Proton ‘X’ rated sassier than ever

After more than 40 years of scepticism, it took a mere two weekends for me to reverse my lack of passion for the first national car, embrace the warm(ing) Proton, and turn myself into an infatuated admirer, hankering for more.

The flame of fandom started on an especially extended test drive of the Proton X50 Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) in early August.

This, after a brief hiatus, as I left the newsroom at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and only happenstance steered me towards rekindling my interest for rigorous motoring test drives.

A friend who contracted Covid-19 (happily recovered since), was test-driving the X70 – the X50’s predecessor introduced back in 2018 – and waxed lyrical about it. He has since decided to call it quits but did enough to persuade me that a Geely-driven Proton was going to transform the brand. I bumped into him recently and he sort of ‘passed the Proton baton’ to me, counting himself as one of Covid-19’s casualties – albeit still alive and kickin’.

And that chance meeting has led to this. Cue the X50 – my peek into the ‘new’ Proton stable. To be honest, I would have been more stirred if it were an Electric Vehicle (EV) but I am sure Proton is preparing for the day when Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) will disappear, and its future tied up with full-blown EVs.

What an eye-opener it was then when I sidled up into the cockpit of the X50.

Upon being handed over the keys to this compact SUV, the cabin tour itself was a revelation. Gone are the days of round dials and analogue displays. Instead, the driver looks at digital displays on the information centre and is fed information from a 10:25-inch floating touchscreen monitor.

The Voice Control feature – there for you to love or loathe – gives you the option for mortals to ‘lord’ it over a mere machine. With a gentle voice prompt of ‘Hi Proton’, you can make the car do a whole host of tasks without pressing any buttons.

But maybe one should have a full tutorial first before engaging in any sort of ‘remote, voice-activated’ relationship with a ‘humanoid’.

Indeed, you can be driven up the wall if you keep issuing instructions that are not recognisable or stored in the Voice Control’s ‘artificial intelligence’. But be prepared for a rollickin’ raucous if you have a full car packed with rowdy kids in the back. Good luck trying to get the attention of ‘Hi Proton…’ above all that din. Fun indeed, with a capital ‘F’ as the ‘humanoid’ tries to filter which ‘command’ is background noise, and which command to obey!

Being an SUV in the B-segment crossover market makes it distinct from all the mid-sized sedans of Proton’s much-storied past.

Proton, in its present incarnation, is attracting a whole new segment of the car-buying Malaysian public, and the X-series is proving to be irresistible indeed.

Its ‘winsome’ looks on its own will attract fanciers of SUVs far above its class. Indeed, when the X70 first appeared, a colleague, who owns a far more luxurious brand (the one that Ms Beckham endorsed) growled in mock horror that his British brand (which has since passed on to the Indian Tata) has somehow become less exclusive.

So, did the X50 behave? The journey up and down the North-South highway was rather uneventful but that was when I reminded myself that I was in the top-of-the-range Flagship model. Somehow, I was under the impression that I was going to be handed the keys to the lower-spec variant before I came to collect the car – but Proton, bless them – passed me the keys to the top of the range Flagship variant instead.

That was why I was pleasantly jolted out of my misconception about which version I was driving when the car I was cruising along in felt a little bit ‘out of the ordinary’.

The ride felt solid – not hard, the engine felt eager and well-behaved – not sluggish; the handling was firm and stable – not wobbly; and moving up the gears to speed along (somewhere at, or near the 110kph highway speed limit) made it totally responsive to driver input!

One would have thought the X50 would labour under the strain, but its 3-cylinder, turbocharged, 1.5-litre engine ensures adequate power on tap.

The driver display helpfully tells you how far your full tank can take you and keeps you updated with each passing kilometre. Its 7-speed (the old-school me keeps wondering why 7-speed, when all is needed is Quick, Fast, Faster?) Dual-Clutch Transmission in three driver-selectable modes logs its fuel consumption in miserly sips; yielding at least 700km on a single filling of its 45-litre fuel tank.

Quibble time! The 330-litre boot space could be bigger but you can create more cargo room by the 60:40 foldable rear seats. You also need brute strength to lift the tailgate. A colleague with a rather acute sensitive vision noted that sunlight gets bounced by the shiny two-tone surface of the interior dashboard – my way around it is to put on your anti-glare shades.

The X50, which comes in four variants, is now priced at: Standard (RM86,300), Executive (RM93,300), Premium (RM101,800), and Flagship (RM113,300).
But this being the month of Merdeka, one automobile website created a huge stir, advertising the X50 at a special price of RM77,800, but with only 25 units on offer.

By all accounts, the X50 is desirable enough that it is one of the SUVs that retains a high resale value on the second-hand market. A badge of honour indeed, for something ‘X’ rated.

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