The refreshed 2022 Proton Saga was launched yesterday with several new features, but what was conspicuously missing was any kind of driver assistance. Yes, the national carmaker did expand the availability stability control to the Standard AT variant, but the entry-level sedan still lacked more advanced systems like autonomous emergency braking – something its rival, the Perodua Bezza has had since 2020.

Asked about this during the event, Proton’s deputy CEO Roslan Abdullah admitted that Perodua had an advantage in terms of safety – something Proton had and lost. The lack of AEB, he said, comes down to what “value-added” items the customer wants and is willing to pay.

“If you want to add [AEB], you have to delete some other features in order to balance the price,” Roslan said. “Our competitor might have this, so those customers who want to have this can [go buy their car]. But if the customer wants something else, like comfort, [handling], other things, they can come to us.”

The Saga continues to lack AEB, even on the new range-topping Premium S variant

In effect, Proton is happy to cede its reputation in safety to provide other features that it believes buyers will want. These presumably include the Saga’s latest additions, such as a bodykit, keyless entry, push-button start, auto-folding door mirrors and an external boot lid release – all of which are limited to the new range-topping Premium S variant.

The urge to appeal to customers is understandable. All these features are indeed popular with Malaysians, and adding them to a car they was not originally designed for (remember, the Saga can trace its roots to the 2008 model) costs far more money than if they were implemented early on in the development process. And it’s true that the Saga is markedly more comfortable than the Bezza, with better handling to boot.

But we also know Malaysian buyers will pay more for safety – enough for a rational, left-brained carmaker like Perodua to fit AEB on all but the base variant of the Myvi. And it’s not just the cheap-as-chips Saga that is affected by Proton’s current strategy – the larger, pricier Iriz and Persona aren’t available with AEB, either, even though they received their own significant facelifts last year.

Perodua is leading the way when it comes to active safety

Even on the X50 and X70 SUVs, which compete in segments that are less price-sensitive, the system is only fitted on the expensive range-topping variants, which cost over RM100,000. By contrast, the Perodua Ativa has AEB as standard, and that car starts at RM61,500.

The message that Proton is sending out is simple – vote with your wallet. Buy enough cars with AEB and other advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and the company will have no choice to give in.

GALLERY: 2022 Proton Saga 1.3L Premium S