Bangerwatch: Proton Impian

The Proton Impian may not be the most fashionable name on the used car market, but it could have been worse. In Malaysia, the Impian is known as the Waja. Yep, the Proton Waja. Suddenly the Impian doesn’t sound too bad after all.

Truth is, I’ve had a soft spot for the Proton Impian ever since it was launched in the UK back in 2003. To say it’s a handsome car would be stretching things a little, but in profile and from the rear, it looks good. And it’s a proper four-door saloon car, designed from the ground up to be a sedan. No Shatchback nonsense here, thank you very much.

The Proton Impian also manages to muster up a relatively interesting backstory here in the UK. Settle back into the roush-like leather seats of the top-spec Impian GSX as PetrolBlog outlines a few reasons why the Impian is worthy of your attention.

Bangerwatch: the case for the Proton Impian

Front of late Proton Impian

Lotus ride and handling

The Impian stems from a period when Proton was asking Lotus to fine-tune some unlikely vehicles. If the Satria GTI shouted about its Lotus connection, the Impian merely whispered it. There wasn’t even a Handling by Lotus badge to give the Impian some unlikely Q-car kudos points.

But really, and you’re going to have to go with me on this, the Proton Impian is actually pretty good to drive. We’ll gloss over the lethargic 1.6-litre engine for a moment and consider the multi-link rear suspension and fact that Lotus literally spent a couple of hours perfecting the drive of this thing. Seriously, the Impian stands like a giant over its Far Eastern rivals of the period.

Humberside Police

You could spend an awful lot of money on a Rover SD1 or Ford Capri and dress it up as a retro cop car. But why go to the trouble and expense when you can create a Humberside Police-spec Proton Impian?

Humberside Police ‘enjoyed’ five years of loyal service from the Proton Impian, but according to the Hull Daily Mail, they were the “butt of many jokes throughout the ranks and to the general public”. Pah. The good people of Hull don’t know a good thing when they see one.

BTCC

And if the police-spec Impian wasn’t enough, how about the BTCC cars? These things used the earlier 1.8-litre 16v Renault engine and had a spoiler that would turn an Accord Type-R driver green with envy.

According to BTCC Pages, the Proton Impian was “a powerful car in the hands of real professionals”. Well, quite.

The first proper Proton

If nothing else, the Proton Impian will find a place in the automotive history books by virtue of the fact it was the first car designed in-house by Proton. It would have to wait a while before it benefited from Proton’s very own 1.6-litre 16v CamPro unit, with early cars featuring a choice of either a Mitsubishi-derived 1.6 or the aforementioned Renault 1.8.

Sure, so the interior quality was nothing to write home about, but it was well-equipped and, just like an afternoon watching lawn bowls, pleasant enough. The roush leather interior of the top trim X, or latterly GSX models is the kind of rare treat no man can do without, while the wood-effect trim on the top of the steering wheel is a wonderful thing to behold. Just look at it. Wouldn’t get that on a Bora.

Proton Impian interior

And all this could be yours for much less than you might think…

Depreciation

Ah yes, depreciation. Enemy of the new car salesman, but best friend of the used car buyer. In 2009, Glass’s rated the Impian as the fifth worst depreciating car in the UK, falling just behind – or should that be, ahead – a succession of MG Rovers and the Alfa Romeo 166. Staggeringly, the lovely 166 would only retain 14.4 percent of its value after three years and 39,000 miles.

In light of this, the 22 percent of the Proton Impian doesn’t seem quite so bad, but it was hardly a watertight investment. Which makes it a prime candidate for Bangerwatch.

High-spec

Proton always had a reputation for delivering budget motors, but in truth that was more a legacy from the days of the MPI, when the company offered some stonking finance and warranty packages. But as the time passed and Proton sifted through the likes of the Compact, Persona, Wira and Satria, prices started to rise.

In 2007, a base-spec Impian would cost £10,995. Cheaper than something like a Volkswagen Bora, but then the VW didn’t suffer from chronic depreciation and a sparse dealer network.

But the Impian was always well-equipped. All models got 15-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, central locking, a bee sting aerial, boot lamp, digital clock, lockable glovebox, tachometer, locking wheel nuts…wait, hang on. It wasn’t that well-equipped after all. Different times. But hey, I suspect everything still works.

Bangerwatch: the case against the Proton Impian

Facelift Proton Impian

Parts and servicing

Proton has all but disappeared from these shores now, so support for these cars is going to be thin on the ground. Owners complained of the high cost of parts when Proton UK was still active, so the problem is only going to get worse.

Choosing the right Impian is going to be tricky. Do you go for an earlier car, with more miles on the clock and a few fair owners, yet take advantage of the tried and tested Mitsubishi and Renault engines? Or go for a later, post-facelift car, with the lengthy run-out options list, but risk the CamPro engine? Tough call, for the three of you who will read this and actually consider buying an Impian.

Could be a tough resale

You put a Ford Focus on the market and you’ll be flooded with calls. Heck, you can even put a Ford Focus Shatchback on the market and still be in inundated with offers. But a Proton Impian?

Has anyone actually searched for an Impian on Auto Trader? Aside from me, that is.

Poor man’s Magentis

If the Kia Magentis suffers from an image problem, just think what it’s going to be like in a Proton Impian. No amount of Lotus ride and handling, roush leather, walnut-effect plastic on a steering wheel or a “state of the art” Clarion sound system is going to propel the Impian into fashion.

Side profile of Proton Impian in studio

And there’s something I’ve just noticed on two of the photos above. The full frontal and rear-end shots. Look at the panel gaps around the right-hand headlight and left-hand rear light. They’re completely different to the other sides. Hmmm.

Not the quickest of things

The Proton-built, 110bhp, 1.6-litre CamPro engine will do 124mph, eventually, but it’ll make hard work of it. Opt for the power-sapping automatic transmission and you might just as well walk.

It’s called an Impian

Yep, it’s an Impian. Although you can count yourself lucky it’s not a Waja.

A little rough round the edges

I’ll refer you to my previous comment about the panel gaps. The Proton Impian was a work-in-progress for the Malaysians. A big step forward into a brave new world. By today’s standards it will feel positively prehistoric. It’ll be noisy at speed, the engine will sound coarse and some of the trim, while still intact, will be showing signs of wear. But does that really matter?

The Proton Impian is an unashamedly proud member of the Bangerwatch fraternity. Aside from playing the Lotus card a bit too often, it has never pretended to be anything it’s not. And we should applaud that.

Rear of Proton Waja

£500 gets you a well-worn Impian. A grand gets you something much tidier, with fewer miles on the clock and some good history. A grand a half gets you a late, post-facelift, low-mileage minter that’s been cherished by a chap named Sid since 2007. You can spend more, but you shouldn’t, because then the Impian is up against some far more appealing machines. And it kind of misses the point.

But if you’ve got your heart set on a car offering Lotus ride and handling, has been approved by the police, raced in the BTCC, and offers a walnut-rimmed steering wheel, state-of-the-art Clarion, roush leather and a bee sting aerial, the Impian is almost certainly the car for you.

Convinced? Let us know via Twitter using the hashtag #Bangerwatch.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

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