The Proton Persona was introduced in 1996 as essentially a rebadged Proton Wira, as it was known here from 1995 to 1996. The car was given a new identity for marketing purposes, as the Malaysian company felt that it should be given a name with a less aggressive ring to it for broader appeal. Although the Persona is identical in many ways to the Wira, it was given minor changes to the front grille and rear headlights, as well as improved insulation.
The Persona was available in two levels in the form of the GLi and XLi. The GLi was the base model and was initially available in sedan and hatchback variants, although the sedan was discontinued from 2000 onwards. As the high-end model, the XLi was accordingly given a slightly larger engine and a rear spoiler that lent it a sportier feel than the GLi. The XLi was only ever available as a hatchback. Four-speed automatic and 5-speed manual gearboxes were available for both the GLi and XLi trim levels.
Overall, the Persona has a conservative look about it. Although its general exterior finish is more than acceptable, panel and paint finish on some parts of the exterior – most notably the door apertures – is arguably a little below standard.
The Persona was discontinued in 2005 and succeeded by the Proton Gen-2. This Persona should not be confused with the sedan model introduced as a sedan variant of the Gen-2 in 2008.
Upon introduction, the GLi was given a 1.5L engine and the XLi was given a 1.6L engine. The GLi was given a 1.3L engine in 2000 as a replacement for the 1.5L. The introductory GLi model had a 1.5L engine with a power output of 66kW at 6000rpm and a torque of 126Nm at 3000rpm, and an acceleration of 0-100km/h in 13 seconds.
With a manual gearbox, the Persona had an urban fuel consumption of 8.6L/100km, an extra urban fuel consumption of 6.6L/100km, and a combined fuel consumption of 7.3L/100km. This is slightly more economical than the automatic model, which had used a combined 7.9L/100km.
The 1996 XLi had a 1.6L, which produced the best performance statistics of all models, with a power output of 83kW at 6000rpm and a torque of 147Nmat 5000rpm. Acceleration was also more impressive in the XLi, which was capable of reaching 0-100km/h in 10.3 seconds.
The 1.3L engine used in the GLi model from 2000 onwards had a decreased power output of 55kW and less torque with pulling power of 108Nm at 4000rpm. However, the 1.3L engine’s combined fuel economy remained unchanged at 7.3L/100km with a manual gearbox.
General comfort when driving (or being driven) is acceptable, yet the ride can be a little harsh on rough roads, over which a level of steering and scuttle shake is evident. The manual gearbox can be a bit notchy, although it does allow one to maintain good speed. The opposite lock power steering gives a direct feel which minimises effort when parking, which is further assisted by the reasonably small turning circle of 10.8m. The steering also provides a pleasant feel at highway speeds.
The 1996 GLI model included a 6-speaker stereo, power windows in the front and rear, body colour bumpers, radio cassette, central locking, remote boot/hatch release, and power steering. Air-conditioning was optional but was made standard from 1997 onwards.
The XLi added a 6-speaker stereo, body colour bumpers, and a rear spoiler. Although the standard kit is quite large, especially for a class of this price and class, these models do not feature airbags, ABS, an immobiliser, or an alarm.
The final GLi model, released in 2005, added a driver’s airbag, leather steering wheel, a CD player, and an engine immobiliser.
The final XLi model added 14-inch alloy wheels and a body kit with front and rear spoilers, skirts, and a rear apron.
Competition came in the shape of the Rover 25, Hyundai Accent hatchback, and Kia Shuma. Despite the fact that the Rover 25 was seen to be of better quality and that the Hyundai Accent provided great value for money, the Persona still provides decent styling, a number of solid features (especially in later models), good fuel economy, and great value for money.