When the original Proton X70 was launched back in 2018, there were a lot of people saying it was like getting a Volvo XC60 on the cheap. That’s obviously not true, of course, with the engine being all Geely and the transmission coming from Geely-owned DSI. Still, there’s no doubt the brand association did help the X70’s image and sales.

Proton has sold around 28,000 units of its first SUV model so far, and perhaps even more telling is its claim that the X70 was the best-selling vehicle (regardless of body type) priced above RM100,000 in Malaysia throughout 2019 (and seventh best overall for the year). Out of all that, over 50% X70 customers opted for the Premium variant, signalling that once again people are willing to spend money on a Proton.

I, for one, certainly was, and I did the deed – there’s a Cinnamon Brown X70 Premium parked at home now. It has been completely faultless over 13 months and 16,000 km, in case you’re wondering.

The market acceptance – for both the X70 model and the Proton brand – was nothing short of astounding. The halo effect helped the rest of Proton’s existing range too, with the carmaker registering 100,821 vehicles in 2019, up a massive 55.7% compared to the year prior.

Now, the 2020 Proton X70 CKD is here, with Proton hoping to continue its positive growth into the years to come. The targets are astronomically high: to be Malaysia’s number one carmaker (i.e. overcoming Perodua, as unlikely as that may sound now) as well as claiming a top three slot in ASEAN by 2027. This is a big first step towards all that.

Proton won’t go unassisted, obviously. The X70’s Volvo connection is no longer through association alone; the 2020 version now uses the exact same transmission as the Swedish premium brand, which is a Volvo/Geely-developed seven-speed wet dual-clutch transmission (7DCT).

So, it’s now time to answer all your questions regarding the new Tanjung Malim-assembled 2020 X70 CKD. What’s the 7DCT like? What’s new and what has been left unchanged? Does it handle better now with Proton tuning? And what about the build quality, now that it’s made in Malaysia? Continue reading, then.

First up, let’s start with what I find to be a little disappointing – the styling changes, or rather the lack thereof. After months after months of being told to expect “some surprises” and “unique differences” in the CKD model by Proton’s lead designer, what we have here now is underwhelming. There’s no other way to say it.

Practically the only change visually is the adoption of Proton’s new logo, this being the first model to do so. The “uncaged tiger” emblem is now used throughout the car: on the front grille, the centre wheel caps, steering boss and even the small prints on the windows.

Personally, I find the new logo to be a little gaudy, and as it is on the X70’s grille, a tiny bit on the large side too. It doesn’t help that the Infinite Weave pattern appears to naturally cradle a triangular crest, making the big round logo appearing slightly out of place. I’ve been assured repeatedly, however, that you will get used to the new logo, and soon. Time will tell.

The application on the steering boss is no less ham-fisted too. It’s finished in bright chrome, standing in stark contrast against the predominantly black and satin silver cabin. A bit more consistency would have helped here, for sure.

In Proton’s defence, though, the X70 is hardly a year old, and it would be somewhat unrealistic to expect a radical change so soon into the model’s life cycle. After all, the car is still fresh to the eyes of Malaysian motorists, the company says. My take is, that’s fair enough. Just, maybe lay off from making bold, sensational claims next time? Being understated does have its value – just ask Perodua.

Proton also says that customers can expect more changes, both visually and mechanically in time to come. It’s worth noting that Proton has started to latch on model years into its car names – the 2019 Saga, 2020 X70, etc. – so perhaps it is planning to roll out yearly updates for all its models, constantly keeping its products fresh. If executed well, there are big gains to be had, both for the company and us, the consumers.

The styling letdown aside, the most significant change for the CKD model is the switch from a traditional six-speed torque converter automatic to a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. As mentioned above, this is a true blue Proton-Volvo tech sharing, being the exact same design as used in various Volvo models (though none are available in Malaysia as of yet).

Made in Geely’s new transmission plant in Ningbo, China, which also supplies the same gearboxes to Volvo’s assembly lines in Sweden and the USA, the wet clutch 7DCT weighs just 75 kg, compared to the older 6AT’s 98 kg. But beyond a simple weight saving measure, it’s clearly a much more advanced piece of machinery.

Geely claims that it’s a fair bit more efficient compared to the old 6AT, to the benefit of outright performance as well as fuel efficiency. More than that, the Chinese manufacturer even goes on to say that its design achieves a higher efficiency rate (max 97%, overall 94.6%) than Volkswagen’s DSGs (overall 91% for wet, 92% for dry units). The 6AT benchmark has an overall efficiency rate of 89%.

I myself have put my own X70 with 6AT on a dyno last year, where it recorded 160 hp and 248.5 Nm on the wheel against the official claimed (on crank) figures of 181 hp and 285 Nm. That translates to an efficiency rate of around 88% (or 12% transmission losses), which is close enough to Geely’s numbers.

With the more efficient 7DCT on board, more of what the engine makes can be transferred to the wheels, so even though the 2020 X70’s engine outputs remain largely the same at 181 hp and 300 Nm (up 15 Nm, more on that later), the car effectively gets a substantial performance boost – theoretically 171 hp and 284 Nm on the wheel, up 11 hp and 35 Nm compared to the CBU model’s dyno numbers.

These aren’t mere claims either, as the 0-100 km/h time has dropped from 10.5 seconds in the 2018/2019 X70 to 9.5 seconds for the 2020 model. A full second quicker is a significant change, no matter how you look at it.

Surprisingly enough, Proton also claims that it has fine-tuned the 7DCT’s power delivery characteristics to be slightly more aggressive to suit typical Malaysian driving behaviour (stand by a busy traffic light for five minutes and you’ll understand how they came to this conclusion). Drivers in China are apparently a lot more relaxed than us, which isn’t hard to believe.

On the road, you can certainly notice the improved performance of the 2020 X70. It is by no means an X70 R3 now, but it accelerates harder than its precedessor, both from a standstill and at speeds. Through my butt dyno, it doesn’t really feel like a sub-10 second 0-100 km/h-car, with a rather slow surge from a dead stop, but it’s definitely less lazy than the 6AT-equipped model.

On to how the 7DCT feels from behind the wheel – the best way to describe it is “like a normal automatic,” which in this case, is not a bad thing.

Most dual-clutch transmissions, even the best of them, have a rather distinct behaviour: rough coming off from a stop, and ultra smooth beyond that with lightning-quick, near-imperceptible gear shifts. The X70’s 7DCT, however, shows complete polar opposite characteristics.

It starts off with a clean and gentle creep (rare among DCTs), much like a regular traditional torque converter automatic, but as the speeds rise, you do feel the gearchanges – small little lapses and pauses of power delivery as the cogs change. So it isn’t quite as seamless as a typical DCT is, but it is smoother at slower speeds. It’s a very likeable gearbox in my books – again, much like a normal automatic.

The slower gear shifts compared to other DCTs could be down to Geely/Volvo prioritising the transmission’s absolute reliability over outright performance; using more reasonable/manageable speeds instead of chasing every last tenth. If the choice was mine, I’d have done the same too.

In many ways, the 7DCT here doesn’t feel like a dual-clutch unit at all. There’s no hunting for gears in start-stop situations, nor do you feel the transmission struggling at all when going up slopes. As enjoyable and quick-shifting as most VW DSGs are, you’d have to admit that they feel clumsy in a traffic jam, and especially around multi-level parking lots.

Simply put, this is not a performance-biased transmission in any way or form. A lot of people associate DCTs with performance cars such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mercedes-AMG A 45 or even the Nissan GT-R, but this very one is a whole different breed. The focus here is more on maximising efficiency rather than performance.

And it sure has worked. Proton claims that the 2020 X70’s fuel consumption has improved by 13% compared to its predecessor, now rated at 7.6 litres per 100 km, or 13.2 km/l. My own 2018 X70 6AT has averaged around 10 km/l over 16,000 km of mostly city traffic, so even if you round down the claimed improvement to 10%, 11 km/l for a big and heavy SUV doesn’t sound bad at all.

UPDATE: The percentage of improvement should actually be 2.6%, given that the CBU X70 had a claimed 7.8 litres per 100 km, or 12.8 km/l FC.

As this transmission is shared with Volvo, it had to comply to the Swedish carmaker’s high durability requirements. It’s designed to have a product life time of 350,000 km, which is 46% longer than the industry standard of 240,000 km (used by most European and American carmakers).

Seeing that Volvo has a rather decent reputation when it comes to mechanical reliability cetainly bodes well for the 2020 X70. The Geely and Volvo R&D team deployed testing teams across a wide variety of roads and locations globally, including hot, crowded, hilly, dry and wet conditions. The validation mileage totalled over nine million km over 17 tests, double the normal OEM standard.

Proton ran its own durability tests in Malaysia too, racking over 100,000 km in six months, including stress tests of going up and down Genting Highlands. It’s also worth remembering that this transmission runs an oil-cooled wet clutch design rather than the typically more problematic dry DCTs. Geely, Volvo and by extension Proton, are confident that the 7DCT won’t be beset by reliability issues.

It should also be slightly cheaper to maintain, with the Proton service handbook stating 7DCT fluid changes are required at every 90,000 km or 54 months, compared to every 60,000 km/36 months for the previous 6AT. Previously, Geely had also mentioned that its own proprietary DCT transmission fluid, marketed by Shell as the Spirax S5 DCT10 (RM353.45), would be cheaper to buy than the recommended ATF for the outgoing 6AT (RM500.96).

Win-win then, cheaper to maintain and cheaper to run. That’s always good to know.

Another change that comes along with the new transmission is the electronic shift-by-wire gear lever. This is similar to what carmakers such as BMW have been using for quite a while now – a joystick that can be rocked back and forth to select the desired drive modes, which goes back to its original position once released.

Park can be selected via an oversized button on the knob itself, and before you say you can’t rest your palm on the lever as you drive along now, lest you mistakenly press the button, fret not, as there’s a foolproof override that cancels out the request if you do so. A buzzer will come on, along with an accompanying warning screen on the digital instrument cluster. Clever.

The gear lever itself does look good, but while it adds a touch of modernity to the somewhat sombre cabin design, I do believe that a bit more effort could have been put in to fit the lever onto an otherwise-unchanged centre console. In my opinion it looks rather undercooked, especially the large piece of bare black plastic trim around the base of the lever, which has no stylistic cues whatsoever. A little bit of that Proton Design magic here would have been much appreciated.

The 1.8 litre turbocharged direct injection engine remains mechanically identical to the outgoing model, with the extra torque not coming from Geely wanting to give it more performance per se, but rather because the previous 285 Nm rating was limited by the old 6AT gearbox. With the new 7DCT rated at up to 330 Nm, the engine can now be tuned back up to its natural state of 181 hp and 300 Nm of torque.

What has been updated is the engine cover, which now sports a new design and “Proton GPower” letterings. Weirdly enough, the cover layout visually suggests the use of a longitudinally-mounted engine instead of a transverse motor, even though the car obviously adopts the latter. Certainly one for car nerds to laugh about, this.

It came as a surprise to me and I’m sure a few others as well that Proton had chosen to run the same 1.8 litre four-cylinder turbo engine instead of the newer 1.5 litre three-cylinder turbo motor that is now available on various Volvo and Geely models, together with the 7DCT. The smaller engine, being of a more advanced Volvo design would have elevated the X70’s stature even more, I would have thought.

Proton’s justification for this is simple: it had run a series of surveys among existing and potential X70 customers, and the conclusion is that Malaysians are still somewhat conservative when it comes to engine size. Apparently, we still prefer a larger-capacity engine for SUVs which are deemed big and heavy, regardless of the high outputs that smaller, downsized units can now offer.

While I have not personally tested the new 1.5 litre engine just yet, its three-cylinder design is a bit of a worry for me – there’s no telling just how smooth or refined it will be. Refinement being one of the X70’s key strengths compared to its competition – I rate it ahead of the Honda CR-V by a mile, and superior even than the Mazda CX-5 by a pinch – it would be a shame if that advantage is taken away by a less refined motor up front.

The smaller engine has the potential of offering more power and even better fuel economy, but it also runs the risk of compromising the refined edge of the X70 as a whole. Look at it that way, and Proton’s decision to keep the 1.8 litre turbo four starts to make a lot more sense.

Now on to other notable updates on the 2020 X70. There are now ventilated front seats fitted on Executive variants and up. With Malaysia being as hot as it is, this addition is a Godsend in my books, being able to cool your bottoms at a press of a button.

Speaking of that, however, there are no physical buttons to activate the new feature – they’re burried under the HVAC screen within the touchscreen head unit. You can also activate it through the much lauded “Hi Proton” voice commands, but again, I myself see this novel feature as a marketing gimmick, and not something you’d actually use on a daily basis.

In a year of ownership, I’ve used voice commands perhaps a total of five times, including the few times of showing it off to friends. Beyond that, there’s not much use for it as the voice recognition system is still very much hit and miss, and I’d much rather use actual buttons for all the controls anyway. Nothing against the new ventilated seats, which I love, but more the lack of dedicated controls for them, which I don’t.

Another change is reclining rear seats, fixing one of the original X70’s minor drawbacks – the rear backrest can now be adjusted from 27 to 32 degrees of recline. The update necessitated a redesign of the seat hinges, now with added railings for the sturdier tonneau cover too. As part of the update package, the sides walls of the cargo area also gain carpeting and an extra hook for shopping bags.

Beyond that, the 2020 Executive variant also gains a power tailgate, with the Premium versions adding a foot sensor. More than anything else, this was the feature that a lot of existing X70 owners wanted the most – with quite a number of them even retrofitting the feature at the risk of voiding the warranty – so it’s great to see Proton taking in their feedback for this yearly update.

Yet another change made based off customer feedback and demand is the new variant lineup of Standard, Executive, Premium and Premium X. The Executive AWD option has been dropped, as that version accounted for less than five percent of the CBU model’s sales tally. What’s more interesting is the introduction of a new Premium X flagship model.

This, essentially, is a carry over of the outgoing Premium model, complete with all the bells and whistles, while the new 2020 Premium variant is the exact same, but without the panoramic sunroof – practically making the sunroof an optional item at the top of the range.

The way it is now, customers who truly want a sunroof can still get an X70 with one fitted (Premium X), while those who don’t, but still want the rest of the Premium goodies like the 19-inch wheels, Nappa leather upholstery and ADAS active safety suite can get their ideal specs too. If I was given such a choice in 2018, I would have gladly saved the difference and picked the solid-roofed Premium.

What’s less positive, is the SUV’s driving dynamics. Unfortunately, the 2020 X70 has not been given the full Proton ride and handling treatment, with just some fine-tuning work done to the dampers and not much else. The suspension hard points, the springs, even the steering characteristics, remain as before.

The revised dampers do work as intended, reducing body-roll through corners, improving body control while not compromising ride comfort. But unless you’re very familiar with the original X70, or are lucky enough to compare them back to back, you’ll hardly notice the difference. There’s clearly an improvement, but ultimately the 2020 version feels very much like the old car and by extension, the Geely Boyue.

A taller Preve or Iriz, this is not, then. With the original X70’s handling characteristics being its biggest weakness (average by class standards, well behind the athletic CX-5), this is definitely a disappointment.

The payback for this, though, is fantastic ride comfort. The X70 has the best ride quality in its class, striking the perfect middle ground between the stiff CX-5 and the overly soft and rolly-polly CR-V. Compared to its similarly priced rivals such as the HR-V, this is on a whole different planet, to be completely frank. Borrowing one of Proton’s old taglines, you really need to drive it to believe it.

It may not be a fun car to throw into corners with, but it is supremely comfortable be it in the city or on the highways, with a stable and planted feel even at high speeds. It’s a pleasure to drive in that sense, if not exactly fun in the more traditional sense of the word.

As for build quality, the cars we drove were pre-production units with a few minor flaws (untidy paint finishes, uneven panel gaps), but I’ve been assured that all of them have been fixed for the production units. Speaking to those in the know, I believe them.

UPDATE: The cars on display at the launch were full production units, and all the flaws have indeed been rectified.

Inside, the interior’s fit and finish and material use is on par with my own fully-imported unit, with no discernible difference to be seen. Looking closely, the Nappa leather upholstery now appears to be more cocoa instead of saddle brown, but beyond that, the two models appear nigh on identical. Trust me, I’ve looked for flaws to report, but failed.

That also means in terms of look and feel, it is still far ahead of the local CR-V, if not quite on the same level of the CX-5 in my books. Those who are always skeptical of locally-assembled cars, well, head on over to Proton showrooms to make your own conclusions.

So there you go, the 2020 Proton X70 CKD. Yes, visually it’s a bit underwhelming, because apart than the new logos it’s exactly the same as before, but the improvements underneath are much more impressive. The new seven-speed wet DCT feels good, very solid, and it really does help both performance and fuel economy. Plus, you can now rightly say you’re getting a piece of Volvo in your Proton.

Beyond that, the other changes like the reclinable rear seat, power boot, ventilated front seats, slightly improved handling and the move to make the sunroof optional really makes it clear that Proton is listening to its customers to make constant incremental improvements to give them what they want.

As for the CKD build quality, it’s pretty much the same as the CBU, so for those worried about quality issues, well, you don’t have to. And besides, since when is “Made in China” better than “Made in Malaysia” anyway?

Overall, yes, this 2020 X70 is a small step forward, not a big leap over the CBU model. But the fact is, the original X70 was a great car, and this new one is even better. At this price range, nothing even comes close – the Proton is in a class of its own.

Heck, I’ll say it again, even if it’s priced the same as the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5, the Proton X70 is still the one I would buy for myself, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone looking for a family SUV. It’s a no brainer, really.

The 2020 Proton X70 CKD has just been launched in Malaysia, priced at RM94,800 for the Standard 2WD, RM106,800 for the Executive 2WD, RM119,800 for the Premium 2WD and RM122,800 for the Premium X. Prices include a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. You can browse full specifications and equipment on CarBase.my, and read our Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin reviews on the X70 CKD.

2020 Proton X70 CKD Infohub

GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD Premium X in Jet Grey
GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD driving exercise
GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD colour options

GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD official images