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PROTON X50 & X70

From humble beginnings, Proton South Africa raises expectations for cash-strapped consumers who crave affordable luxury and a dependable, spirited driving experience.

We’ve opined on the return of Proton to South Africa in a previous edition, sharing the lowdown of the brand’s Geely underpinnings, their ethos, and strategy for the local market. Yet only once you’ve driven any of the new-generation Protons do you get a tangible sense of what the company means with their ‘affordable luxury’ moniker. It is a bold claim to make that your products offer superior quality over other new market entrants – especially considering the great strides that newer Chinese brands have recently made – not to mention the established brands. Yet, the proof of the hype is in driving either of the new X50 or X70 models now available here.

This is precisely what we did at the official Proton launch event at Kloofzicht outside Johannesburg last month, where we came away with a better understanding of the cars and their positioning in the burgeoning SUV segment. 

POWERFUL HERITAGE

Although Proton is a Malaysian brand, the Chinese powerhouse automotive brand Geely owns a 49% stake. This is good for several reasons. Most significantly, the Geely ownership gives Proton access to Geely development capital and technical expertise, which translates into a better quality product overall.

It also means that Proton has access to shared technology in the group. To my mind, this is most evident in the X50, the smaller and newer of the two Proton’s.

For its powertrain, Proton applies the Volvo-based 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol to all its new models, with varying power outputs depending on the model.

X50

All X70 models and the flagship X50 that we drove on launch are powered by a direct-injection version of the Volvo powerplant, and produce 130 kW and 225 Nm, paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Other X50 models sport a conventional fuel injection system that produces 110 kW and 226 Nm.

The range-leading X50 1.5T TGDi Premium, to give it its official title, offered effortless performance during our short test drive, highlighting the smoothness of its TGDi powerplant with low levels of noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), even under hard acceleration. 

The refinement theme carries through to the cabin, where materials look and feel premium enough to go toe-to-toe with established segment offerings. 

Proton delivers on its promise of affordable luxury from the base 1.5T Standard model, which comes with full LED headlights, an 8” touchscreen infotainment system with reverse camera, four airbags, and air vents in the rear. Upgrade to the 1.5T Luxury, and you get synthetic leather seats, automatic headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and two additional airbags. For the 1.5T Executive, Proton has added 18” alloys, a 10” infotainment screen, 360-degree camera, a powered driver’s seat, and tyre pressure monitoring. Finally, the Premium model gets all this, as well as a panoramic roof, two-tone paint treatment, and various driver assistance systems.

X70

Based on a slightly older Geely platform than the X50, the larger is similar in size to the Hyundai Tucson or Toyota RAV4. Its base model – the X70 Standard – is similarly appointed as the X50 Standard, with its 8” infotainment screen and 17-inch alloys, but loses the LED lighting set-up in favour of halogens. 

Proton ramps up the convenience in the X70 with 18” alloy wheels, a powered tailgate, LED headlights, synthetic leather seats, an electrically-operated driver’s seat, and a 360-degree camera. Buyers can also have an all-wheel-drive model with 19” wheels, Nappa leather, driver assistance systems, and a premium sound system with nine speakers. Although the halo model X70 1.5 TGDi Premium loses doesn’t have the all-wheel-drive, it does gain a panoramic sunroof in line with its X50 Premium sibling.

From a design point of view, the X70 is not quite as progressive-looking as the more compact X50, but it will appeal to larger families who place a premium on driving feel and available luggage space. 

THE PROTON PROMISE

Backed by the CMH Group, Proton has begun its dealership roll-out to all major centres, and aims to have 20 dealerships up and running by the end of the year. According to Proton, this will increase to 27 by the end of 2023 and 35 by the year after. To put buyers even more at ease, all Proton models carry a five-year/unlimited mileage warranty and a five-year/80,000 km service plan.

LAST WORD

With pressure growing for buyers to swap their luxury SUVs for more financially palatable options, Proton offers excellent value at the premium end of the market. Although it’s tempting to compare these cars with other new entrants to the market, where more aggressive pricing strategies have proven successful for both Haval and Chery, Proton’s drive to deliver luxury at an attainable price point is certainly off to a strong start.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG JR | Images © PROTON SOUTH AFRICA

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