FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Proton Iriz – a more in-depth look

Proton recently held an exclusive media preview for the facelifted Iriz, allowing us to get up close with the hatchback model that will continue to compete against the Perodua Myvi. As of this morning, Proton has begun order taking for the new Iriz, with a promotional fee of just RM9.99 from March 1-11, 2019.

During the preview, Proton said it sold over 50,000 units of the Iriz in five years. But of course, this pales in comparison to the Perodua Myvi – the third generation model has already hit 100,000 units in just 15 months, with more than 1.1 million units in totality (including all generations).

First up, some disclosure. the preview included a short drive around the Proton test track near its Centre of Excellence, along with us being passengers in other exercises. A full, in-depth review, this is not, but we will prepare one when we can spend more time with the Iriz after an official launch, which is said to take place sometime this month.

With that in mind, the majority of this piece will be dedicated to examine the changes that come with the facelift, of which the national carmaker says it has improved 367 items. If you’re looking for a variant-by-variant list, head over here.

The most prominent update is the exterior, where Proton appears to be integrating several family-wide design cues that were first found on its first-ever SUV, the X70. As you can see, the chrome trim on the front grille takes the shape of a bow, with a pinched off section in the middle serving to “cup” the Proton badge, which leads to the top of the headlamps.

The black grille itself is much larger than on the outgoing model, and incorporates another familiar cue, the ‘infinite weave’ pattern from the X70, albeit in small sections beneath the bow.

Other changes as far as the eyes can see include a a new bonnet and headlamps that have been lifted from the current Persona, with the latter no longer being a projector-type unit. Keep in mind that the Myvi offers LED units as standard.

Another revision on the front is a new bumper that features a wider lower intake and faux vents in the corner. The latter is where the LED daytime running lights are found, as well as a welcomed addition to the Iriz, a pair of front parking sensors that comes standard across the range.

Along the sides, the Iriz retains its familiar silhouette as before, which is made better thanks to a shark fin antenna that replaces the “tail” of the outgoing model. New 15-inch ‘rotor blade’ two-tone alloy wheels on higher-spec variants also help provide the hatchback a sportier look. On a related note, the range-topping Premium 1.6L CVT variant is the only one that comes with a black roof.

Around back, it’s hard to ignore the blacked-out portion of the tailgate with the Proton script in chrome placed on it. Such a layout can also be found on the X70, although it is in a much smaller scale compared to the bold approach on the Iriz. Speaking of which, the Iriz logo placed on the tailgate, is of a new design if you didn’t already notice.

Like the front, there’s a new bumper at the back too, and this one features a large rectangular section that houses the reflectors, more fake vents and the number plate that is now further down. Faux diffuser elements again add to the sporty nature the Iriz is trying to portray.

Moving inside, the dashboard layout is exactly the same as before, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that the trim pieces on the pillars are now in black, as is the headliner. As we’ve been told, buyers do have preference for darkened interiors, particularly the more youthful ones, hence the switch.

FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Proton Iriz – a more in-depth look

The theme swap isn’t the only thing that’s changed here, as there’s also new analogue gauges that are larger and more legible thanks to the clearer font type, and a full-colour TFT-LCD multi-info display between them. However, Standard variants will have to make do with a more basic LCD screen in the area.

On the dash itself, Executive and Premium variants get a seven-inch, Android-based head unit with a 1024×600-pixel touchscreen, 16 GB of internal data, Bluetooth connectivity, smartphone mirroring function and as a display for the rearview camera (with dynamic lines).

However, it is the Premium variant that gets 4G connectivity (via an eSIM) and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality. This expands its feature set to include support for online navigation, music streaming, apps, OTA updates and voice command using one of Malaysia’s most recognised phrase since it was announced, “Hi Proton.” Through the phrase, you can set a destination for the navigation system and adjust media playback.

Unlike the system on the X70, you can’t use the Proton Link mobile app to check things like the vehicle’s remaining driving range, odometer, service indicator and vehicle location. This also means the remote control function to lock or unlock the doors, activate the horn and lights as well as wind all the windows up/down, is not available.

FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Proton Iriz – a more in-depth look

As for the contact points of the car, the steering wheel is almost exactly the same before (perforated leather on the side grip areas are new), right down to the Proton logo, so is the switchgear for the manual air-conditioning. Elsewhere, the Premium version also gets a new X70-like gear lever, plus a Volvo-inspired “frameless” rear-view mirror.

The Premium also gets semi-leather seats, with the side bolsters and headrest being upholstered in leather, while the backrest and seat base are fabric. The pattern applied on the fabric pattern is an inverted version of what you’ll find in the outgoing model, with red stripes beside a centre blue one. Other variants get all-fabric seats with a diamond-like pattern instead.

Another feature exclusive to the Premium variant is the six airbags it gets compared to the two of all other variants. However, things like ABS, EBD, brake assist, ESC, traction control, Hill Hold Assist and two rear parking sensors are standard across the range. Sadly, there’s no autonomous emergency braking here.

No changes as far as engines are concerned, with a 1.3 litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder VVT engine (94 hp at 5,750 rpm and 120 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm), and a 1.6 litre unit (107 hp at 5,750 rpm and 150 Nm at 4,000 rpm) being offered. The latter makes a return in Executive trim, which was removed when the Iriz got a refinement update in 2017. A five-speed manual and an improved Punch CVT are the available transmission options.

FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Proton Iriz – a more in-depth look

The pre-facelift Iriz has already receive some tweaks in 2017, gaining new engine mountings, a new exhaust from Faurecia, a recalibration of the CVT, and more sound insulation. Therefore, mechanical updates are somewhat limited, although Proton has put in work to further refine the CVT and improve NVH levels for the facelift. Other claims include recalibrating the engine for better fuel consumption and enhanced brake performance.

Given our limited time driving the car (in Premium 1.6L CVT guise) at the test area, we can’t outright validate these claims. For now, first impressions are promising. On the high-speed track, the cabin remained quiet when driving at highway speeds, with less noise from the CVT intruding into the cabin.

According to Proton, Geely uses the same Punch CVT on a few of its models in China, so the extra countermeasures it has developed to make the CVT quieter, more responsive and natural were implemented on the Iriz as well. As a demonstration of technology transfer between the two companies, certain countermeasures that Proton have identified were also implemented in the Chinese brand’s own vehicles.

Engine noise becomes more perceptible when you’re building speed, but it’s more humdrum rather than being a screamer. Similarly, tyre and wind noise begin to rear their heads at much higher speeds. Another new addition we’ve been told is a dynamic damper to help reduce vibrations felt through the steering wheel and pedals.

FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Proton Iriz – a more in-depth look

As we discovered in our previous Driven Web Series episode, the 2017 Iriz was quieter compared to the Myvi. Based on our first time in the updated one, we do agree that new car is even quieter still and remains composed, which adds weight to Proton’s NVH improvement claims.

Our only other driving-related exercise of the day was a slalom so we can be reacquainted with the Iriz’s dynamic ability. Sadly, we had to play passenger as a Proton employee brought us out, forcefully trying to unsettle the car at mid-range speeds by making sharp lefts and rights to cause a spinout.

Thankfully, the undesirable didn’t happen and the Iriz continued to ferry passenger after passenger on the same course, with the ESC and traction control systems keeping things in check when the chassis is pushed beyond its limits. Proton’s ride and handling remains a key selling point.

FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Proton Iriz – a more in-depth look

From a driving dynamics standpoint, the Iriz makes a very strong case for itself, and the equipment updates do help to add value to the hatchback, making it an interesting proposition for car buyers. Design remains a subjective thing, although it’s hard not to agree that it is a much bolder-looking vehicle this time around.

It’s commendable that Proton has continued working to better the Iriz, improving it bit by bit. It may not have been the Myvi killer, or the game changer it had hoped it to be, but it’s now finally the most complete version of itself.

So, will the new Iriz be enough to help Proton regain ground in a segment where the Myvi is currently dominant? Only time will tell.