Here we go again. We know what some of you are thinking, but really, this post is not what you think it is. Despite how the headline reads, this isn’t meant to be one of those clickbait posts purposely going the other direction to get noticed.

Instead, these are five Proton variants that we think you should skip, because there are other ones in the range that you should instead focus your hard earned money on. Our buyers guide is based on price, value and features, with a strong emphasis on safety kit.

The previous instalment titled “5 Perodua variants you should not buy” was not a knock on the market leader – we were recommending our top picks from elsewhere in the Perodua range, and not other makes. Many took the cue to bash the company for rolling out unsafe cars – that’s puzzling, because Perodua has of late been pushing the safety glass ceiling and making other automakers look stingy even.

Click to enlarge price list

Perodua’s sales lead is comfortable, but Proton has been pushing hard to regain prominence. Although the spotlight has been on the CKD X70 and just-around-the-corner X50 SUVs, Proton has been improving its bread and butter models in the affordable segment. Last year, the carmaker updated the Saga, Iriz, Persona and Exora with revised looks and more kit, coupled with lower pricing.

In an ideal world, we’ll get all safety equipment across every model range on sale, even for brands playing in the entry level like Proton and Perodua. But as with everything in life, it doesn’t work that way, and something has to give. With that said, here are five Protons that we think you should skip in favour of other variants.

Proton Saga Standard AT

The latest version of the Proton Saga, introduced in August 2019, brought significant changes to the brand’s entry level sedan, ranging from a new gearbox (Hyundai’s 4AT replaces old CVT) to a revamped dashboard. The mid-level Executive variant was dropped, leaving only the Standard (MT and AT) and the Premium (AT only).

The Saga facelift range kicks off with the Standard MT at RM32,400 (with 2020 sales tax exemption, as with all prices in this story), and RM2,900 more (RM35,300) will buy you the 4AT version of the base trim level, adding on alloys, LED map lights, rear USB ports and damped grab handles in the process.

The Standard AT is good value, but adding RM4,000 will net you extras worth a fair bit more than the difference. The Saga Premium looks significantly better with 15-inch two-tone alloys, LED daytime running lights, body-colour door mirrors and handles, and black trim on the B pillars.

Inside, Premium buyers get nicer seat fabric, audio/call buttons on the steering wheel plus an Android touchscreen head unit with four speakers (the floating design looks odd with a non-touchscreen HU). All those things are already worth more than RM4k, but we haven’t even touched on the most important area – safety.

The range-topping Saga is the only one that comes with electronic stability control (ESC), and while unseen, that’s the most valuable upgrade. Also exclusive to the Premium are hill-hold assist, front parking sensors and a reverse camera. If you can afford the difference, there should be only one choice if you’re going for an automatic Saga. Cosmetics can be retrofitted later on, but not ESC.

Proton Iriz and Persona Standard CVT

Now, we’re fans of manual cars on this channel (unlike keyboard warriors, we have an actual collection of stick shifters in various shapes and sizes), but we’re also not the kind you’ll find uttering “if only it was a manual” or “if manual, I buy” at every car launch.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re game with a manual as a daily driver, Proton has some under-appreciated gems in its range. Most Iriz and Persona punters skip the stick for the CVT, but as Hafriz Shah puts it: paying RM3k and RM2k extra (Iriz Standard 1.3 CVT and Persona Standard 1.6 CVT are priced at RM39,200 and RM44,000 respectively) for a worse car is never a good deal is it?

Here’s the argument. The CVT on the latest Iriz/Persona isn’t as annoying as earlier versions, as constant improvements rolled out since 2014 have made it an OK daily companion. Not quite at the level of the CVTs from Honda and Toyota, but serviceable lah.

On the flip side, the manual ‘box in the B-segment sisters are reportedly very good and are “much better than Perodua MTs”. Now, I haven’t driven a Proton manual in ages so I can’t corroborate Hafriz’s statement, but my daily is a Myvi G3 MT (rarer than a Ferrari you know), and objectively speaking, the clutch and shift isn’t great. Based on trend, he should be right.

Hafriz, who occasionally drives an Iriz MT, adds that Proton’s 5MT has good shift feel and a clutch pedal that’s easy to modulate. There’s even hill hold assist, a feature that I no longer have and truly miss. “Driven back to back, the MT Iriz/Persona is far superior to the CVT,” he says.

Rowing your own gears in the daily urban grind isn’t for most, of course, but if you’re opting for the CVT, we recommend the Executive CVT variants pictured here, which are priced at RM44,100 for the Iriz 1.3L and RM48,900 for the Persona 1.6L.

For a RM5k premium, the mid spec adds on a fair bit, which includes bigger wheels and auto headlamps for the Iriz; and LED DRLs, remote trunk release, keyless entry/push start and touchscreen head unit with reverse camera for both. The add-ons, and the convenience they will provide over the years, are good value for RM5k. If you can afford the higher monthly instalments of the Exec over the Standard CVT, go for it.

We understand that RM5k isn’t insignificant in this price bracket, and loan approval can be down to fine margins, but at least the price difference is spread across a loan tenure of up to nine years. Accessorising your car down the road would require cash upfront.

Proton Exora Executive

More than a decade on, the Proton Exora is still around. Despite getting a running change last year, the seven-seat MPV feels dated and is getting hard to recommend these days. However, like the equally-old Perodua Alza, it still serves a segment of the motoring public – large families on a budget – and is relevant because of that.

But we can only stand behind the RM64,800 Premium variant. The Executive at RM57,300 may be cheaper by RM7,500, but it lacks ESC, and a family MPV not having stability control is unacceptable.

The other differences include LED DRLs, rear fog lamp, electric fold wing mirrors, side skirts, rear spoiler, black roof/rear garnish, leather steering, steering buttons, cruise control, semi-leatherette seats, driver’s vanity mirror, front row fold-down armrests, reverse camera and a seven-inch “Hi Proton” head unit. All are good to have, but ESC is the biggest point.

On the topic of safety, it’s very unfortunate that Proton removed the option of having side airbags in the Exora in 2017 (since then, just two airbags across the board), having already spent money to develop it for the model. It’s a clear cost-cutting move in order to provide more showroom-friendly features.

Proton X50 1.5T Standard

The launch of the Proton X50 is just around the corner now, and we’ve brought to you plenty of details over the past weeks. We know the specs and the line-up of the much-anticipated SUV, but not the prices.

Basically, there are four variants – Standard, Executive, Premium and Flagship – and two 1.5L three-cylinder turbo engines. The Flagship gets a 177 PS/255 Nm direct injection unit while the other variants receive a 150 PS/226 Nm port-injected version of the same motor. When we first saw the spec sheet and feature spread, one thing popped out – only four airbags for the Standard.

Four airbags is not acceptable for a brand new 2020 release, more so a model that’s billed as technologically advanced. We’ll see how much cheaper the Standard is compared to the Executive, but anyhow, there shouldn’t be a price on safety, and this isn’t a bargain basement segment. Even the Perodua Aruz, a much less sophisticated product meant for developing markets, has six airbags across the board.

We’ll have to wait for official pricing, but if the gap between the Premium and Flagship proves to be small (we’re expecting at least RM10k, which is not insignificant), then the Premium will be included in this list, as the range-topper not only comes with a more powerful engine, but it’s the only one to have the full ADAS driver assist suite.

Yup, looks like it’s all or nothing for the X50 in terms of driver assist safety features, as the other three variants don’t even come with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) or blind spot warning.

In comparison, the X70’s spec breakdown appears to be better thought out. There’s significant visual difference between the base Standard and mid Executive variants, justifying the price difference, but the bigger SUV gets six airbags across the range.

So there you go, five Proton variants that we think you should not buy, and why. Some would argue that the X70 Premium X should be included here too, but we think that RM3k is a fair price to pay for those who want the sunroof, which is one of those “love it or absolutely don’t care for it” features. At least Proton is giving X70 buyers a choice instead of lumping it all into the flagship, like what they’re doing with the X50 Flagship.

Of course, all variants exist for a reason, and at some price segments, every 100 ringgit counts when it comes to affordability and loan approval. But if you can afford it, go for the better and/or better value car. There are some features that once used can never be “unused”, and while safety features can’t be seen, they make all the difference in the most crucial of moments.