Review: 2020 Proton X50 - all the pros and flaws about Malaysia's most-hyped SUV!
Sanjay · Dec 5, 2020 07:00 PM
When some of us brought home the 2020 Proton X50, one experience united us all: neighbours coming out of their homes to kepoh.
They can't believe it! The long-awaited, much-discussed B-segment SUV is right in front of them, and in the range-topping Flagship variant (RM 103,300 - SST-free price until 31-Dec 2020) no less.
Amidst all the hullaballoo one neighbour quipped: "It's like seeing a celebrity!" Which, to be fair, isn't too far-fetched: there's tons of content out there which would give prime Michael Jackson a run for his money.
Being in the spotlight and all that is nice, but does the 'hypebeast' hold up well in our tried-and-tested, detailed-to-the-milimeter tests? Grab a drink and some snacks - this is what you'll find out today.
Exterior - You're going to attract attention
There's no denying that this is a head-turner. Across our test route, covering small suburbs, the Kuala Lumpur city centre and open highways, people looked at us.
We can also attest to how a couple of delivery riders gave their thumbs up, and some people - driving cars more expensive than this - stole a glance here and there.
The bad pickup line "you look cute when you're angry" applies to the X50, but mind you there's nothing bad about its design.
With its sharp creases and lines, chunky 18-inch wheels as well as full LED head and tail lights all fit into a tightly-proportioned body, it doesn't necessarily need shouty colours to pop.
Still, we're glad it's got those (and subtler choices too), but colour is merely the most obvious thing we can mention about the X50's eye-catching exterior.
It'd be shame if we were to just gloss over the details that truly set the X50 apart from much more expensive cars, let alone similarly-priced competitors. Kudos to Proton for keeping the carbon-fibre-look on the front lip and rear diffuser, breaking up the otherwise uninspiring trope of plain black cladding on SUVs (looking at you, Subaru XV).
There's also functionalair curtains in front and of course, quad-tailpipes behind. The 2020 Honda HR-V's fake vents pale in comparison, and on B-segment sedans like the 2020 Nissan Almera and 2020 Honda City, you don't even get a nice exhaust tip.
No complaints on the looks department - heck, we'll even let the 'baby Evoque' comment slide.
It's great that good build quality backs up its sharp looks. Panel gaps are reasonably tight - deviating no more than 1 milimeter from each side, and paint thickness hovers at around 120 micrometers.
Interior - Looks good but could be better
Open the door and you're greeted with a very pretty interior. If aesthetics were the only metrics measured, the review would've ended (very positively) here. But that's not how the world works, so read on.
The dual-tone red-and-black interior upholstery (available only on the Flagship and Premium variants) works well with the cabin's styling cues. A fast-talking salesperson can easily win you over if you don't take the time to carefully observe the cabin's little foibles.
We're no salespeople, so we'll take you through them one by one.
Before we go into that, let me set things straight a bit - there's a marked difference between build quality and build material. One is about how well put-together something is, and the latter is about what its made of.
Inside the X50, quality is solid. Buttons on the centre console and steering wheel provide satisfying tactile feedback not unlike most Japanese cars. The dials and knobs look and feel great too. You know how some people like pressing panels just to see if they're 'tough'? We did that too, and nothing creaks or squeaks unnecessarily. Good stuff.
So, don't worry if you have curious kids. It'll hold up to their 'tests' just fine, but maybe keep them away from the door handles...
Which is where our main gripe with the interior lies. It's a missed opportunity not having the door handles made out of metal. The current plastic ones feel flimsy, make a hollow sound when you use them, and simply feel like they'll snap in half in a few years.
There's copious use of hard plastic on certain touchpoints, like the centre console and lower-half of the dashboard. The upper-half of the dashboard and door cards are made out of soft-touch plastic. Quality is fairly middling, but it's forgiveable when you consider cars in the RM 80k - RM 100k price range don't even get soft-touch plastics anywhere in the interior.
Meanwhile, the leather seats on the X50 aren't very supple. They aren't very 'slideable' too, and can feel like they're sticking on your clothes or skin a bit too tightly. Support is a whole seperate issue, more on that below.
We know it's priced very differently but if pinpoint-premiumness is something you absolutely must-have, look towards the Mazda CX-3.
Interior - so-so infotainment
Putting aside the fact that it lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system works rather well. It's smooth, the screen itself is clear and bright enough and the 'Hi Proton' voice command is quite responsive. Too bad it still doesn't support Bahasa Malaysia.
To no-one's surprise, QD Link (phone mirroring function) is still annoying and not at all a viable option to Auto or CarPlay, so we hardly used it. AMAP is...average, but there isn't Google Maps/Waze-level functions such as roadblock alerts and so on.
You're also able to adjust minor settings through the infotainment screen, such as instrument cluster theme (like sticking the Sport mode's red theme while on Eco mode) and alarm type (horn and lights or just lights). There's equaliser adjustments too, but that doesn't really help the subpar audio quality.
Sound quality through the 6 speakers (music played through Bluetooth) is just serviceable. The equaliser adjustments seem like they don't do anything, and music certainly lacks bass and clarity. Overall, it's not the absolute worst but definitely miles away from being the best.
One way the X50 claws back points is in the steering controls for the infotainment. It's simple to use and we really like the 'mute to pause' function. It may seem like a no-brainer thing to include but it's handy when you have to pause your music instead of letting it run in the background.
Interior - Good visibility but not the most practical
Visibility is fantastic. You get the coveted 'SUV driving position', all high and mighty, yet those moving up from lower-slung, smaller cars (say a Toyota Vios or Perodua Myvi) won't find it intimidating to drive and park.
Dig further though and you'll find ergonomics needs plenty of work. The seats are let down by short bases, which means a lack of thigh support. If you're taller or prefer the correct driving position, your knees will feel dull and your thighs will feel tired during and after long drives.
That said, legroom for the rear seats are quite good (3 tennis balls) for a 175 cm adult. Headroom is only about 1 tennis ball.
To those caring for loved ones with mobility issues, note that the rear doors open at a relatively tight angle. Combined with the thick wheelarches, this could make entering and exiting the vehicle a slight challenge, especially if said persons are wheelchair-bound. The HR-V and XV are better in this specific case.
The tailgate is a little heavy and comes with no grab handle - just a boot release button. Not very practical as your hand can easily slip. Doubly annoying when you don't manage to close it correctly the first time.
For those with large families, think twice before going for the X50 - especially if this'll be your only car. All 8 cupholders fail our big bottle test, and the bootspace is the smallest in its class at 330 litres - easily filled up by one stroller and a couple of luggage bags.
Other than that, the glove box is small and most cubby spaces are only big enough for an RM 1 mineral water bottle and some loose items at most.
When it comes to utilising cabin space, there is still much Geely/Proton can learn from the Japanese. For instance, Honda's 'Man Maximum/Machine Minimum' philosophy shines in making their cars' interior class-leadingly practical - and the HR-V is a shining example with its expansive two-tiered centre console and easy-to-reach controls.
Driving performance - Proton's still got it
There's been concerns about its turbocharged three-cylinder and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) combo, with most naysayers usually bringing up the uninformed opinion that three-pot engines aren't powerful enough.
But it's clear that 177 PS and 255 Nm is more than enough for the average driver. Though we got a 0-100 km/h time of 8.6 seconds (nearly a second off Proton's claimed 7.9 seconds), in the real world it's the 60 - 90 km/h acceleration that matters more.
In that respect, the X50 excels. Acceleration is gentle and linear (it won't pin your head to the headrest when you gun it) and even in Eco mode overtaking is a breeze, and better still in Sport mode.
There more than enough grunt for 99% of Malaysians. Yes to some of you Genting kakis, this one will have no problems.
Sport mode here isn't going to give you pops and bangs, it just changes the transmission mapping to hold the gears longer. Don't leave it there - the car gets way too jumpy and aggressive in lower speeds.
Achieving supple ride on 18-inch wheels is quite a feat, but Proton's ride and handling recipe here has done just that, ironing out pockmarked roads very well - something we think owes a lot to the good Continental UC6 tyres. Due to the soft suspension also, the X50 feels a little floaty going into corners at relatively higher speeds. This isn't too much of a concern as the car handles decently otherwise.
That said, the brakes could be improved a bit more as the modulation is a little vague. You feel as if they aren't doing anything for a while, then it suddenly catches on.
Steering feel however, is great. The electronic power steering (EPS) is not featherlight as it is on the Almera, but that's a good thing because it doesn't leave you guessing where the front wheels are pointing at.
For 99% of buyers, how it drives is already more than good enough. If you're looking for a car to "touge bro!" or rip through corners, boy are you lost.
Ride Comfort - very good as a family cruiser
Its comfortable ride belies its sporty exterior. It certainly isn't crashy when you meet a speedbump a little bit faster than expected, and it'll make short work of small potholes and puddles.
To put it in another way: babies can have a good sleep.
The thick soundproofing insulates the cabin quite well. Across the board, it's better than the HR-V. Here's how the X50 did:
2020 Proton X50 NVH test
Idle (air-cond off)
Idle (air-cond on)
It must be mentioned though that wind noise is quite apparent, especially when driving at highway speeds: you can hear whistling that gets louder the faster you drive. Perhaps additional strakes by the side mirrors and door visors could help rectify that.
ADAS - works just as intended
New to the Proton X50 is Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC), part of the Level 2 autonomous driving systems the car has. ICC works with lane centring assist (steering assist) to help keep the car in its lane. The system works from a standstill to 150 km/h and works when entering corners too.
The system works nearly flawlessly - no sudden braking when a car cuts into the lane in front (unlike the 2020 Toyota Camry we tested) and it's easy to activate/deactivate.
One concern is during turns though. Sometimes it doesn't discern the silver highway railings very well, and the car will try to steer into it. Remember that ADAS is only 'assistance'. The onus is then, as always, on you to make sure you're driving safely.
Fuel efficiency - unfortunately, it's a guzzler
We averaged 10.2 litres/100 km on urban roads with a mix of heavy traffic and smooth highways - driven at normal speeds. It's usual for turbocharged engines to return so-so fuel economy, but to not do any better than the 3.0-litre, turbocharged straight-six 2020 Toyota GR Supra is a bit much.
For comparison, the HR-V RS returns 7 litres/100 km.
Part of this has to do with the car's weight too. At 1,370 kg (HR-V RS is 1,290 kg), the X50 Flagship is a little on the heavy side so the engine has to work harder to move the car. The numbers should improve with more highway driving.
Conclusion - Still good value for money
When all's said and done, the fact remains that the X50 is a good car - but not nearly as perfect as the hype would lead you on to believe.
But you have to be concious about what you really want from a car before you plonk the deposit for one of these, 6-month waiting list notwithstanding. It's not made for big families, it has spotty ergonomics, and it's certainly not the most economical.
For RM 103,300 (SST-free prices until 31-Dec 2020) though, it's a damn good deal considering you're getting best-in-class features, adequate safety, great performance and a reasonably comfortable ride.
Competitors - Honda HR-V RS and Hyundai Kona 1.6 Turbo
While the HR-V and Kona are the X50's direct competitors, most of you will most probably cross-shop with the current crop of B-segment sedans too, since they're all similarly priced. To see how all of them perform, refer to the table below for quick links to their reviews:
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.