Will the real Proton R3 please stand up?

Proton never fail to remind all of us that they are the only true automotive manufacturer in Malaysia with the capability to develop a new model from ground up, and that they are also the only manufacturer in Malaysia with a dedicated in-house motorsports division which makes cars that go racing.

Proton isn’t shy either in touting that they are also the only manufacturer in Malaysia which has a factory-backed racing team with the pedigree of winning many races, locally and abroad…because “they always go #ForTheWin”, their words, not mine. What a privilege then it must be to work for Proton.

That the long-awaited reintroduction of the infamous R3 name – for Race, Rally and Research, in case you had just returned from Mars – on the Saga and Iriz R3 Limited Edition turned out to be nothing more than a cosmetic job was a massive let down, particularly if you’re a fan who has had practically nothing to feed on since the Proton R3 Satria Neo of 2011.

The Proton R3 Satria Neo of 2011 had reworked powertrain, recalibrated suspension, new exhaust system, lightweight alloys, stickier tyres, high flow intake and many more R3-developed performance upgrades.

Of course, the economic feasibility study would not have fared well if the R3 division rebuilt the Iriz and Saga like how it did with the two generations of Satria models, such is the high expense required to homologate an extensively reworked vehicle these days, which would have necessitated new crash tests and probably a type approval as a new model, something which wasn’t necessary 10 years ago.

Even so, the much-celebrated R3 motorsport division could’ve been called on to develop suspension upgrades or to specify better brakes and more performance-oriented tyres to sharpen the ride and handling which Proton stakes its reputation on, if powertrain and body structure work are deemed not economically feasible.

The Iriz R3 Limited Edition doesn’t go any faster than the regular 1.6-litre, and it’s only available with a CVT.

Sure, there may well have been some certification work (and costs) associated with upgraded parts, but this is where Proton, being a full-fledged manufacturer with its own test track and R&D department at its disposal, is more than capable of taking on. In any case, the costs are typically passed on to customers anyway, just like the RM3,000 premium Proton is charging for the Saga and Iriz R3 Limited Edition models for the cosmetic fitments.

We aren’t going to judge the merits of sticking decals on a car or debate whether yellow accents would clash with your hair colour. The records will show that the sales of Proton vehicles have been on an upward trajectory since the partnership with Geely got underway, again, something which Proton never fails to remind us about (refer below).

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Posted by Proton Cars on Wednesday, March 3, 2021


There’s nothing to begrudge Proton for offering ‘special editions’ either, such as the Persona and Exora Black Edition, they do spruce up existing models and keep them on the radar of car buyers who seek value. But for a company that takes such pride of its motorsports heritage, it’s sad to see the contribution of R3 being confined to just stickers and emblems.

(The Proton Saga and Iriz R3 Limited Edition are priced at RM42,300 and RM52,900, and limited to 2,000 and 500 units respectively.)