Budget Proton is a

gas guzzler you want

EARLY in the 1980s a guy who worked in PR for British Telecom washed up at my office full of the excitement only generated by the white heat of technological innovation.

When he left I was the confused borrower of what could well have been a ballot box. With wires and an annoying beep.

It was, in fact, a mobile telephone. Mobile in the sense that it was so heavy if you dropped it from a window it was unlikely to stop falling before trains were disrupted on the Metropolitan line.

Despite the clear advantage, flogged to death in TV advertising, that you could still be in the office while capsizing a rowing boat in Scotland, this was the equivalent of carrying your fridge around to keep the beers cool.

I don't think I used it once. Hernia was never very attractive as an injury.

Today, of course, I can reach into my pocket for a mobile phone that not only communicates across the world but allows me to watch footage of Piers Morgan reducing the school bully to tears, or enticing shots of Ashley Cole's sliding tackle.

I can access the internet, take pictures of my dog and engage in advancing the English language via the miracle of txt spk, m8.

So, progress indeed over a relatively short space of time.

The same can be said of cars.

In 1980 the fascia of a Subaru came with a tin foil finish. It was hard to tell if this was an instrument cluster or chocolate money. And at Vauxhall someone still thought it a good idea to upholster Chevettes with recycled tartan shopping trolleys.

Today the quickest way to reviewer damnation is to fit out your cars as caves or fail to meet plastic metal standards actually higher then the real thing.

And therein lies the Achilles heel of the Proton Gen-2.

In the world of budget motoring there is a lot to be said for the Proton, not least an £11k price tag frequently under cut on the company's own website where special offers on some models can knock £2,500 off the screen price.

And how about this. Buy the ecoLogic dual fuel and you get a gas conversion free of charge. So for the price of a small hatchback here is a five door saloon and half price fuel.

Furthermore the 1.6 ecoLogic is far from unattractive, hardly a head turner but neither is it an ugly tree victim.

Performance is reasonable, too. 0-62 takes a domestic 12 seconds and 42mpg helps keep the costs down. The Gen's ride is reasonable and while I doubt you would buy this car as an enthusiast, handling is tidy. There's a radio which you need because there is also quite a lot of  outside noise.

Other kit is value for money which, frankly, is the Proton's headline news. However if you are planning on running a car for monkey nuts just be aware that some aspects are distinctly planet of the apes.

Clumsy execution of fascia design stands out in a market where competitors have improved so much, especially the Koreans who were once world champions in plasterboard interiors.

And it's not just the low-rent feel of materials that disappoints, there is also a lack of logic. Not least the low level siting of heater controls which could have been placed by a man standing on his head. And a hands free phone button big enough to launch a nuclear strike.

Which means we are not exactly talking iPhone here but neither is it two tin cans and a long piece of string.

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