This is it. Well, by “it” we mean the first drive of the 2020 Proton X50, not the prices just yet. For that we’ll have to wait for the official launch, which we predict will happen sometime in October. This is a short media test drive session arranged by Proton at Sepang International Circuit.
While prices for the Proton X50 have yet to be announced, we do know its variants and specifications from the preview.
To recap, there are 2 engine options - first is a 1.5-litre multi-point injection (MPI) turbocharged 3-cylinder petrol engine that does 150 PS/226 Nm, while the second is a 1.5-litre direct-injection (TGDI) turbocharged 3-cylinder petrol engine that does 177 PS/255 Nm.
Proton has also fiddled with the suspension by injecting their famed ride and handling into the Proton X50 to suit local conditions and preferences. This is excellent news as the Geely Binyue we tested a while ago had jarring suspension and vague steering feel.
Speaking of steering feel, Proton has recalibrated the electric power steering with 4 different modes. Given Proton’s track record in the ride and handling department, we were keen to test it out ourselves.
Driving Experience - Vibration is a thing of the past
Before we discuss the ride and handling, let’s address the proverbial elephant in the engine bay. Does the 3-cylinder engine sound and feel rough?
From the outside, the direct injection’s clatter can be heard. But once you step into the car, it’s barely audible, which suggests a well-insulated cabin. And no, it doesn’t vibrate anywhere near as much as Peroduas of old like the Kancil and Viva that most of us have experienced.
The vibration is only felt partially at startup, then it settles into a relatively steady idle. Yes, you can feel a hint of vibration if you’re paying attention, but it’s far from bothersome.
On the move however, you’ll soon forget about how many cylinders it has because the amount of firepower it packs is quite amusing.
The healthy shove of torque comes in from 1,500 rpm and the car just accelerates like nothing else in the sub-RM 100k price point. The dual-clutch transmission feels similar to the one in the Proton X70, only a little snappier.
However, it's worthy to note that the X50 doesn't feel like it packs 177 PS/255 Nm under the hood. The BMW X1 feels (keyword here) much quicker despite the lower output of 140 PS/220 Nm.
This is due to the
slow smooth-shifting characteristic of the X50's 7-speed DCT. Shift timing is on the slower side at 0.3 seconds which bogs the car down between upshifts and there's a noticeable lag.
So what you read on the spec sheet only tells half of the story.
As for handling, the Proton X50 feels more cohesive compared to the Geely Binyue counterpart. Steering feels more natural, not as disjointed as Binyue. Body roll, however, is slightly more noticeable from the softer spring rates and dampers. But that trade-off is more than welcome considering our road conditions.
Do bear in mind that this test drive session arranged by Proton is rather one-dimensional, with only a lane change exercise and a slalom course. Other aspects like practicality and ergonomics are yet to be assessed.
Ride Comfort - Initial impressions are good
On a track, it’s difficult to assess the comfort level of the suspension but initial impressions are positive. Going over the track kerbs, the suspension is noticeably more pliant than the Binyue. It’s more willing to compress and sends less of a jolt to the cabin.
Noise level in the cabin is relatively low; the engine hums in the background and only gets audible under hard acceleration and tyre noise is well suppressed. Subjectively, it’s not too far off the Proton X70 in terms of cabin insulation.
But we’ll have to verify it with our test instruments when we get the car for a more in-depth review.
ADAS - Cheapest car with level 2 semi-autonomous driving
The range-topping Flagship variant get the full suite of Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS). So you get BSM, FCW, AEB with pedestrian detection, LDW, LKA, Intelligent High Beam Control, ACC with stop and go.
There’s also Intelligent Cruise Control. The system is a level 2 semi-autonomous driving feature, which means partial driving automation with the system giving partial acceleration, steering, and braking. Not forgetting the Auto Park Assist feature, which helps the in navigating into perpendicular and parallel parking spaces.
We haven't had the opportunity to try out the ADAS features so again, do stay tuned for when we get the car for a more in-depth assessment.
Conclusion - The Proton X50 does live up to the hype
Proton has addressed one of the issues we have with the X50’s donor car, the Geely Binyue, by blessing it with their ride and handling magic. The Proton X50 rides and handles noticeably better than the Binyue.
The 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged engine packs a punch and crucially, vibration is well-suppressed and any concern over its refinement can be put to rest. Plus, its ADAS is categorised as level 2 semi-autonomous driving.
Yes, we’re all eager to know how much exactly the 2020 Proton X50 will be priced, but we’ll have to wait for the official launch to find out. As for the car itself, we think Proton has a winner here. So, have you placed a booking for one?