Proton was never in the business of making SUVs. Now it has one aiming for the skies
National carmaker’s upcoming SUV shaping up to be the technology benchmark in its segment
It’s a very Malaysian thing to have Proton tease every fibre of your imagination each time it has a new model is lined up. This habit is alive and kicking a year into Geely’s acquisition of Proton – something increasingly evident with every closed preview of the upcoming Proton X70. Based on the Geely Boyue, the company’s first SUV is shaping up to be quite a big deal. And having seen it a couple of times under strict scrutiny within closed walls, we can finally reveal all you need to know about the national carmaker’s latest project.
But first, the basics. The X70 is a medium-sized SUV targeting Malaysian families in a way that’s not dissimilar to that of the Honda CR-V. Like the Japanese carmaker, Proton is dividing the X70 into three trim levels – Standard, Executive and Premium – with the mid-spec Executive having 2WD and AWD variations. Like the CR-V, 2WD is the layout of choice at both extreme ends. Since city dwellers are bound to make up the majority of X70 owners, the Premium will prioritise safety features and creature comforts over off-road capability. However, all models are driven by the same engine and transmission.
From the Geely Boyue’s engine catalogue comes a 1.8-litre direct-injected turbocharged four-banger which sends 181bhp and 285Nm of torque to the wheels via a six-speed automatic. That’s 9bhp shy of the 1.5-litre VTEC Turbo mill powering the CR-V range topper. But the Proton boasts an extra 42Nm of twist which arrive 300rpm earlier (1,700rpm vs 2,000rpm). We have yet to sample this output from behind the wheel, but the X70 should feel peppy enough if these numbers check out.
In any case, the Proton that oversells its motorsports credentials and Lotus ride and handling is no more. Instead, safety-focused technology and high-tech creature comforts have surpassed performance, or rather the illusion of performance, on the priority list.
This is especially true in the top-of-the-line Premium variant, which sacrifices AWD for things like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control (ACC) and intelligent high-beam control.
All of these Volvo-esque features are part of the X70’s Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) which functions with the help of five cameras and 19 sensors installed throughout the vehicle. To say that ADAS contains more tech than an entire Proton Saga would be a gross understatement. Yet, this is merely the tip of the X70’s digital figment of an iceberg.
Installed in all variants of the Proton X70 is Geely’s new GKUI (Geely Smart Ecosystem) which comes to your beck and call at the sound of “Hi, Proton”. Yes,
GKUI supports voice commands. But what truly sets this system apart is its ability to comprehend natural speech, as long as it’s spoken in English.
So if the cabin feels a bit too chilly, you can simply tell GKUI “I’m feeling cold” instead of saying “increase temperature to 25 degrees” while trying your best to sound like an emotionless robot. And if you’re feeling peckish, just tell GKUI “I’m hungry” and it will give you a list of nearby restaurants to navigate to.
If all of this sounds a wee bit familiar, it’s because the speech input technology is supplied by Nuance, the same American outfit responsible for the MBUX system in the Mercedes-Benz A-Class featured in page 128. We can essentially call the Proton X70 a Geely-based product bearing hints of Volvo DNA and technology shared with a German carmaker of Mercedes-Benz’s stature. But the list of collaborations is much longer than that.
The Android-based GKUI head unit, for instance, uses a map supplied by Baidu and a music database owned by Tencent – both corporate giants from China. Nuance isn’t the only one f lying the Star-Spangled Banner. The optional AWD setup for the Executive model is supplied by BorgWarner from the USA. Elsewhere, Bosch (Germany) is responsible for the X70’s ABS, traction control and stability control systems while the suspension is tuned by a British engineering firm called MIRA.
Obviously, Malaysia has played a part in the X70’s development as well. Proton’s design team led by Azlan Othman have done a commendable job of imbuing a subtle, local identity to the work of British designer, Peter Horbury.
More than the usual splash of Proton logos all around, the ‘Infinite Weave’ pattern adorning the front grille, door inserts and speaker covers is said to be inspired by traditional Malaysian handicraft. On the technical front, 75,000 man hours have been put into conducting over
500 system tests on 77 test vehicles locally to prepare the X70 for our tropical climate and notorious road conditions. This is far from a cut-and-paste rebadge job.
Ironically, initial shipments will come directly from China while Tanjung Malim prepares to assemble the
X70 locally around the middle of next year. Details like this may trigger certain industry patriots to question Proton’s worthiness of the ‘national car’ label. Sure, the X70 may not be as Malaysian as the Proton Saga in name or in its genetic makeup. But it is bigger than that. Finally, we have a global car to call our own.