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Hi Proton… can the X70 change people’s perception of the brand?

It’s pure bloodshed in the warzone we call the C-segment SUVs but good thing the X70 brought a sword to a knife fight

Dinesh Appavu Photo

Dinesh Appavu

11 Feb 2019


Years ago, Proton’s then managing director; Syed Zainal Abidin, divulged how anyone and everyone had an opinion regarding the national carmaker. While failure isn’t an option at any business, misses will always be interspersed with the hits.

However, the notion that it was especially not tolerated if said sin was committed by Proton was clearly implied by the people. Chalk it down to the carmaker being a national asset back then and people paid taxes, hence the justification in passing judgement.

Every new Proton model was subject to intense public scrutiny and even the most minute shortcomings cued the proverbial pitchforks and calls for blood.

It’s a different game now and yet, the stakes remain unchanged. Geely’s ownership dilutes the national pride but the court of public opinion is always in session and ever ready to pass a sentence regardless.

Furthermore, breaking new ground with the marque’s first ever SUV and as the initial model in the new partnership was just begging for a supersized helping of over analysis by everyone and their neighbours.

Geely’s credentials in the automotive scene needn’t be questioned, they had turned Volvo around and its own brand was approaching quality levels closer to that of the Swedes. Proton was to follow suit.

People asked the current chief executive officer, Dr. Li Chunrong, how was Proton going to change people’s perception of what is viewed as an entry-level brand here? His answer was simple; product. The man was confident that a quality product would alleviate the bulk of the load.

Up to this point, the X70 certainly looked the part to get the job done but it had its work cut out. Over 15,000 bookings is a sure vote of confidence from the public. Yet, the harshest of critics refused opening up to the possibility of Proton’s potential leap forward in terms of build quality and that’s the X70’s largest hurdle; convincing them otherwise.

Proton recently granted members of the media a little time with the X70 to whet the palate. For many, it was the first time driving the X70 to experience all the bells and whistles that make it the best value-for-money proposition among hyper-competitive C-segment SUVs now.

A full review will follow when time permits but for now, the quick drive just cemented the fact that the X70 is the best Proton by far and there’s no shame in it being badge engineered if that’s the direction future models will take.

The first thing that pops up at you as the X70 moves along is the remarkable NVH levels. Road and wind noise were eerily hushed, up to legal-ish highway speeds. We can thank demanding Chinese buyers for this as they’re particularly anal regarding NVH levels according to Geely.

Someone even mentioned that the cabin was more muted than a bread-and-butter sedan from the country’s best-selling premium brand; a bold statement but one that wasn’t challenged by any party present, including yours truly. High praise that, but deserving the X70 was.

Ride and handling turned out to be a double-edged sword. Proton was allowed to make its own revisions to the damping. Geely might have the volume and money but is still relatively new to the carmaking game. Proton’s team sent over to China during the co-development process proved to be an invaluable source of data for the Geely engineers in ride and handling.

Initial ride impressions did come across a little harsher than expected although never close to knocking on the door of jarring. A pinch stiffer than its peers but you could very well chalk it down to the 19-inch wheels and less than savoury roads on everyone’s favourite duty-free island; Langkawi, where we had our stint behind the wheel. Steering feel wasn’t present, the electric assistance coming on too strong.

The engine has all the right kit on paper. A 1.8-litre inline-four with turbocharging and direct injection that’s good for 182hp and 285Nm of torque. For the flagship trim tested, all that push motivates the front wheels via the six-speed automatic.

Those horsepower numbers place it among the top; giving it an edge, but disappointingly that’s muzzled by its poundage; also among the top. Pace was fair, not feeling underpowered but nowhere near the numbers would have you believe.

However, you could be convinced to close an eye to that with the refinement the engine delivered. Once again, vibrations were nowhere to be found even when pushed but the mill did start to complain audibly when really pushed. That transmission was equally up to task, shifting almost imperceptibly and with haste.

The cabin keeps to the script as well with first-rate build quality and materials. A clean layout that doesn’t fall prey to the calamity of overdoing the buttons lend it a user-friendly and intuitive feel. Sporty influences lightly pepper the interior in the form of a flat-bottomed steering and grab handles on the centre console; ala Porsche Cayenne.

Materials are top notch. All the major contact points get soft-touch plastics or Nappa leather; the latter unique to the Premium variant. Even the hard plastics feel sturdy, a monumental step up from Proton’s already impressive leap forward in that department. Cabin space is more than generous, with nary a complaint from the feet, head or shoulders.

There’s nothing much to complain about in terms of kit. Electric seats with boss-controls for the front passenger, keyless-entry, push-start, panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, digital instrument cluster and that nifty voice control are all accounted for. Almost as impressive as the voice control is the elevated three-dimensional view of the surroundings for parking.

Using the now familiar “Hi Proton” to navigate and find music was almost always successful. Free 3G connectivity for the first five years with new purchases gives access to the internet and Tencent’s music library. A Kenwood sound system; complete with amplifier, provides some quality aural satisfaction that’s easily appreciated in the silent cabin.

Safety comprises the segment standard; six airbags, stability control, ABS, EBD, blind-spot monitoring and Isofix points. Those are bolstered with active cruise control, lane-keeping warning and autonomous braking to give it an edge over the competition.

There’s really not much to argue against the X70. In the highly competitive SUV C-segment, it’s unquestionably the best value-for-money proposition.

Each other front-runner might ace a specific USP, such as handling for the Mazda CX-5 and practicality for the Honda CR-V, but in a Venn diagram the X70 is currently that common ground between them all. Furthermore, over 67 per cent of the X70 buyers are over the age of 40 so maturity and common sense seems to be on its side as well.



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