Published on February 3rd, 2022 | by Subhash Nair


2021 Proton Iriz Active Test Drive Review

Our thoughts on the latest Iriz variant called the Proton Iriz Active.

The Proton Iriz was the company’s answer to the Myvi after their Savvy failed to make a dent in its sales. The first Iriz arrived in 2014 to much fanfare, featuring hot-press formed steel, new 1.3L and 1.6L VVT engines, a CVT gearbox for the automatics and a Getrag 5-speed manual for those looking for a little more fun. While the Iriz was more of a sales success than the Savvy, it too failed to make a serious dent in the Myvi’s sales numbers. Once Geely entered the picture in 2018, the Iriz got itself a much needed facelift, but was still plagued by an unrefined CVT automatic. Again in 2021, the Iriz received another facelift – the fourth update in its 7th year of production and that is the model we find ourselves in.

For 2021, the changes in brief are as follows:

  • No more manual transmission options
  • A small price hike for equivalent variants
  • A new ‘Active’ model with a crossover-inspired parts
  • A new front grille that looks like the Persona’s, but with different finishing
  • The new Proton badge for the front and horn pad
  • A new front bumper with LED foglights
  • Re-colouring of rear bumper strip garnish
  • Larger rims with a new 16” rim design
  • A new interior lower dashboard section and centre console
  • A new free-standing infotainment system (with GKUI on the Active variant)
  • Hardware changes to the CVT automatic
BHPetrol_Euro5 Diesel_2021

We’re going to start with the looks first, as it’s obviously where Proton’s team has decided to put most of their time and effort.

The new Iriz Active model is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. On the one hand, it has its angles and the market seems to enjoy anything that even pretends to be an SUV. The new 16” wheels give it just a little bit of additional ride height. We also liked the LED headlights with darkened inserts and the new grille and rims.

But on the other hand, the rest of the Active is kind of tacky. The Iriz was already a pretty good looking hatchback with a touch of sophistication to its look.

Adding on flared fenders with fake Allan bolts, roof rails that don’t really work, and a load of of ‘Active’ badging takes so much from the original design and leaves it looking a little too much like a child’s idea of a ‘cool’ car.

I wish the design team had shown some restraint or pushed back against the idea of a crossover-inspired Iriz, but perhaps the sales numbers are ultimately what determine if this was a good move or not.

On the inside, Proton have improved a handful of aspects of the Iriz dramatically. The first being the air-conditioner interface. It now features new switchgear that feels and sounds a lot better than before. Still nowhere near what the Koreans are able to deliver at this price point, but actually not bad.

It’s not an automatic climate control system, but it’s a step in the right direction and very familiar to what the Myvi offered back in 2017. The aircond vents in the centre have also been redesigned to stack underneath the infotainment unit rather than flanking it.

Speaking of the infotainment unit, it’s an 8″ colour display running GKUI. This variant gets voice-assistant support but only for the air cond controls and the driver side window control. It’s not particularly useful, but a nice party trick for owners who dream about owning an X50. The system supports Bluetooth audio, and I guess that’s the bare minimum that’s required in this segment. Geely’s own navigation and media streaming services are competent but not preferred. We tried them out, and in all fairness, they worked ok. It was just not a very well optimised interface.

Google Maps and Waze take feedback and input from a much bigger pool of users and have much more experienced teams working on making these system work better, so anything Geely throws at this system is probably always going to trail behind anyway.

The new centre console features an extra large cupholder segment that ought to fit 3 bottles and some additional items. It’s quite an ergonomic use of space. Right in front of the gearknob are three new buttons for the front parking sensors, the stability control and the new ‘eco’ mode for the transmission, which we will get to shortly.

Throughout the cabin, there’s extensive use of red. On trim pieces around the air cond vents, air cond controls, the centre console and the steering wheel, this red is in a uniform, satin finish and looks really quite classy. However, on the upholstery and seatbelts, it’s really a little bit overdone. Red belts are really only something supercars and martial artists can pull off without being laughed at.

Plus, the number of times the embroidered ‘ACTIVE’ wordmark appears on the door cards and seats brings the new Iriz Active dangerously close to cringe territory. Of and the floor mats are bordered in red as well, in case you weren’t convinced of Proton’s commitment to this theme.

Still, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so we can’t take too many shots at this new Iriz Active’s design. What we can (and will) criticise is the gearbox. Proton says the CVT has gone through a complete hardware revision. There’s a new ‘S’ mode replacing the ‘L’, presumably standing for Sport and Low respectively. There’s also an Eco setting that can be enabled with the push of a button. The question is, have any of these changes rectified the Iriz’s biggest issue?

The answer is no. It’s still not as smooth on take off as a conventional torque converter automatic or torque converter CVT for that matter. The Iriz and Persona team have so much faith in this transmission and perhaps because on paper it is significantly better for fuel economy and power delivery than a conventional automatic. But behind the wheel, all I experienced was more of the same clumsiness showing itself in heavy traffic and on slopes. The only area where I do see some improvement is the transmission seems to know when the car has come to a stop on a slight incline and will activate a quasi ‘hold’ feature for a short period. Otherwise, it still takes a bit more throttle to get the clutch to engage when on a slope and that leads to an uncomfortable ‘jolt’ forward in traffic and in slopes.

Once on the move though, the overall experience of driving the Iriz Active is slightly improved over the last model in terms of NVH. It no longer roars as loudly at highway speeds. The bargain basement Silverstone tyres are long gone, so there’s plenty of grip. And it’s still a lovely car to chuck around a corner.

So, now we have to ask, if after four rounds (the initial 2014 launch, the 2017 update, the 2019 facelift and this 2021 Active facelift), does the Iriz have what it takes to compete against the Perodua Myvi?

Well, I haven’t driven the latest 2021 Myvi yet, so I really can’t say. But I do know that the new Myvi has loads of improvements to its Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS), a smooth 4-speed conventional automatic transmission, and a no-frills design, so I think the Myvi is still going to retain the top spot in this segment.

On the other hand, I do not think that after 7 years the Iriz has reached its true potential. What’s more, it’s starting to show its age with the complete lack of ADAS. As a package, Proton could have tried to play the value game in this segment, but instead opted to hike the price up beyond the savings offered by the ongoing SST discount. I’m sure a handful of buyers will enjoy the looks and drive of the Iriz Active, but it’s far from what it should be.

Perhaps what Proton should have done is to mate the engine to a conventional 4-speed, like they did with the Saga (with a similar engine). Another thing they could have done is to offer the car with the 1.6 Turbo from the aging Exora and perhaps the Getrag manual. It would have been a pricey car with a few buyers, but it would at least show just how capable the company and this chassis is. Instead what we got was… the Iriz Active.

I once said that when the opportunity arises, I would buy a used manual 1.6 Iriz. The opportunity arose. I did not take it.

2021 Proton Iriz Active Specifications

Engine: Inline-4, 16-Valve, DOHC, Petrol
Capacity: 1,597cc
Gearbox: CVT Automatic
Max power: 107hp @ 5750rpm
Max torque: 150Nm @ 4,000rpm
Price: RM54,000

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Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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