As everyone knows by now, the upcoming Proton SUV – the company’s first sport utility vehicle – will be based on the Geely Boyue and will surface in the final quarter of this year. The Boyue is one of Geely’s most important and best selling models in China, as SUVs of every kind gain favour among consumers. Just imagine this: 286,900 units of the Boyue were sold domestically last year, which is four times more than Proton’s total 2017 sales.

Fresh from a record year, Geely did not bask in the sun and refreshed the Boyue earlier this year, just less than two years after the C-segment SUV was launched. Here, we take a closer look at the 2018 Geely Boyue facelift, which the upcoming Proton SUV will likely be based on instead of the pre-facelift Boyue.

The most obvious change is in front, where the bumper is more elaborate and aggressive in design. The “side intakes” are much larger now while the LED fog lamps have been moved down to the lower edges of the face. The headlamp and grille mask appears unchanged at a glance, but look closely and you’ll see a slim opening that underlines the brand’s signature “expanding cosmos” grille.

At the rear, the tail lights with fork LED bars have been given darker lenses, while the bumper receives a wider skid plate, redesigned tailpipe finishers (there are actual pipes behind) and vertical reflectors. The new alloy wheels are also a size larger at 19 inches in diameter, although the 18-inch rims seen at our local preview would probably make more sense in our market. There’s a bit of Range Rover Evoque in the design (not a bad thing), but the Peter Horbury-penned SUV is handsome to these eyes. I’m sure many would agree.

Inside, the biggest change is the new infotainment system, which ditches physical controls in favour of touch-sensitive buttons. The touchscreen, which now sits flush with the bezels, remains an eight-inch item, but the resolution has been bumped up to 1920×720 pixels. The user interface has also been redesigned, and the 360-degree camera now shows a 3D view of obstacles surrounding the car.

Other new items include four extra USB ports (two front, two rear), plus another port in the headlining near the rear-view mirror for easy installation of a dashcam – a thoughtful addition. Another useful feature is front passenger seat controls on the outer side of the backrest, allowing the driver (and rear passengers) to easily adjust the front passenger seat without stretching. Toyota Camry owners would be familiar with this feature.

Clockwise from left: Proton SUV clay model, Geely Boyue facelift, pre-facelift Boyue

The facelifted Boyue also welcomes a new tea brown leather upholstery colour, an illuminated P-R-N-D display next to the gearlever and a sound system by Morel, a specialist brand that audiophiles would know of. The speaker grilles have a unique interlocking G pattern that’s repeated on the lights/wiper stalks and door handle area – it’s a nice accent that adds character to the Boyue.

The cabin’s perceived quality is high, with soft plastics on the door caps and dash top, which all get stitching. The seats and the leather are soft, while the prevalent brushed metal trim is rather convincing, more so than in some Continental cars even.

It’s a neatly designed dashboard, livened by flourishes such as the grab handles on the centre console and the unique door handles, as well as the above-mentioned detailing. The Volvo-style digital instrument panel – which starts and ends with fancy animation, and has different graphics for each drive mode (see the video below) – adds a touch of high-tech. All very pleasant, premium even, which caught this pundit by surprise.

Safety-wise, the Boyue receives a blind spot monitor that also warns if a passenger is about to open the door into traffic. This joins the list of existing driver assists, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and auto high beam. Proton has touted these driver assist features in its SUV teaser campaign, and they will be firsts for both the brand and the Boyue’s expected price range.

Also mentioned by Proton are the “Smartphone Remote Control” and “Smart Air Purifier” features. The latter might refer to the “Air Cleaner” that can be found above the rear air con vent between the front seats. Other equipment that will be on the Proton SUV include a tyre pressure monitoring system and the Boyue FL’s eight-inch infotainment system with 4G connectivity. Of course, other than the features already mentioned by Proton, the rest of the equipment list is yet to be finalised.

The refreshed SUV carries on with the same engines. Chinese buyers get to choose from a 139 hp/178 Nm 2.0 litre naturally-aspirated engine or a 1.8 litre turbocharged unit. The latter makes either 161 hp/250 Nm with a six-speed manual transmission or 181 hp/285 Nm with a six-speed conventional automatic. Front- or all-wheel drive options are available in the Boyue’s home market.

Proton will be offering Malaysians the 1.8 TGDi engine, and we’re expecting the turbocharged motor to come with FWD and AWD options. According to the energy consumption label found on cars in China, combined fuel consumption for a TGDi front-wheel-drive Boyue weighing 1,690 kg is 7.8 litres per 100 km (12.8 km/l). On the topic of engines, check out the Boyue’s neatly sealed engine bay.

We got up close to the Boyue at where it’s made – Geely’s Baoji plant that’s a couple of hours drive away from Xi’an, the central Chinese city famous for terracotta warriors. The plant’s low noise and breezy feel despite high temperatures outside meant that this was one of the most comfortable car factory tours I’ve been on.

The 776,000 square metre factory started mass production in August 2016 and has a capacity of 200,000 units per annum. It currently has 2,400 line workers and 500 other staff working to roll out 800 cars a day. Amazingly, the massive facility only produces the Boyue, which is also made in one other Geely plant in China.

The Baoji factory is throughly modern, and is fitted with the latest and most advanced equipment available, as you would expect from a rising carmaker with global aspirations and deep pockets.

We were pointed to the plant’s high automation (80% in the welding workshop), stamping presses from Japan’s Amino Corp, seven-axis linear robots from ABB of Switzerland, Comau welding robots from Italy, Cold Metal Transition welding tech from Austria’s Fronius and measurement instruments from Durr (Germany), among other top hardware. The production process is a combination of the best of Japanese, European and Volvo techniques, we were told.

Geely is of course the owner of Volvo, and what’s good about the Swedish carmaker has been absorbed by the parent. Volvo is synonymous with safety, and Geely is proud of the fact that the Boyue received the highest vehicle collision safety score in China thanks to generous use of high-tensile thermoforming steel (1,650 Mpa, higher than Proton Hot Press Forming’s 1,470 Mpa) and dual-phase high-strength steel (590 to 780 Mpa). Expect five stars and a high score in the ASEAN NCAP crash test. Read our Geely Boyue first impressions review here.

GALLERY: Proton SUV preview