The famous Malaysian automotive manufacturer returns to South Africa, bringing with them two contenders for the B- and C-segments. Here are our impressions.
Proton Motors is a Malaysian Automotive manufacturer that has been around since the 1980s. The brand first came to South Africa in 2005, introducing itself with the Gen2 sedan, proudly wearing the “Handling by Lotus” badge on its boot. After some success with the Gen2, Proton brought in some more vehicles until deciding to leave the South African market in 2013.
Since that time, the Chinese Automotive firm and group Geely became a big shareholder in Proton Motors. Keep in mind, Geely acquired Volvo and Lotus over time and naturally you’ll see inklings of tech and refinement filter into Proton vehicles. As a result, we have the X50 and X70 SUVs which we had the opportunity to sample on launch.
With a return to the South African market, you would have to have vehicles that stand out from the crowd. Proton Motors has a massive Malaysian manufacturing plant which encompasses an in-house design studio where designers can roam free but within the bounds of what the engineers can make into reality. In this instance for both the X50 and X70, there are many small design details you’ll pick up and elements that make the vehicles uniquely Proton. Unique in the sense that the styling inspiration was taken from a Malaysian Tiger in different stances or states, if you will.
Let’s start with the X50
The X50 looks like a tiger ready to pounce with its sharper, more angular lines going from the front to the sides of the vehicle. The front fascia of the vehicle imitates a tiger bearing its teeth, closing its eyes slightly for a more mighty if not sporty look. Out of the X50 and X70, the X50 aims for a more youthful driver who wants sportier styling but at the same time is not over the top. In the rear, you’ll find quad exhaust tips housed in a rear diffuser, adding to the sporty motif with a large wing. The X50 is also the smaller of the two vehicles, placing itself in the B segment.
Now onto the X70
In contrast to the pouncing tiger X50, the X70 goes for more of a Tiger in a resting state. Of the two vehicles, the X70 is the more mature-looking model that it’s aimed at an older driver or rather a driver that favours luxury over sporty styling. It’s subtle but elegant with more smatterings of chrome trim on the exterior. The X70 is also the larger of the two SUVs which sits in the C segment.
Interior and Technology
Going into the two vehicles, this is where you’ll see more of the Malaysian craftsmanship being shown off. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces in and around the interior of both vehicles being broken apart with silver trim pieces. There’s a nice design flow around the cabin with lovely touches of pattern textured switchgear and even small details being paid attention to. Seating is comfortable for both front and rear passengers and they’ll fare well with longer journeys with a myriad of adjustment settings for the front seats (not electrically adjustable on the Standard variants). You can even get supple Nappa leather in top-of-the-range X70. The X50 feels more compact and everything is closer to you, sticking to that sporty theme that the vehicle has presented itself as. Whereas with the X70, everything is more spaced out but still easy to access nonetheless, showing off the notion that it’s a bigger vehicle and more spacious inside.
In terms of technology, the X50 and X70 provide essential luxury features such as remote vehicle start on the key fob (X50), an air purification system (X70), ventilated seats (X70), power tailgate with foot sensor (X70) responsive infotainment systems with a good number USB charging ports in the cabin and lastly, Proton voice commands to operate certain interior technology and components. Unfortunately, the voice commands do need some refinement in the sense of initialisation and being able to hear South African accents better; at least that was our experience in an X70 we sampled. That being said, it was pleasant to see the 9-speaker audio system in the X70 Premium being a Kenwood system. That’s an established audio brand you don’t see too often in an OEM application.
Luggage capacity is as follows:
X50: 330 litres
X70: 512 litres
The luggage capacity in the X50 is adequate but could be better when compared to its rivals. With the X70, the luggage capacity is on par with its rivals such as the Mazda CX-5.
Drive and handling
Powering both the X50 and X70 is a 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine coupled to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The engine is a result of a co-development between Geely and Volvo. In the X50, you get the engine in two flavours, a 110 kW / 226 Nm multipoint fuel injected version and a 130 kW / 255 Nm direct injection version which was present for sampling. The X70 uses the higher output direct injection 130 kW engine across its range. The drivetrain is smooth, quiet, and pokey with a good implementation of a dual-clutch transmission. The gearbox changes seamlessly and on this drive the ratios were matched nicely.
With regard to handling, Proton Motors focused on lightness and agility. The vehicles are spritely and felt planted on the road in spite of the windy conditions on the day. On both the X50 and X70, you can adjust the feel of the steering between Normal, Comfort, and Sport, the same goes for the drive mode selection. The ride quality for both vehicles is premium feeling and NVH (Noise Vibration and Harshness) is good, even on bumpy roads. The vehicle is put together very well with no rattles.
Claimed combined fuel consumption on the X50 is 6.5l / 100 km and on the X70 7.8l / 100 km. Not terrible.
These vehicles are quite suitable for daily usage as well as long road trips. The driving experience on open roads left us with a good impression of good driving dynamics.
Proton Motors hasn’t skimped on the safety of the X50 and X70. To summarise, both vehicles have a 5-Star ASEAN NCAP rating.
Regarding both the X50 and X70
On the standard models, you’ll get :
- 4 airbags (X50 front and side)
- 6 airbags (X70 front, side and curtain)
- Brake assist
- Hill hold and Hill descent control
- Auto brake hold
- Electronic Stability Control
- ABS and EBD
- Rear parking sensors with reverse cameras
On the premium model, in addition to the Standard variant’s features:
- 6 airbags (X50 and X70 Front, side and curtain)
- Autonomous emergency braking
- Forward collision warning
- Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go
- Intelligent cruise control
- Lane Keep Assist with departure warning
- Auto Park Assist
- Blind Spot Information System
- Intelligent High Beam Control
- Front and read parking sensors with 360-degree camera
With the return of Proton Motors to South Africa, it seems like the brand is ready to rumble with the ever-competitive B- and C-SUV segments thanks to a good strategy. The products on offer show promise, with the key takeaway being ‘affordable luxury’. This is quite pertinent considering that Proton Motors aims to compete with the likes of BMW, Mazda, and Volkswagen in the aforementioned segments, and the pricing speaks of this too.
It’s going to be tough considering what’s on offer with the competition but if this first impression drive has said anything, it’s that Proton Motors is ready to be a global player and wants to show off its bespoke identity. The Proton Motors X50 and X70 are worth a shot and a test drive to be under your radar.
Which would we pick between the X50 and X70? The X50 stands out as the bolder of the two.
Proton Motors X50
X50 1.5T Standard from R449 900
X50 1.5T Luxury from R499 900
X50 1.5T Executive from R535 900
1.5 TGDi Premium from R579 900
Proton Motors X70
X70 Standard 2WD from R529 900
X70 Executive 2WD from R579 900
X70 Executive AWD from R629 900
X70 Premium X 2WD from R639 900
*All Proton Models come with a 5-Year Unlimited Mileage Warranty which is transferable to subsequent owners, a 5-Year 80 000 km service plan and 5-Year emergency roadside assistance.