Pro­ton X70

Pro­ton was never in the busi­ness of mak­ing SUVs. Now it has one aim­ing for the skies

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Contents - WORDS: DARYL LOY / PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: MAN­U­FAC­TURER

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.


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