitive D-segment car. Some might disagree, but it’s a task is too big for a company that isn’t in the pink of health, financially. And even if Proton could pull it off, the volume will never justify the investment.

Driving the Perdana was like meeting an old friend after years of not catching up. You’re instantly reminded of why you were buddies back in the day, the person’s qualities, quirks and peccadilloes. Times have changed, however, just like his new wardrobe.

While the Perdana doesn’t feel a world away from today’s best big sedans, it’s not at the top of the pack either, and will remain an alternative. However, it’s an interesting one with C-segment pricing, bold styling and a unique appeal for those who get it. A bit like that big English cat we keep coming back to.


GALLERY: Proton Perdana 2.0L

GALLERY: Proton Perdana 2.4L

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