Proton X90 1.5 Flagship MHEV - Is the most expensive Proton flagship-worthy?
CY Foong · Feb 11, 2024 10:00 AM
Merriam-Webster defines the word flagship as “the finest, largest, or most important one of a group of things (such as products, stores, etc.)”. At least one of those fits the Proton X90 that Flagship is literally what P1 decided to call the highest variant of the 3-row SUV.
The X90 represents some milestones for Proton though – it is the first mild-hybrid P1 model in the guise of a turbocharged 1.5-litre TGDI 3-cylinder engine (177 PS/255 Nm) with a 48V Electric Motor Synergy (EMS) starter-generator system (14 PS/52 Nm) and was launched 40 years after Proton was established.
With prices starting from RM 152,800, the top-of-the-line Proton X90 1.5 Flagship is the most expensive Proton model on sale. Even compared with the Perdana, ringgit for ringgit, the X90 is the priciest Proton ever sold.
Speaking of the Perdana, Proton’s past flagship did not encroach on the RM 150k barrier when they were new. The Proton Perdana V6 was priced at RM 103,000 while the most expensive “Accordana” was the 2.4-litre variant that cost RM 138,888.
Accounting for inflation, the aforementioned prices of Proton’s original flagship would be higher but still, the average salary of most Malaysians hasn’t gone up since the original Perdana was launched nearly 30 years ago.
Proton is also under new ownership and as the X70 and X50 have proven thus far, P1 has been successful in becoming a premium brand for Malaysians. As the numbers show, the X90 is a sales winner but is it flagship-worthy?
Proton’s third SUV model is, like the X70 and X50, based on an existing Geely model. In this case, it is the Geely Haoyue/Okavango. Proton’s designers added a more premium-looking diamond-graphic front grille but that’s pretty much it.
The X90’s overall design though is virtually unchanged from its Chinese donor and the D-segment size seems a bit imposing. However, the rear design is a tad too plain with nothing going on in terms of trims.
The angular design might receive some supporters as it harks back to an age when SUVs were boxy rather than curvy. Yet, the word “flagship” flew past my radar upon looking at the X90’s overall design.
For a premium "flagship" SUV, it looks conservative compared to more expensive rivals within this segment like the Mazda CX-9, Kia Sorento, or Hyundai Santa Fe. The price has certainly been an enticing carrot to push the X90 as Malaysia’s best-selling D-seg SUV but the looks aren’t gonna be winning any pageantry awards for sure.
To paraphrase an overused saying on looks, never judge a car’s flagship potential by just the exterior and stepping inside the X90 reveals a…modern, contemporary interior.
There is nothing flashy in the X90 that screams this is a flagship model and while the materials used are nice to touch, it doesn't quite feel like a Mazda's.
Those front seats though are far from the most comfortable which seems to be an issue with Proton or could the blame be more on its Chinese partner? Of the trio of Proton SUVs, only the X70 has seats worth lounging. I find the X50 too excessive in the lumbar support and in the X90, the complaint here is that it is too small.
Rather than size being the main issue here, it is specifically the lack of thigh support. When driving long distances, I felt uncomfortable with my thigh just hanging above the seat and would constantly adjust myself to find a decent seating position.
Some might argue that the X90 is an SUV designed to be chauffeured in and with that said, let us head to the rear then. The Flagship variant is the only one that comes with 6 seats instead of 7 like in the lower variants. This is also an original feature of the X90 as the donor Haoyue did not offer individual captain seats in the middle row.
Still, the same issue of small seats is carried over to the middle row since the captain chairs are similar to those used in front. The exceptions are that they are not power-operated and ventilated while occupants can stretch their legs a bit more to compensate for the same lack of thigh support.
At least the X90 is offered with individual air conditioning on the roof for all occupants along with a near flat floor. The panoramic sunroof and light-coloured roof lining also make the interior rather airy and it is filled with plenty of cubby spaces and cupholders throughout.
As for the third row, it is again best left for kids or adults with smaller stature. The angular design does leave a lot of headroom but for adults with an average height (I measure 173 cm tall), you wouldn’t want to compromise sitting in the last row on a long journey.
Having a middle row with a pair of captain seats means it is easy to get into the third row without going through the gymnastics of folding down the seats.
Yet, I agree with my colleagues who experienced a brief drive with the X90 that the middle-row bench seats in the 7-seater variants are more comfortable than the individual captain chairs. That seems to be another demerit on the “flagship” front.
So far the X90 doesn’t seem to scream flagship in terms of exterior design and interior finishings. Can it spark out that high-brow F-word when we take it out for a drive?
Even though the design shouts Geely, the ride and handling still have that feel-good Proton DNA which at this point is P1’s true ace in the hole for every single one of their models. Proton might have lost Lotus to its Chinese parent but at this point, the Malaysian tiger should be proud of the driving dynamics it brings out to their models.
Swapping out the torsion beam of the Haoyue for a multi-link set-up in the rear is one decision that truly elevates the X90's comfort. Every pothole and bumps are overcome with ease that at times, it feels pillowy.
Yes, the supple ride is felt even through those poorly supported seats and I wish Proton could just take the ones from the X70. The X90 has a truly sublime comfort over the usual Malaysian roads, and it feels better than the ones it benchmarked against during development.
The X90 is not supposed to be a sporty SUV and yet, that same Proton handling DNA is felt here. It may have an imposing size but driving the X90 feels more like a compact car than a large barge.
The steering is very easy to use but has a direct input. Push it hard and the steering feels weighted enough for you to be confident when changing lanes or going through a bit of a corner.
In everyday city driving, the X90 shows great visibility and the 360-degree camera feed pops up in the display automatically as you approach a tight space. Even though it still casts a presence in size, this D-segment SUV is a tame beast when on the go.
Performance – Highway slusher
With a combined output of 190 PS and 300 Nm, the X90’s 1.5 TGDI 48V mild-hybrid powertrain doesn’t scream flagship. Yet, it is also the most powerful Proton model in its current stable so it might as well be deserving of the title for P1.
During our first impressions of the X90, we remarked how the power output is not reflected well. The 3-pot powerplant felt a tad bit slow in accelerating and lethargic as it puttered up to Genting Highlands but those were pre-production models.
Our 0-100 km/h acceleration times echoed that poor acceleration experience with the fastest time set being 10.7 seconds. Then again, the X90 isn’t meant to be a perky SUV with the X50 taking up that position in P1’s line-up.
On the get-go, the X90 is sluggish but put yourself in the position of a chauffeur rather than a speed racer and you might appreciate the engine more. Rather than hard acceleration, the powertrain is more relaxed and natural when cruising.
During those highway sprints, as you overtake and merge back in the middle or left lanes, the X90’s gradual acceleration felt smooth. The 7-speed DCT transmission provides seamless gearshifts when you don’t force it too much.
Proton X90 1.5 Flagship NVH levels
Sound level (dB)
Even at speeds above the legal highway limit, the X90 just cruises along and cabin noise isn’t entirely intrusive either with our trusty soundmeter recording a decent 68 dB at 110 km/h. Perhaps it’s that cruising feeling that makes me want to forgive the awkward gearshift operation – left-right to change gears and pulling twice on the lever to change from R to D or vice versa.
In a way, the X90 is Malaysia’s version of the Chevrolet Suburban or Tahoe in America. While they bear the working-class bowtie badge, these large SUVs are often seen being chauffeured around so in a sense, being driven in a Proton doesn’t sound that ludicrous.
Fuel consumption – Better than its rivals, but not by a lot
As Proton’s first hybrid model, one might expect the X90 to at least return some impressive results at the pump. P1 claims that it has a fuel consumption of 6.8L/100 km but, in the real world, one wouldn’t achieve that figure unless they go through extreme hypermiling measures.
So, how did we manage? After driving for nearly 180 km in a 60-40 mix of city and highway, the X90 took in 18.34 litres to be refuelled. This results in a recording of 10.19 L/100 km which makes it a fuel sipper compared to the Sorento and the CX-9 which we achieved 10.8 L/100 km.
Proton is not known for fuel efficiency and even with a mild hybrid, the X90’s returns did not make it seem like a game-changer. Having said that, the 1.5-litre powerplant displacement also gives it another value advantage for those looking for a D-segment SUV – a significantly lower annual road tax.
Features and practicality – Unbeatable value for money
For a RM 150k Proton, the X90 Flagship is certainly chock full of features that buyers would agree they aren’t being scrimped on. As mentioned in the interior explanation, it is the only variant with 6 seats instead of 7 but it is also the only one to come with a panoramic sunroof.
With all 6 seats up, there is some space for a couple of small suitcases. Part of the reason for the decent volume (267 litres) is the spare tyre located underneath the SUV like a ladder-frame pick-up truck or SUV.
Turning it into a 4-seater with the third row folded down frees up even more room for a small family weekend trip with more than enough room for souvenirs. Since the middle row comprises a pair of captain chairs, they cannot be folded down and stowed away.
With every Geely-based Proton introduced, the question of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (CP/AA) availability always comes to mind but the Atlas OS in the X90 works decently even without those features. While having CP/AA elevates the connectivity experience, it does not mean Proton’s infotainment is lacklustre.
The dual 12.3-inch infotainment screen is crisp and smooth while the latest update on the Atlas OS supports Spotify, adding another third-party music app for the system after Joox and Syok. Still, the Spotify app works similarly to the one that is used on a smart TV with a limited use of available playlists.
Then there is also the proprietary satellite navigation system which brings back to the days of having a Garmin sat-nav. It doesn’t necessarily plot the shortest route and the guidance is a bit of a miss.
You're probably better off connecting your phone through Bluetooth for your navigational needs than using the in-built system. It's quite the hassle in the days where CP/AA is the norm for most modern cars.
Even with all the bells and whistles, I find the Premium variant which is one rung below the Flagship variant as the better X90. It has most of the same features including ADAS, Nappa leather seats, Auto Park Assist, and a more comfortable middle-row bench for RM 8,000 less.
While it is never mentioned explicitly by Proton, with the way it is priced and its position above the X70, the Proton X90 gives an impression of it being the flagship Proton model. It is perceived by some as the Perdana of SUVs since they both share the same segment.
Even if the dimensions play out in the X90’s “flagship” title, after experiencing it for a few days, I’m hard-pressed to call it that. The “F” word I would bestow on it is flawed especially given that it is the priciest Proton on sale for the highest variant.
Proton even stuck on the Flagship name on the most expensive X90 but I concur that the Premium which sits below it is the better variant. Besides, if Proton wanted to show off a flagship model, they have already one and it came out 6 years ago.
Aftersales issues aside, the Proton X70 is still the peak for the company, reviving some fortunes lost during those pre-Geely years. It is the most comfortable and the most refined of the X Series trio despite being the oldest.
Even in Geely’s line-up both globally and domestically, the X70’s donor was positioned above the X90’s twin. The X70 feels more deserving of Proton's flagship despite being priced way less - the most expensive variant starts from below RM 130k.