After bursting back onto the scene a year ago with two SUVs, Proton has quietly grown its local lineup to include an entry-level sedan and a flagship people-hauling SUV. Alex Shahini spent a few days with the all-new X90 Flagship to determine if it’s worth its nearly 3/4 million rand price tag.
In Q3 of 2022, Proton announced its return to South Africa and had the uphill task of having to regain the trust of the market after an unceremonious exit a decade earlier. With resounding promises of staying and the financial backing of Chinese giant Geely and Volvo’s technical expertise, they have slowly expanded their model lineup after their grand return with the X50 and X70 SUVs. First was the entry-level Saga sedan and now is the time for the automaker’s largest offering; the X90.
Proton X90 Flagship Fast Facts
- Price: R679 900
- Powertrain: 1,5-litre turbocharged inline-three-cylinder, mild hybrid
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
- Power: 130 kW + 10 kW (electric)
- Torque: 255 N.m + 52 N.m (electric)
- Driven wheels: front
- Fuel consumption: 6,8 L/100 km
- CO2 emissions: 156 g/km
What are we driving?
In line with the times, another SUV from Proton, but this one comes with most bells and whistles expected of a flagship model from a value-for-money brand. Under the comfy confines of the cabin is hybrid power too, a first for Proton. All of this is borrowed from parent company Geely, who first unveiled its twin; the Haoyue (or Okavango in overseas markets) a few years ago. Since South Africa isn’t on the cards for a Geely return, this is the closest full-size SUV from the Chinese umbrella organisation buyers will get which serves as an alternative to the mainstream 7-seater SUVs.
Why is the Proton X90 Flagship significant?
Like its other Asian counterparts, the Proton X90 promises exceptional value for money and technology from the sub R700k pricetag. This is also as far as Proton models on offer locally, the most recent to be created. The X70 was first put into service in 2018 and its diminutive counterpart; the X50 was birthed two years later. The Haoyue, on which the X90 is based was commissioned in the same year; 2020 while its rebadged Proton counterpart has only arrived on the global market this year. This is relevant since the latest features and technology are imperative in the cutthroat and highly competitive affordable SUV segment. Adaptive safety technology such as lighting and cruise control are included in the standard price – no shopping list of features and packs to select like key German rivals, over-inflating the starting price.
Over and above its providence, it is also the largest creation to bear the Proton badge, able to seat a maximum of 7 occupants (depending on specification) while its drivetrain has debuted hybrid technology for the Malaysian automaker.
What’s new on the Proton X90 Flagship?
As mentioned, the most significant inclusion on the X90 is the hybrid technology. This is a first for Proton and the 48V electric motor synergy system gives the 1.5-litre three pot a bit more oomph to help haul its extra weight. Other benefits to this mild hybridisation include reduced CO2 emissions and a claimed fuel consumption as low as 6,8 L/100 km. With mixed driving conditions around Johannesburg over several days, the sizable model managed above 9,0 L/100 km. Speaking of size, the X90 is large. Overall dimensions include a length of 4 830 mm, total width of 1 900 mm, and a height of 1 764 mm. A wheelbase of 2 805 mm also means the interior is roomy, and can accommodate 6 occupants comfortably.
In this X90 Flagship, each of the three rows includes only two seats with the second row boasting captains seats. Charging ports and climate control access position it squarely as a well-equipped and comfortable family hauler. Despite this, the freshly styled infotainment screen and driver’s display lacks Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity which is fundamental for buyers who would rather that than a touchscreen 2,0 inches larger. For trips to unknown destinations, users will have to subscribe to the navigation system too. All of this continues to be the most significant gripe of the model which could be a dealbreaker for prospective buyers. Proton mentions that smartphone replication will be added to the infotainment in the next software update although no further details are available.
What is the Proton X90 Flagship like to drive?
Out of a similarly sized SUV and into the X90 Flagship, the first driving aspect to become apparent is the extremely lightweight steering. This makes nimbly maneuvering around parking lots or driveways light work, particularly when paired with a high-resolution 360-degree camera and park distance control. Once going, the heft of the model is felt paired with the vague steering. Tall and heavy at just under 1,8 tons, any dramatic cornering will result in tyres sounding their limit of grip.
As with the current crop of turbocharged 3-cylinder SUVs from the Asian market, there remains a noticeable amount of turbo lag although the mild-hybrid system does provide slightly more performance during shortfalls, 10 kW and 52 N.m to be exact. Speaking of which, the finesse of the accelerator pedal is required with regenerative braking constantly present on deceleration. The 7-speed automatic transmission powering the front wheels is well calibrated to the hybrid system and otherwise continues the provide a comfortable experience.
What are the new Proton X90 Flagship’s rivals?
The list of competitors in this price and size bracket is vast. SUVs dominate the market but there are a few that can satisfy hauling around upwards of 6 passengers. Volkswagen has their Tiguan Allspace, albeit for a chunk of change more which is also where the Hyundai Santa Fe is priced too. Despite being an SUV, the X90 was also benchmarked against Kia’s MPV Carnival in terms of interior comfort and refinement. Base spec body-on-frame 7 seaters like the Toyota Fortuner and Isuzu MU-X are also in the mix, but the newest addition to the Proton stables has more realistic competition against the equally stylish and well-equipped Cherys and Havals.
What does the new Proton X90 Flagship cost?
Tested during the week was the X90 Flagship, but the range also includes more affordable iterations which expectedly don’t come as healthily equipped.
- Proton X90 1.5T Standard – R559 900
- Proton X90 1.5T Executive – R589 900
- Proton X90 1.5T Premium – R644 900
- Proton X90 1.5T Flagship – R679 900
With seas of SUVs in all shapes and sizes on local roads, it’s not difficult to see why Proton has been so keen to bolster its SUV lineup. This is where the South African consumer puts their money and with Proton’s return, they have plugged the gap in this market for prospective buyers with a small, medium, and full-sized high-riding model. As with the latest crop of SUVs hailing from Asia, there is stiff competition and the X90 falls short on the tech size, particularly with the flagship priced just under R700k. The better value-for-money options, capable of hauling 7, would be found in the middle of the range instead.