FIRST DRIVE: PROTON Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing There was a torrential downpour the evening that had the opportunity to test drive the recently launched Proton Satria Neo R3 Lotus Racing. Launched in conjunction with Lotus' return to Formula 1 this year, it really is a very special and very limited edition of only 25 cars. It's a brilliant car, what a performance Proton Satria Neo should be: good spread of power and strong acceleration, fun handling and strong brakes, and aggressive race-refugee styling.

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This is a sporty little hatchback with a lot going for it, not least its looks and Lotus-tuned chassis which make it good fun to drive. Itâs well equipped and the 1.6 litre engine has enough go in it to please the sort of buyer it will attract As you may know, Proton bought Lotus in 2003 which gave it access to some of the worldâs finest chassis tuning engineers and the results shine through in the Satria Neo. Show it a series of twisty bends and it will put a grin on your face like few other hatchbacks. It handles very well indeed yet also rides well, firm but nicely composed over bumps. Certainly the chassis is the carâs strongest suit. As the `neoâ part of the name suggests, this is a revised version of the car and among the improvements has been a programme to make is more refined and quieter on the road. There is a choice of two engines, a 1.3 or 1.6 with the bigger one also being available with the option of an automatic gearbox. I had the 1.6 and itâs reasonably potent with 111 bhp Still and all I did like the Proton. The styling works for me and it seems for others too. At the front there is a distinctive headlamp shape which Proton refers to as `tiger eyeâ projector lamps, the alloy wheels sit under flared arches and at the back the Exhaust tailpipe pokes out in the middle of the valence. Quite a few people asked me what it was and seemed surprised when I said Proton The cabin is a little bit small and I found headroom to be quite restricted but the car is well equipped. There is blue backlighting on the dials, an MP3 compatible radio/CD and Bluetooth for hands-free mobiles. Air conditioning comes as standard so it is not a bad package. I spent a week with the car and couldnât help but like it, even while wishing for a slightly nicer engine. The chassis and the handling are excellent, it looks sporty and the equipment level is generous. Proton Satria Neo From £7,995. Car tested 1.6 GSX £9,595 0 to 60 11.5 seconds Top speed 118 mph Average fuel consumption 43 mpg CO2 157 g/km Insurance Group 7 Service intervals 12 months/9,000 miles.