Review: 2023 Proton X90 - Superb value, feature rich, but does it miss the mark?
Arvind · Aug 21, 2023 08:30 AM
The 2023 Proton X90 is the company’s newest and most sophisticated model ever to be sold. Capitalising on the growing demand for D-Segment 6/7-seater SUVs, the X90 is also the cheapest in a class with established rivals such as the Mazda CX-8 and Hyundai Santa Fe.
Our brief, first impressions of the Proton X90 led us to believe that it is a feature-packed SUV that largely meets the brief, but it wasn’t without its flaws.
However, recently, our colleague Faisal had a far more comprehensive experience with the X90 – specifically the Premium and Flagship variants – on a round trip to and from Pahang. With more time behind the wheel, how does the Proton X90 measure up? Let’s take a closer look.
Due to its size and stature, the X90 instantly manages to establish itself as the elder sibling in Proton's model lineup. In particular, the sequential signal lights and diamond-graphic front grille featured give it a more premium look than the smaller Proton X70.
However, the rear styling does seem a tad too conservative. Given its largely flat-sided and plain, it lacks the character the X70 and even X50 have, which are more angular at the rear.
Additionally, the Proton X90's engine hood uses a prop rod and does not offer a full engine cover for reduced NVH levels, like the X70. This could be a bugbear for some customers and somewhat detracts from the premium intentions of the X90.
The Proton X90 shines in the powertrain department, courtesy of the 1.5 TGDI 48V mild-hybrid powertrain, which marries the (177 PS / 255 Nm) 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine with a belt-driven starter generator for a combined output of 190 PS and 300 Nm of torque.
On the road, refinement levels are good and under most driving situations, you won't even notice the 3-cylinder engine humming away at the front. Of course, if you start to push the X90 really hard, the engine will groan in protest, but we surmise most owners aren’t going to be attending trackdays at the Sepang Circuit with their X90s.
Additionally, the X90’s DCT transmission also is up to the task. With seven nicely spaced ratios and smooth gearshifts up and down make light work of cruising down the highway. For reference, at 3,000 rpm in seventh gear will have you moving at 160 km/h down the road, which is superb.
Elsewhere, there is no jerkiness when moving in traffic as well, the transmission moves between the first two gears perceptively making the X90 enjoyable to drive in the city too.
The X90 once again blitzes the mark in terms of ride quality and comfort, which is no surprise, really, coming from Proton. This is why the X90 features a multi-link rear suspension setup, instead of the torsion beam the Geely Haoyue donor-car features in other markets.
Thus the X90 absorbs typical potholes and rough road surfaces with ease, whilst body movements are nicely controlled on bigger bumps and undulating roads.
Combining these qualities and nicely weighted steering allows the driver to build confidence in the car quickly. At high speeds, the X90’s ride quality remains poised, even comparable to a D-Segment sedan like the Toyota Camry; which is remarkable given its size and height.
Even at lower speeds in the city, the X90 doesn’t feel as cumbersome as one might expect, due to good visibility which allows for easier judgment in tight spaces. Cabin quietness is acceptable as well, but it's not the X90's greatest strength, overall the X70 is till quieter.
Finally, moving onto the most contentious part of the X90, the interior.
In terms of presentation and design, the X50 and X70 are undoubtedly more eye-catching. Overall, presentation is nice but the overall tactility of touch surfaces is on par (but not better) than the X70 as well.
Apart from the third row, which is best suited for children, the Proton X90 cabin offers a spacious and roomy feel, truly delivering what a D-segment SUV should have. Elsewhere, cubby holes and storage spaces are adequate in all quarters of the cabin.
With that said, the cabin experience drops a notch the moment you are seated inside.
The size of the seats is surprisingly small. Both in width and length (of the thigh support), the seats lack adequate support, especially for longer journeys. In terms of seat padding, the X90 does well enough but overall cabin comfort isn’t up to par for this segment.
However, note, that the X90 is limited by the architecture constraints of its donor vehicle, so perhaps little could have been done by Proton to improve it, without spending more time and resources.
In fact, it was the 7-seater X90 Premium variant that proved more comfortable than individual middle-row seats 6-seater (Flagship) variant. The full-length second-row makes the cabin feel wider and the seat headrests (without the Flagship’s pillow-like headrests) actually feel better contoured.
There are two other niggling issues with the gearlever that Faisal noted. Firstly, is the gearshift operation in manual mode, which counterintuitively requires to be pushed left/right instead of up and down to change gears, and second is the gear selection.
In many joystick-style shifters, drivers can jump from ‘R’ to ‘D’ and vice versa by pulling the gearlever further back/forward. This might seem the case when you look at the X90’s gearlever, however, with only a single jump every time you move the lever, it unnecessarily requires you to pull twice on the lever before being able to actuate ‘R’ or ‘D’, which can become cumbersome after a while.
Thus, the Proton X90 is a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, it’s nicely designed, has good power, is jam-packed with premium features and offers a superb driving experience.
However, given it’s a D-Segment SUV, lacking in terms of overall seating comfort and space, the X90 falls short in providing a well-rounded cabin space that its rivals deliver in spades, in particular the Mazda CX-8 and Hyundai Santa Fe. This could potentially be a deal breaker for some buyers.
However, at its pricetag, between RM 124k and RM 153k, the Proton X90 remains a commendable product which offers the most value for money and technology of any car sale currently, let alone D-Segment SUVs. This alone may be enough to swing your vote towards the X90.
Arvind can't remember a time when he didn't wheel around a HotWheels car. This love evolved into an interest in Tamiya and RC cars and finally the real deal 1:1 scale stuff. Passion finally lead to formal training in Mechanical Engineering. Instead of the bigger picture, he obsesses with the final drive ratio and spring rates of cars and spends the weekends wondering why a Perodua Myvi is so fast.