Proton X50 Surpasses Rivals Grandly

By Lee Pang Seng

PROTON used to score on very affordable prices. Then its value got better with improved standard features. Added to that a better ride and handling quality that was developed with Lotus and things were starting to look brighter. Now, it could lay claim to being a superior performer in performance, safety and driving convenience at an attractive price.

Well, the price part was not revealed yet at the media preview of the X50 at the Sepang International Circuit in early October. What could generally be speculated is that it would be attractively priced, given the precedent set with the bigger X70. In fact, there could be some overlap in price, with the top range X50 being priced at the same level as the entry-level X70.

This might cause some cannibalisation of the X70 sales but it’s a good problem that Proton would have to deal with. After all, not every prospective buyer for the X70 would want a smaller SUV (sport utility vehicle) in the X50, even though the latter’s level of features and equipment might be higher.

Proton’s introduction of the SUV certainly boosted its efforts to regain market share. The global trend of new vehicle buyers leaning towards SUVs is progressively being reflected in Malaysian automotive sales. A more versatile vehicle in interior space without sacrificing engine power and fuel economy is a major plus factor. Add to that an attractive price and many are sold on the latest trend.

Although Perodua ventured into the SUV market much earlier, it was a bit ahead of its time where automotive buying trend was concerned. Nevertheless, it enjoyed a fair share of success moving many Kembaras to those who wanted to reflect a more outdoorsy lifestyle. A successor is in the pipeline but we would have to wait and see how that newcomer would measure up.

For now, it’s Proton’s turn to make hay while the sun shines. The X70 led the way and the much anticipated X50 would continue the momentum grandly as it surpasses rivals in every possible manner; from price to features, high safety levels to assisted driving conveniences and in handling dynamics and engine performance.

When we first saw the Binyue, on which the X50 is developed from, at Geely headquarters in Hangzhou, China early in 2019, we knew it would be a winner in looks. It was also a trendy SUV in features and fittings, and we were told then that it was gobsmacked with a wide range of safety equipment and driving assist features.

Acceleration performance

Proton’s second preview of the X50 allowed the media to drive it, armed with a brief outline of what its latest SUV has to offer. The most interesting of the respective drive sessions was the acceleration comparison against the BMW X1 sDrive18i and Honda HR-V 1.8. The choice in the Beemer was that it too was powered by a three-cylinder engine and that of the Honda was that it was the best seller in its SUV category.

We were each given a chance to enjoy the acceleration comparison run in the three vehicles in succession. We started with the Proton X50 before jumping into the BMW X1 sDrive18i and ended the gutsy run in the Honda HR-V 1.8.

Before we delve into our impressions here, let us brief you on the respective vehicle’s engine specifications. From what we could glean from the product briefing, the X50 has a 1.5-litre (1477cc) three-cylinder direct injection turbocharged DVVT (dual variable valve timing) engine that delivers 130kW (177PS) that peaks at 5500rpm and 255Nm that develops at 1500rpm and holds till 4500rpm before tapering.

Its transmission is a seven-speed dual clutch automatic. The X50 direct injection turbo is said to accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds and its average fuel consumption is given as 6.4 litre/100km (15.6km/l). Proton also provides another turbocharged 1.5-litre model option with lower engine output (110kW/150PS and 226Nm at around the same engine revs) as it has port injection. The X50;s kerb weight is said to be around 1400kg.

The BMW X1 sDrive18i has a 1.5-litre (1499cc) turbocharged three-cylinder engine that churns out 103kW (140hp) at 4000-6500rpm and 220Nm from 1480-4200rpm. The transmission is a seven-speed Steptronic dual clutch unit. It tips the scales at below 1500kg. In performance, it accelerates to 100km/h in 9.6 seconds while its average fuel consumption is 6.3 litre/100km (15.8km/l).

The Honda HR-V is the odd one out being powered by a normally aspirated 1.8-litre (1799cc) four-cylinder engine with a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Its power output is comparable at 105kW (142hp) at 6500rpm but delivers the least torque with 172Nm peaking at 4300rpm. It’s also the lightest in kerb weight at below 1250kg.

With the X50, we were marginally slow on hitting the accelerator pedal on countdown and was the last to take off. The turbo power came on song soon enough and we could catch and pass the BMW and Honda at close to the 100km/h mark.

We were a bit quicker off the mark with the X1 and it took the X50 to pass us about three-quarters of the way to 100km/h. By the time we got into the HR-V, we were more attuned to the countdown and hit the accelerator quicker. Some say we jumped the gun although we felt we were more focused on the countdown than in earlier runs. We hit 85km/h before the X50 passed us.

We did all three 0-100km/h runs with the transmission selected to Sport mode for the X50 and X1, while the HR-V had the gearshift moved to the S slot, which is essentially putting the CVT in Sport mode. On hindsight, we feel that for this acceleration runs, it didn’t matter which mode the transmission was in.

By putting our foot flat to the floor on the accelerator pedal, the transmission would upshift at the optimum permissible engine speed to achieve the best acceleration. The Sport mode comes into play on the move by electronically engaging a lower gear and holding it till optimum engine revs for a quicker drive.

What we could deduce from this acceleration exercise was that the HR-V was quicker off the line as it was normally aspirated and the lack of a turbo lag, how minor that might have been, was an advantage. The CVT also transferred the engine power to the front wheels quicker to give them bite for a quicker take-off.

Proton says the development of the three-cylinder engine in the X50 takes into consideration a quieter performance for a more comfortable drive. As the respective engine revved up during the acceleration run, we discerned that the X1’s three-cylinder engine sounded quieter and smoother, albeit marginally. The Honda HR-V’s engine was more robust, which we felt added to its sporty nature.

Dynamic and assisted driving

Taking to a slalom and lane-change course was the start of our day’s drive experience. This was to let us feel the dynamic quality of the X50 and we were told to take both the slalom and lane-change course at about 50km/h. We were so comfortable with the positive note on its dynamic stability that we probably exceeded the suggested speed to above 55km/h.

The steering response was good as we could pilot the X50 on the slalom course without losing track of how the front wheels were pointing. Body leans were also nicely checked and this led us to drive a bit faster. We had to do a tight U-turn at the end of slalom course and this displayed the small turning circle of the X50; a definite boon while driving in narrow and tight urban areas.

Likewise, the lane-change manoeuvre was executed at close to 60km/h without us losing control of the X50. This suggested that its chassis and suspension design were well sorted to maintain a stable poise when quick lane changes are necessary to avoid crashing into another vehicle or other objects while driving.

The X50 comes with an Electric Power Steering (EPS) with four steering modes and the suspension system features a new spring and damper configuration as well as a new anti-roll bar to accommodate Malaysian road conditions. A hot lap was part of the drive programme in which we would be driven by ‘professionals’ to get an impression of the X50’s dynamic stability. We skipped this as we had to leave early but we are confident that the X50 would live up to expectations here, given the positive slalom experience.

The assisted driving session gave us an insight into the X50’s Advanced Driving Assistance System (ADAS) that ranks it as a Level 2 Autonomous Driving vehicle, the first in its class. You could set the speed for the system to work with and are guided by the visual display on the instrument panel (in a central section flanked by the speedometer and tachometer guides).

When you are on the road, it could detect the vehicle on the road ahead via sensors in front and a camera on the upper windscreen. The latter gives a more accurate picture as it could visually detect the vehicle ahead instead of sensing it. However, both work in tandem to provide better detection performance.

If the vehicle ahead slows down, the system would slow the X50 down according to set parameters (such as distance to vehicle in front). And if the vehicle ahead comes to a stop, the ADAS applies the X50’s brakes as well in a progressive manner to come to a complete stop. All this is done without you having to touch the pedals on the floor.

You could override the system by stepping on the brake pedal (as when you are coming to a stop at the traffic lights), pressing the P(ark) button on the knobby gearshift when stationary or pressing the ADAS button on the steering wheel. By the way, the flat-bottom steering wheel is standard fare for a sporty touch.

We were also given insights into how the BLIS (Blind Spot) feature works with its double warning levels and the Lane Keep Assist that maintains the X50 in the lane that it is moving on. For the latter, you could override the system by using the indicator before changing lanes.

All this is merely scratching the surface on the long list of standard features in the X50, which in this case is the direct injection turbocharged version. As for its prices, you would just have to wait till the official launch later in October but you are well assured the X50 would be very competitively and attractively priced. As it were, at the time of this media preview, more than 20,000 orders were already received despite not knowing what this Proton SUV is priced at!