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Opinion: Remembering Malaysia's forgotten hot-hatch hero

By David Morley, 07 Sep 2019 Features

Opinion Proton Satria GTi forgotten hot-hatch hero feature

With Mitsubishi mechanicals and Lotus tuning, the Proton Satria GTi still impresses 11 years on

I got to revisit a car that was on my radar about two decades ago, even if it was missing from everybody else’s. The company was Proton, the car was the Satria GTi. Remember it? Little silver three-door with wheelarch extensions and 16-inch alloys? Suspension-by-Lotus badge? Maybe you were driven home from hospital in one as a newborn. If so, props to your ma and pa. Probably not, though.

Whatever, the Satria GTi was the car that could have (but ultimately didn’t) catapult Proton into the mass market here. The results were the exact opposite of hot hatches like the Mark V Golf GTI, which completely relaunched VW’s fortunes in Australia, and the i30 N that has put Hyundai on the fast five-door map. As it turned out, the Satria GTi was a great car that died for lack of limelight, shadowed as it was by its iffy parentage and planted in the barren furrow of consumer indifference.

Although based on a fourth-gen Mitsubishi Mirage (Proton made extensive use of hand-me-down Mitsu tech), the Satria GTi was one of those rare cars that was more than the sum of its part numbers. That’s partly down to well-considered inclusions like Recaro seats, but also to Proton having the good sense to farm out the suspension development (and other areas of the car) to Lotus in the UK.

The result was a 1.8-litre engine that made 103kW at a sane 6000rpm (despite the 7500rpm redline), a snappy five-speed gearbox, proper independent rear end and a look that was neither ravioli nor rice, but tough anyway, especially in the techy-looking silver paint. Nought to 100 took about eight-and-a-bit, and while it was no torque monster, it was flexible and had a particular zing about the way the donk sounded and felt. But most of all, it went round corners like few other hatches, hot or otherwise. At the time, anyhow.

I remember these cars so well and so fondly because back in the day MOTOR was gifted one as a long-termer for six months, and the little bugger fell into my hands for the bulk of that time. And we had a ball together. So imagine my delight when a mate of mine who flips garage-finds for some extra quids turned up a Satria GTi for chump change, dragged it home and rinsed the dust off.

Balling on a budget: $5000 Driver's car stars

Under the bird-crap and possum-pee was this absolutely tremendous little hatch that, apart from some fading of the clear-coat on the roof rails, still looks fresh and straight. Thing is, my mate Tim has recently been involved in a profit-sharing arrangement with the Victorian Jacks, so he is a bit light on in the driving licence department right at the minute. Never fear Suspenderino, says I, I’d be happy to take it for a squirt and see what needs fixing. I’m good like that.

Was it any good? Blimey, despite sitting for about 11 years (according to the rego sticker), the GTi was as tight as a drum. There was one squeak (from a seat rail, we think), the temp gauge climbed to normal and sat there, and the Lotus suspension still felt tight yet supple. The passenger-side window switch was buggered (though the window still worked from the driver’s switch) and the brakes felt a bit weedy, probably because the pads were old and glazed.

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But we had a terrific afternoon (including lunch at a country pub) flogging pick-handles out of this two-grand car and marvelling at what a miracle it was to have survived so intact and still so sharp. Ultimately, it was our optimism that shot us in the arse; the fuel filter we should have changed (but didn’t) clagged up and sent the engine into a fit of the staggers, making the last three kays to home a series of 800-metre journey-ettes (with time off in between to get out, hit the filter and bump the crud off the paper element). No biggee.

I hadn’t actually forgotten about the Satria GTi, but Tim’s car sure as hell brought it all flooding back and convinced me that anybody who overlooked it when new was missing out. Remember the girl at school who wasn’t one of the cool kids but wanted to dance anyway? Wonder what she’s doing now?