This is it. The one you’ve all been waiting for. The Proton X70 SUV has been the talk of the town ever since it was introduced to much fanfare late last year, and doubtless you’ll want to know how it drives. Well, the wait is now over – you’ve already seen our Driven Web Series episode where we put it against the Honda CR-V and Subaru XV, but for those who’d prefer a written assessment, you’ve come to the right place.

Ever since Proton inked a partnership agreement with Chinese conglomerate Geely in 2017, a mid-sized SUV had always been earmarked as the first product to come from the collaboration. The X70, then, is not just a litmus test for the public’s readiness to buy a Proton again – after years of dwindling sales – but also for the Sino-Malaysian joint venture as a whole.

That’s a lot of weight to heap onto the shoulders of one vehicle, and that’s before you consider the war zone it is wading into. The RM100k to RM150k bracket of SUVs is absolutely cutthroat at the moment, the Japanese dominating the segment of the market that sees various different models of all shapes and sizes slugging it out for your attention. That’s a tall order for a Malaysian newcomer, Chinese underpinnings or not.

Yes, we’ve read your comments. How can Proton sell a car above the RM100,000 mark when there are so many other vehicles to choose from – all from more established, trustworthy brands? Well, having driven the X70 for a few days, I can tell you straightaway that it’s well worth the asking price, and then some.

So publicised was the development of the X70 that we need not tell you that this is pretty much a Geely Boyue, converted to right-hand drive and wearing the prerequisite tiger badges. That’s not to downplay the national carmaker’s efforts in reengineering a left-hand drive vehicle (which would have been significant), merely saying that its strengths – and weaknesses – are identical to the donor car’s.

Despite being priced within the ballpark of B-segment SUVs, the X70 is firmly in a class above, and its not-insignificant dimensions reflect that. Measuring 4,519 mm long, 1,831 mm wide and 1,694 mm tall, the X70 is 225 mm longer, 59 mm wider and 89 mm taller than the Honda HR-V and has a 60 mm longer wheelbase at 2,670 mm, making for a much more substantial vehicle.

Compared to other models in its class, however, the Proton is on the smaller side, although it is comfortably larger than its Korean competitors, the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson. Compared to the all-conquering CR-V, the X70 is 77 mm shorter and 24 mm narrower, but it’s 15 mm taller and its wheelbase is 10 mm longer. There’s no seven-seat option, so those with larger families should continue to look elsewhere.

Again, the design of the X70 has been lifted wholesale from the facelifted Boyue, but that’s no bad thing at all because this is one very handsome SUV. Compared to more streamlined offerings on the market, like the Mazda CX-5, the Proton has a more chiselled, somewhat boxier design. A bit more old-school, perhaps, but it takes full advantage of the car’s sizeable dimensions to give it a tonne of presence on the road.

The front end makes a striking first impression thanks to the wraparound upper graphic that incorporates the sharp headlights and five-point grille. It’s an aggressive look that is bolstered by the facelift’s sportier front bumper design, with a downturned centre air intake and protruding corners – these house a pair of inlets that direct air around the front wheels, in a similar fashion to BMW’s Air Curtains.

Bulging front fenders lead into the scalloped sides that extend right into the tail lights, a unique design cue. Not so unique are the upswept beltline kink and blacked-out D-pillars – the latter give it that all-important, in-vogue “floating roof” look and a bit of a Range Rover Evoque vibe to the design.

At the rear, you’ll find broad two-piece tail lights, a large skid plate and a pair of nicely integrated exhaust outlets that are not only chromed but have cutouts that lead to the real pipes behind them – none of the Perdana‘s extremely naff-looking body-coloured items here.

The X70 looks great even in base form, but the Premium and Executive variants amp up the visual appeal with LED headlights and stylish boomerang-shaped daytime running lights (the indicators still use normal bulbs, however, whereas the Standard model oddly gets LED turn signals). It gets even better with the Premium as it’s the only one to get 19-inch alloy wheels – but you will have to pay for much pricier tyres.

While the design of the imported version you see here shares almost everything with the Boyue (the locally-assembled one, due later this year, will apparently come with a few “surprises”), there are a couple of unique-to-Proton touches, one of them being the Proton script in the head- and tail lights.

The car also debuts Proton’s new “Infinite Weave” grille, featuring a kink on the lower edge (the company calls this the “Ethereal Bow” design) and a wavy pattern that is claimed to be inspired by Malaysian woodworking – the design has already found its way to the facelifted Iriz and Persona. But it’s hard to believe that claim when you can find the same sort of pattern on a Subaru Forester.

If the exterior design broke new ground for Malaysian carmakers, the interior is an even bigger step forward. Just like the outside, the cabin bears very few changes (like the “Infinite Weave” pattern being repeated on the speaker grilles) compared to the Geely version, and just like in the Boyue, those used to cheap, plasticky Chinese car interiors will be in for a shock here.

The undulating dashboard design is attractive and features some neat touches like the Porsche Cayenne-esque centre console grab handles and the near-seamless door pulls and handles. It all stands up to the touch, too. Go ahead, close your eyes and point – almost every single item you’ll touch is either incredibly soft-touch plastic, convincing metal-like trim or, in the case of this Premium model, plush Nappa leather.

Forget about challenging rivals in its price range – the perceived quality of this interior trumps some cars that are twice, even three times the price. It’s not perfect, however, as the silver plastic slathered across the dashboard looks and feels incongruous next to its more polished surroundings.

There are a couple of other flaws. While Executive and Premium variants get a powered driver’s seat (both front seats in the case of the Premium), even in the lowest position you still sit quite high relative to the rest of the car. Likewise, the steering wheel is adjustable for reach as well as rake, but it’s set at an angle – this, along with the tall driving position, conspire to make driving the X70 feel like a traditional 4×4.

Minor niggles aside, this is a fantastic cabin, and that’s before you get to the space on offer. As you’d expect for a car originally designed for well-heeled Chinese customers, there’s plenty of legroom and headroom, both at the front and especially at the rear – despite the Premium model’s panoramic sunroof.

That variant even gets Toyota Camry-style shoulder switches that allows those at the rear to push the front passenger seat forward for yet more legroom. The flat floor also means that squabbling for foot space at the back with three-abreast seating is a thing of the past.

With the (comparatively) short length and long wheelbase, you’d expect the boot to be tiny, but that’s definitely not the case here. Yes, at 515 litres, it’s slightly smaller the CR-V (522 litres) and Nissan X-Trail (550 litres with the third-row seats folded), but it absolutely shades the CX-5’s puny 442 litres.

Useable space is hampered by the fact that the sliding parcel shelf is mounted low, making for a shallow cargo hold if you want to keep your items away from prying eyes. You also don’t get sliding or reclining rear seats, nor a powered tailgate – not even on the Premium.

Elsewhere, there are plenty of useful touches, such as the sheer number of USB ports littered throughout the cabin. These include one in each cubby hole either side of the dashboard (which are unfortunately too small to fit a modern smartphone), two at the rear and even one aft of the rear-view mirror – handy for fitting a dash cam without the usual mess of cabling. The Premium model also receives a Kenwood sound system with a decent subwoofer hidden within the space saver spare tyre, plus a built-in audio equaliser.

Much has been said about Geely’s Global Key User Interface (GKUI) in this car, and that’s because it truly is a groundbreaking infotainment system in this segment. Equipped with an eight-inch, high-definition capacitive touchscreen, it uses the Android mobile operating system as its base, just like past systems in the Iriz and Persona – but thankfully that’s where the similarities end.

The Proton Link app provides access to vehicular information and functions

Compared to the slow and often buggy units in those cars, GKUI is fluid and responsive to the touch, complemented by attractive and colourful graphics. It’s no wonder Proton wasted no time in putting a similar system on the latest facelifted versions of the hatch and sedan.

All models come with 4G Internet connectivity, providing online music streaming (via Tencent’s Ultimate Music service, although buyers hoping for a library as big as Spotify’s will be disappointed), navigation with live traffic information (via Baidu Maps) and over-the-air updates. It also gives access to the Proton Link smartphone app which allows you to check vehicular information such as range, fuel consumption and location, as well as controlling the locks, horn, lights and windows.

It should be noted that while Proton offers one gigabyte of free data every month, both X70 owners in our office (including Hafriz Shah) say that’s not enough if you intend to use the features – especially music streaming – as intended. The company does provide add-ons at an additional cost, and you can also tether the system to your phone to latch onto its data quota.

This car also gets an advanced voice control system, similar to those recently introduced by Mercedes-Benz and BMW, capable of understanding natural language – even Malaysian-accented English, according to Proton. Using the activation phrase “Hi Proton”, users can control various functions of the vehicle, such as navigation, music and even the climate control, and it will also answer questions regarding the weather.

In fact, it goes further than systems from premium marques, as you can also use it to control the sunroof and power windows. It’s a real crowd pleaser, and the operation is just as seamless as advertised. As long as you speak to the system in a clear and uncomplicated manner, it will understand you fairly reliably, and even heavily exaggerated accents will fail to throw it off. You can even interrupt it mid-sentence, which is an impressive feat and makes it much quicker to get things done.

Again, it’s not all perfect. For all its attention-grabbing functionality, it occasionally stumbles on simple commands; the navigation is also only really suitable for emergencies, with unreliable routing and maps that are either outdated or incomplete. The GKUI’s English translations are also hit-and-miss, although some of them have been fixed in a firmware update (along with certain controls for the car’s safety systems).

Speaking of which, the X70 comes with a full complement of safety kit as standard, including six airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, stability control, hill start assist, hill descent control and rear ISOFIX child seat anchors. All models get a five-star ASEAN NCAP safety rating as a result.

The Premium variant gets the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), adding autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and automatic high beam. You also get Door Opening Warning (DOW), which warns when an occupant is about to open a door into traffic – a neat feature that should save owners from costly (and downright dangerous) collisions.

Before we get to driving impressions, I’d like to point out that Proton’s right-hand drive conversion goes beyond what we’ve come to expect. Forget nightmares of tiny French gloveboxes or Mercedes’ cramped footwells – everything is where it’s supposed to be, and even the positions of the centre console buttons and electronic parking brake lever, usually left well alone due to cost reasons, have been switched around. The sole annoyance is the slightly askew instrument cluster which, once you notice, you cannot unsee.

Right, after all of that, what’s the X70 like on the road? Well, like I said at the start, the car is identical to the Boyue underneath, right down to the suspension setup. Those looking for the usual Proton ride and handling flair, then, will be disappointed, but the rest of us will do just fine.

It all starts with the engine, a 1.8 litre turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder petrol mill that delivers a stout 181 hp at 5,500 rpm and 285 Nm between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm. Despite the healthy figures, it doesn’t deliver the turn of speed that you’d expect, and that’s likely due to the car’s weight – at 1,695 kg, this Premium 2WD model is a whopping 146 kg heavier than a similarly-specced CR-V, and it feels it.

The six-speed torque converter automatic transmission (no CVT here, thankfully) also isn’t exactly the quickest in the business, taking a little while to respond to sharp throttle inputs. Floor it from a standstill and the X70 needs a second to gather itself up and get going, resulting in it hitting 100 km/h nearly two seconds slower than the also-turbocharged CR-V, at 11.5 seconds as recorded on our Driven Web Series episode.

However, the more you drive the car, the more you’ll appreciate the powertrain’s relaxed yet steadfast demeanour. Once you get up to speed, you’ll notice that this engine is actually pretty punchy from low down in the rev range, making overtakes a breeze. It does taper off noticeably as you reach the redline, but then, you don’t buy a family-friendly SUV for a revvy engine, do you?

No, you buy it for its refinement and comfort, and on that front the Proton simply excels. This engine is creamy smooth and whisper quiet, and even when fully extended it is barely audible. This level of serenity is amplified (excuse the lack of a better term) by the smooth, almost imperceptible gearshifts and lack of road and wind noise – even well into triple-figure speeds. Make no mistake, this is a first-rate highway cruiser.

It only gets better because the ride is exemplary for the price. Even on the Premium’s massive wheels, the X70 steamrolls over bumps and imperfections with aplomb, managing to be cushy without being wallowy or floaty. There’s none of that dreadful clonking over large potholes that befalls other cars with 19-inch alloys, and body movements are well-damped, eliminating the rocking motion of most softly-suspended vehicles.

With a car this comfortable, handling usually takes a back seat and that’s certainly the case here. The steering is the main culprit, being slow, overly light (even in Sport mode, which also improves throttle and gearbox response) and lacking any sort of feedback whatsoever. There’s also a lot of body roll in the corners, but on the plus side, the impressive damping means it always stays poised and composed, and grip from the Premium model’s Continental tyres is aplenty (the rest of the range gets Giti rubber).

More than anything else, it’s the price that has dominated the discussion surrounding the X70, and you can be sure that this is a debate that will rage on. It has always been a hard ask for Proton to demand six figures for anything it makes, and even more so when it’s a car of Chinese origin.

But it only takes one turn of the wheel for you to completely forget about the money you’ll be paying for this car. From its plush cabin to its peerless ride and refinement, the X70 truly breaks new ground for Proton and shatters the glass ceiling of what this beleaguered company can achieve. As a car to live in, day in, day out, it’s head and shoulders beyond anything else in the segment – with or without the pricing advantage.

Yes, it is a shame that all this excellence is down to Geely’s efforts and not Proton’s own, and that will be a bitter pill to swallow for many. But that shouldn’t take anything away from this car’s capabilities, and the fact that it has set sales alight means that it isn’t stopping customers from buying the car, either.

Better yet, the X70 is just the start of a slew of new models coming our way, with a smaller B-segment crossover and an MPV already in the pipeline. If this car sets the standard for what’s to come from Proton, then we cannot wait to see what’s next. The future’s looking bright.

The Proton X70 is priced at RM99,800 for the base Standard 2WD variant, RM109,800 for the Executive 2WD, RM115,800 for the Executive AWD and RM123,800 for the range-topping Premium 2WD. Proton also offers a range of exterior and interior accessories, including side steps, door visors, sun shades and a dash cam. Browse full specifications and equipment on CarBase.my.


GALLERY: Proton Link app screenshots

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