We’ve been itching to drive the Proton Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing the moment we saw it in the metal and read through the spec sheet. From the amount of interest generated by the posts about it on this blog, we reckon that you would also want to know how a RM115,000 Proton with an upgraded Campro, trick suspension and mega brakes would drive. Well, we just attended a media test drive session of the Neo R3 at Proton’s test track and guess what, it’s a cracker!

Continue reading the report after the jump.

First, let’s get some standard Neo complaints out of the way. I’m not the tallest guy around at 1.75 m, but with helmet on, seat pushed to its lowest point and in my correct driving position, my head is too close to the roof and sun visor for comfort, and I’m looking out from the top part of the windscreen. This is a design flaw that can’t be reversed, so we’ll have to live with it. The seats and steering wheel can be more special but the reason there’s no Momo or Recaro here is because R3 wanted to put this car to market in a short period without compromising safety (for instance, changing the seats and their mounting points would have required safety testing, and the hassle won’t be worth it for a 25-unit run).

Starting the car and moving off is simple, no elephant strength required for the standard clutch, and the Neo slots through the gates cleanly; the action is a little slicker than the standard Neo CPS if memory serves right. As you’ve heard in our previous post, the Neo R3 sounds much more “fierce” than the standard car, but it’s not just exhaust rumble. As you pull away from low to mid rpm, you can hear the engine sucking in air and this hissing intake noise goes well with the deep voice of the exhaust. There are no torque dips or holes in the power delivery, although one needs to remember that this is a high-revving NA engine, not a turbo car that jumps off the line – you wouldn’t fault a Type R for feeling normal below the VTEC zone, would you?

Personally, I like the sensation of the Campro CPS’ switch over point, where the engine gains a second wind before rushing to the redline with an urgency not seen below 4,000 rpm. The feeling is intensified and prolonged here, as the Neo R3’s 145 bhp Campro redlines at 7,500 rpm. The fact that we’re running out of dial space (last figure is 8,000 rpm) at that point makes it even more fascinating. The shortened gear ratios make reaching those engine speeds an easy task that can be repeated from first to fourth (we didn’t max the car in top gear). In truth, the engine felt like it could still go on at 7,500 rpm. It won’t be too much to describe this as “Type R Lite” experience.

Besides the high speed oval with 45 degree banking, we also drove the R3 in the middle of the track, where Proton designed slalom, acceleration and braking tests. Without any official timing, we can only subjectively say that those four-pot AP Racing brakes provide enormous stopping power, and you’ll never run out of brakes in this car unless you’re being silly. The slalom run showed off the lighter headed Neo R3’s sharp turn in and good grip from the Bridgestone Adrenalin tyres, but instead of super glue like adhesion, the Proton let its tail loose a bit as it danced through the cones. Body control is excellent.

One of the major highlights of this car is the Ohlins adjustable suspension. These Dual Flow Valve items are bespoke and tuned according to R3 given specs. Proton says that it gives the Neo R3 a compliant ride even on the worst roads, and although we did not get to test that claim, we got a hint of the suspension’s real world comfort at the track. With four in the car, we went pass a rough surface with a dip in the road. No harshness, no bottoming out and no “aftershocks”.

How does DFV work? Explained simply, when the damper encounters high shaft speeds (such as when the car passes a pothole or undulations) the “second valve” opens for faster oil escape. This fast reaction gives the car optimum traction and allows for constant contact between tyre and road, so there’s reduced impact.

Trick suspension aside, no other chassis mods were required. R3 boss and top drifter Tengku Djan said that the Neo’s structural integrity was already very good, and its chassis stiff and rigid enough. Most of the 62 kg weight reduction is at the car’s front end, and the wheels shave about 2 kg of unsprung weight at each corner.

Unfortunately, we were only given a short time behind the wheel, and did not have the chance to try the ultimate Satria Neo on the road. One day, perhaps. Yes, 145 bhp is not much, and RM115K is a lot of money (quality items don’t come cheap), but the Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing pushes all the right buttons and delivers the right sensations for the enthusiast. Some may think of those 25 owners as fools, but I’ll call them lucky fools!

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