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This is certainly a long time coming. The review I mean. Not the car. Ok, well technically, to be accurate, the review of the car. And to be honest, this is probably the hardest review to date. Why? Because the Satria Neo R3 has a lot to live up to as the latest limited edition vehicle from R3, and also because I need to be impartial and brutally honest, being an owner of the Satria R3 – the car that is being ultimately ‘replaced’ by a newer, better-looking platform.

It has not been the smoothest of journeys for the 25-man strong Proton Motorsports Division, what the general public fondly knows as R3 (Race Rally Research). Battling red tape and budget constraints since its inception, attributed much to its umbilical cord attached to the Proton mothership, R3 has been rather silent from the scene much through 2006. The successful R3 Time Attack Series (formerly known as Street ShootOut – SSO), which saw the birth of the ‘Short Course Special’ SSO cars – SSO Satria and Putra, sputtered a horrible death, much to the disappointment of the grassroots motorsports fraternity. The very series that not only helped build R3 brand visibility and presence, and inspire the spawning of the first ever retail limited edition R3 vehicle – the track-special Satria R3. Dead.

Except for its dabbling in the local drift scene with the SSO Drift and D1GP Drift Series, Malaysian Super Series, and its big budget foray into the Merdeka Millenium Race (and winning), R3 did little where producing cars were concerned. The Savvy R3 and Gen.2 R3 were great teasers of what was to come, credit to the R3 development team, however reduced to being just elusive, unattainable prototypes. Like Milla Jonovich. Someone you’d so lustfully want to drive home and ‘ride’ but ultimately, can never have. Ok, bad analogy.

On a serious note, things did not look too rosy for R3. The world waited. And waited. No Gen.2 R3. No Savvy R3. No tangible, physical R3 vehicles from the R3 factory. Zilch. Nada. The only saviour was the virtual existence of the now defunct R3 website and forum, and also the R3gister blog (note: plug!).

Mid 2006, Proton introduced the Satria Neo. And desire, it seemed, had a new name. The Satria Neo launch not only gave the public the first taste of the new hatch platform from Proton, but also a preview of the R3 concept, much to the delight of R3 fans and car owners. The menacing Satria Neo R3 Concept showed R3 still knew how to make desirable, performance cars. It showed it still had drive. And passion.

Well and good. Then there was more waiting. Much of it. Still no Neo R3. R3 raced the Neo. In MME 2007, and MSS. A private company gave a preview of the Neo Cup race car. Proton gave us cute little canary-yellow A1GP special editions. Lovely.

Can the real Satria Neo R3 please stand up, then?

Well, wait no further my petrol fumes-sniffing friends. Welcome the Satria Neo R3. Seriously. It’s here. In its 135bhp Campro-powered, hand-built glory. All ten have been booked, sold and delivered to owners. Unfortunately no Incognito Black paintjob to keep R3 fanboys happy but black enough to matter. No official word on how many will actually be built, but word has it that R3 plans to make a total of 50.

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At first glance, the Neo R3 (NR3) looks menacing. If you ever wanted an example of looking fast while standing still, this is it. Or Carl Lewis. Whichever turns you on. However you look at it, from any angle, mind you, this curvy hot hatch is indeed, ‘hot’. As far as cosmetics go, this baby has got everything going for it. The front valance fierce and racy. The rear beautiful, and purposeful, especially the downforce-inducing diffuser. Shame it does not come with any carbon fibre bits ala its older sibling. (CF spoiler thieves may be cursing at this point). Observed from side-to-side, the NR3′s modern lines and styling completely sends the SR3 to stone-age obsoletism. Typical of all R3 cars, the unmistakable red-silver side strips are complemented by conspicuous “Race•Rally•Research” decals and R3 badging, completing the trademark R3 look.

The 17″ Enkei wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE001 205/40R rubber (not Advanti RSW-03 as initially specced) fill the arches rather nicely. Ride height is slightly lower, attributed to a set of R3 performance springs coupled with stock Neo dampers, tested and developed by none other than R3 chassis engineer and race driver – the great Faidzil Alang. We’ll see how this translates to actual ride and handling later.

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In general, there’s little to dislike about the NR3 exterior styling-wise. Personally I am not too keen on the Enkei option, preferring the subtlety of the Advanti RSW-01. Individual preferences aside, what’s important is that the NR3 exudes that understated “R3-ness” and it does this with conviction and confidence.

To be continued…

Chat about the Proton Satria Neo R3 in the R3gister Groups.