Any Proton fans in the room? No? Can’t blame you. The Malaysian manufacturer's back catalogue isn’t exactly stuffed with hits, and though it’s still going strong in its home market, that's probably down to a lineup brimmed with boxy bargains. So when I presented a Proton Satria to the rest of the PH team, part of me feared being shown a P45. And the way out.
But those who know their Protons (possibly not very many) will know that the company has produced a handful of bizarrely brilliant oddities. For example, the Satria Neo received a bunch of performance models in Malaysia including a limited-run Lotus Racing variant. Proton also had a decent motorsport presence, particularly in rallying where it competed (successfully, I might add) with the Satria Neo and, prior to that, a string of Mitsubishi Lancer Evos rebadged as the ‘Proton Pert’. In fact, in the late 1990s, Prodrive developed a WRC-spec prototype that bore a striking resemblance to its Subaru rally machines. What might have been, eh?
So Proton is – or was – partial to fast stuff, and you get the impression that it was dead keen on joining the ranks of global carmakers that dabbled in both the fun and boring side of the industry. That all kicked off with this model: the Satria GTi. It served as Malaysia’s first proper hot hatch (that I’m aware of - corrections welcome) and Proton’s golden ticket to the lucrative performance market in Europe. And it wasn’t just a warmed-up family hatch, as we’d come to expect from ‘budget’ brands of the era, but rather a properly concerted effort to deliver a hot hatch capable of taking on the Japanese and European establishment.
First of all, the first-generation Satria is essentially a Mitsubishi Colt. Hardly an archetype of performance motoring, though the fact that it came from a manufacturer with four WRCs to its name certainly added a degree of credibility. The engine was sourced from Mitsubishi, too, in the form of the 1.8-litre DOHC engine from the Lancer GSR, minus the turbocharger. Even then, a respectable 140hp at 6,000rpm resulted, enough poke to get the GTi from 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds.
After borrowing a body and engine from Mitsubishi, Proton called upon Lotus to sort out the handling. The full extent of Hethel’s involvement isn’t known, though presumably it had a hand in the suspension setup and possibly even the marmite styling. Accordingly, the chassis was by far the Satria GTi’s stand-out quality, with reviewers at the time suggesting Lotus’s handiwork was evident from the off. And while the interior was woefully outdated even in the late 90s, a glossy set of Recaros and new gauges gave the GTi’s cabin a whiff of sportiness. For a company with zero presence in the performance market, the Satria GTi was an impressive first stab at a hot hatch and a proper statement of intent – admittedly one built by companies with far more experience.
Nevertheless, to the surprise of no one, Proton didn’t sell many of them in the UK, partly because it was priced in the same ballpark as the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Peugeot 206 GTI. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where people were more comfortable spending their hard-earned cash. But that just means the Satria GTi has built up something of a cult following, and it seems like a fun cult to be a part of. This 2003 example is your ticket in if you’ve got £7,895 to spare. A lot of change for a Proton, granted, but maybe not for a one-of-53 (remaining) hot hatches tuned by Lotus.
SPECIFICATION | PROTON SATRIA GTI
Engine: 1,834cc four-cylinder
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 140@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 121@5,500rpm
Year registered: 2003
Recorded mileage: 56,000
Price new: £14,500
Yours for: £7,895.
1 / 9