You know what they say about the first 10 minutes of a test drive – they leave lasting impressions. Admittedly, I was behind the wheel of the Proton X70 a little longer than that (though not by much), but what registered in the first 10 minutes made me question if I had set the bar too low. After all, Chinese-made cars aren’t supposed to be good, right?
Make no mistake about it, the launch of the X70 is monumental, not just for Proton but for Chinese auto manufacturers. Yes, Chery, Haval and the likes have been around for a while now, but none have managed to win hearts and mind in a highly competitive passenger car market. The fact that the X70 is wearing a Proton emblem doesn’t make it any less of a referendum of Chinese cars, so these ten-minute around-the-block test drives happening across the country matter a lot.
A solid foundation
Love kicking tyres, rapping on sheet metal and slamming doors to gauge ‘build quality’? The X70 will impress before you get in. This is an SUV that stands on the heavier end of the scale compared to rivals, so the doors, including the tailgate and bonnet require a good shove and shut with a reassuring ‘thud’. There are other cars that do that well too, but this is a prelude of things to come for the X70.
Even if you cast aside the plush Nappa leather seats for a second, nobody can deny that the X70 has one of the most premium-feeling interiors in its class. Make sure you run your fingers over the dashboard, door cards, switchgear and give those buttons and knobs a good workout, they all feel exceedingly well put together and tactile. Given that the expectation is more Mr. DIY than Marc Jacobs, half the battle is already won here.
Of course, there’s the much-heralded tech in the shape of the digital driver’s display and 8-inch high resolution 4G-connected infotainment system capable of contextual voice commands. You can watch how it fares in this hilarious video by autobuzz.my, but what I’m more enthralled with is Geely…I mean Proton for not going overboard with screens and touch functions and retaining a sensible mix of virtual and physical interfaces.
And as much as we want a vehicle to be all things to everyone, the X70 has its priorities straight and doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. From how the engine hums on idle, to how well the cabin is insulated from the elements when you get it up to speed, the X70 is big on refinement, the level of which some Japanese and Korean samples still struggle to offer. Really.
Even on the Premium variant with 19-inch alloys and tyres, the X70 does a fine job in soaking up a variety of bumps usually encountered on Malaysian roads (which means all shapes and sharpness), but it goes beyond that by gamely isolating occupants from wind and road noise as well, whether under acceleration or while cruising. It feels like a well-evolved premium product, even if Geely only started making cars in 2002.
While 10-minute test drives rarely venture into the area of outright performance or handling dynamics, most will find the X70 to be adequately responsive in stop-go traffic, besides, there are no zippy competitors in this class, so all things are relative. And while the X70 does lean in corners because tall family-friendly SUVs tend to do that, behind the wheel, it shows good composure and is undemanding to manoeuvre as any rival, made easier with the plethora of cameras at its disposal.
The inevitable outcome
Anyone who took the effort to test drive the X70 would’ve already accepted how it looks (not polarising, tidy, even handsome) and how much it costs to own (not much), with the final factor of how it performs on the road being the biggest question mark. Seeing how the X70 is setting SUV sales records as we speak, I’ll hasten a guess that the post-test drive conversion rate is pretty high. And why not, the X70 isn’t just a much-needed hit for Proton, it is the catalyst for Chinese car brands in Malaysia.
Proton X70 TGDi Premium 2WD
Price: RM123,800 Engine: 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, FWD Output: 184hp / 285Nm Transmission: 6-speed auto Performance: 0-100km/h in 10.5s; top speed 190km/h (estimated) Wheels/tyres: 225/55 R19 Safety: 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 5-year/unlimited