Automotive, Test Drive

Proton X50 Test Drive: Disrupting the Market

There is probably no SUV that generated quite as much hype in Malaysia as this one right here, the Proton X50. Set to shake up the B-segment SUV market very soon, I had the opportunity to take the X50 out for a spin through a series of tests. Overall, I am absolutely thrilled by the power, driving dynamics, and intelligent features of the SUV.

After I was done, I had a sense of relief as well, given that I have already placed a booking for the X50 on 16 September itself. Did the SUV meet my expectations? No – it exceeded them all.

First, let’s talk about the engine of the X50. Two options are available: a 1.5L turbocharged port-injected engine that outputs 150PS and 226Nm of torque, and a more powerful 1.5L turbocharged direct-injected mill with 177PS and 255Nm of torque. The former is found under the hood of the Standard, Executive, and Premium models, while the 1.5L TGDi engine is only offered in the range-topping Flagship variant.

Without a doubt these two engines are powerful – especially for a B-segment SUV – but here’s the kicker: they are both three-cylinder engines. This doesn’t sit well with a number of potential buyers who had bad experiences with three-cylinder mills, which inherently vibrate more than four-cylinder engines.

But is this really a problem? While the X50’s engine doesn’t sound particularly pleasant when I’m right beside the car, this is almost completely muted the moment I enter the cabin with the doors shut. In fact, in my brief time driving the X50, I barely felt any harsh vibration or unpleasant engine note. Really, the three-cylinder engine is not an issue at all: gone are the days when it is considered “inferior” to a four-cylinder engine.

Okay, so how about the performance of the X50’s turbocharged engine? Unfortunately, only the top-of-the-line Flagship model is available for the media to try out, so I can’t say if the 1.5L port-injected engine is any good. But what I can say is how impressed I am with the 1.5L TGDi engine – it’s one powerful unit.

While it’s a little bit slow off the line (likely caused by turbo lag) the X50 just pulls the moment the turbocharger kicks in. The engine does make itself heard under hard acceleration – it sounds good to my ears though – but it can effortlessly and quickly get to highway cruising speeds. It’s a fast, fast SUV, and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission shifts gears very seamlessly too.

Handling wise, there are some body rolls when I put the X50 through its paces in a brief slalom test, but it still feels planted when taking sharp turns. Feedback from the steering wheel, on the other hand, could be better, though it’s not exactly “numb” either. In short, the X50 handles just fine, but I’ll definitely need to spend more time with it to get a more definitive answer.

After all, there’s only so much a slalom test can reveal.

Now, let’s talk about the intelligent features of the car; more specifically, the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). This feature is only offered on the range-topping Flagship X50, and it includes a slew of active safety systems. These include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and even Auto Park Assist (APA).

Simply put, AEB allows the X50 to automatically apply the brakes to avoid front collisions, and it works surprisingly well when this was demonstrated to us. While it is a very neat feature, it’s the latter two that are particularly interesting, especially at this price point.

ACC, for one, lets the SUV automatically adjust the speed to the vehicle in front of you, and this works even in stop-and-go traffic; perfect for rush hour in KL. As for APA, this feature lets the X50 park itself. It can perform three maneuvers: reverse parking, parallel parking, and getting out of a parallel parking.

Out of the three situations, only the latter two were demonstrated to us. It takes the X50 quite some time to get itself in and out of the parking space, but the fact that the car can basically do these automatically – you still have to hold a button for the car to start moving on its own – is already very impressive.

The Proton X50 is arguably the national carmaker’s most important, most anticipated model yet. Not only will it (likely) be an affordable B-segment SUV, it even offers features that were never available in this price range. Granted, Proton has not revealed the pricing of the X50 yet, though there is a chance it will go below the RM90,000 price point.

When exactly is the local launch of the Proton X50 happening? No word yet on that either, though I was told it will be taking place very, very soon. Going by AmInvest’s original estimate, the SUV will be making its debut sometime this month in October. Once that happens, the X50 will most definitely disrupt the market – maybe even outside of the SUV segment.

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