The soon to be launched Proton Inspira has generated so much opinion from so many people, and it’s not just a topic of discussion at the mamak shops, but in the Dewan Rakyat as well. You might have read about outspoken Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Moktar Radin blasting the national car company for not developing its own car, going as far as calling for Proton to be closed down for embarrassing the nation. Is that fair?

While I myself have questioned Proton for “going full circle” (first Proton was a Lancer, latest Proton is a Lancer) early in the day, the rationale behind why the Inspira is based on a Lancer makes perfect sense. Proton has always defended the call, maintaining that it’s a “very strategic business decision” that’s win-win for both Proton and Mitsubishi.

At a recent media briefing, Proton’s management reiterated that it made little financial sense to build a car in this segment from scratch, as the small volume won’t help it recoup the investment. It takes about RM600-700 million to do so, while a OEM collaboration (as Proton MD Datuk Syed Zainal prefers to call it over “rebadging”) takes up just RM250 million. The process also just took 17 months compared to a full two years if Proton would have worked solo. Not worth it for a projected 1,600 units per month, they say.

We concur. Proton is a small company and its resources can be better used for other purposes, like developing core models such as the Persona replacement model, which is in the pipeline. “We are not the only ones in the world to do this (OEM collaboration),” said Datuk Syed Zainal, pointing us to PSA Peugeot Citroen using the Mitsubishi Outlander for their SUVs as example. “Having said that, we will not forget why Proton was set up,” assured the boss, who wants to make it clear that this is not the end of homegrown products. However, Proton will not be swayed by the detractors, and is set to continue this trend of collaborating with other OEMs for its non core models.

Proton’s MD also revealed plans to produce and export the Inspira as a Mitsubishi, pretty much like what Perodua does for Daihatsu in Indonesia with the Myvi. But unlike that deal, the Proton built Lancer will most probably use Lancer styling. In order to seal this contract assembly deal, Proton is gunning to achieve a quality threshold that will pass the Mitsubishi audit, and this effort to prove themselves will be good for Inspira owners. There are four MMC quality officers on the Inspira production line at present, and Proton has hired several retired MMC personnel to assist them as well.

If you’ve read our earlier preview drive report, you’d know that the Inspira feels very different to drive compared to the Lancer, mainly due to the retuned suspension settings by Proton. And according to Syammin Noori Arifin, the lead ride and handling engineer for the Inspira, Proton will push for this setting in the Lancer that it will built, if the deal goes through.

He’s happy with what the 15-man team achieved, but admitted that they had a good base to work on. Proton calls what it has done to the Lancer “value adding”. Read about the changes here.

How different does the Inspira feel on the move? Very. The ride comfort over rough roads is improved (Lancer ride is good for such big wheels), not just because of the higher profile rubber, but the spot on damping. Pushing it to the max was a confidence inspiring affair; while the suspension has more travel and is much softer than the Lancer’s, body movements in fast cornering is controlled and allows one to “lean” on the car’s limits with relative confidence.

The body moves around quite a bit, but this is intentional as Proton wanted a fluid ride that “breathes” like the best from Europe instead of a firm setup. I reckon that the Lancer will probably have the edge in absolute grip, but the Inspira better relays how much it has in reserve. Proton also worked to rein in the Lancer’s tail at the limits, going for oneness between the front and rear ends. Not sure if things will be the same if a customer fits bigger wheels – Proton hasn’t started testing this set of dampers on 17/18-inch wheels yet.

I only tried the 1.8 manual (the fastest variant of the three), and found NVH levels to be noticeably lower than the Lancer. The narrower tyres with a less aggressive pattern, the more isolated ride and the absence of the CVT are among the reasons for this, I reckon. Although eager, this 4B series of engines aren’t the smoothest in town, but a self shifter (very light clutch, slightly sticky into fourth gear on our tester) improves the experience.

The “Lotus Ride & Handling” tag isn’t the only badge to not appear for the Inspira (it’s a Proton effort after all), but Proton will replace the familiar High-Line, Base-Line naming format too. In comes Standard, Executive and Premium variant codes as replacement.

We hear that the Prime Minister himself will unveil the Inspira at Proton’s COE facility on the 10th of November, so stay tuned. Earlier this week, Proton announced that 1,100 names are already in their order books.