I’ve just attended the Proton X90 media preview, where I got to see the new SUV inside and out, so here’s a detailed rundown of what I’ve noticed on the new model. No photography was allowed, so this limited set of official images are all that we can show you for now.
Anyway, the name has officially been confirmed – it is the Proton X90. It would have been funny if Proton sprang a surprise on us: you know what, you’ve all been calling it the X90, but it’s actually the X80 or X100! That would have been hilarious but nope, they just stuck to what we all expected, the X90.
This, as you know, is going to be the flagship Proton model and it is a three-row SUV, the biggest car that Proton will have in its range, and it is a fair bit bigger than the X70. Let’s talk about the looks first. On the outside, it looks exactly as what you would expect, because it’s pretty much a rebadged Geely Haoyue (China) or Okavango (LHD export markets including the Philippines).
It’s the same exact SUV, just with the steering on the right side and a Proton logo slapped on. The grille itself actually looks very attractive – Proton chief designer Azlan Othman described it as a clear evolution of the Ethereal Bow and Infinite Weave elements that we’ve seen from Proton over the last couple of years.
This time round, it has a whole bunch of diamond-shaped studs around the central logo (apparently inspired by a songket pattern), somewhat similar to the Mercedes-Benz AMG Line grilles with their distinctive chrome pins. On the X90, the pins are finished in satin chrome instead, and they look rather fetching in real life. Below that is a newer interpretation of the Proton Ethereal Bow.
Overall, I think it does look really good, but it’s just that after being told repeatedly by Proton Design that the next future Proton model is going to look more localised, with more local flavours and influence, time and time again what we actually get in the end is basically the donor Geely model with a Proton grille. That itself is a clear disappointment.
I asked Azlan straight up: what’s going on, why isn’t Proton Design being given more freedom to make the cars more of our own? The answer is, again, that it’s a long process, so wait for the next future launches; they will look more Malaysian. The way he said it suggests that the very next Geely-based model – likely the new S50 sedan due by the end of 2023 – will finally be that car. Fingers crossed, then.
Back to the X90, the headlights are full LED, but surprise, surprise, we are actually getting the lower-spec full LED reflector units rather than the fancier adaptive LED projector lights more commonly seen on official photos of the Geely Haoyue/Okavango. I’ve seen a few comments saying the lights are new, designed by Proton, but that’s just not the case – these are Geely units available in certain markets and variants.
The headlights do have nice solid-type LED daytime running lights in an L shape, which double up as the turn signals too, just like on the X50. This time though, the indicators light up sequentially. There’s even a nice start-up sequence as you unlock the car, where the lights do a bit of a dance show, blinking in and out before lighting up completely. Fancy.
Round the side, the X90 is an imposing looking car, and it looks a little bit like an American-style SUV. It has rather boxy, very pronounced wheel arch highlights that I think look really good too. The wheels are large 19-inch alloys with a two-tone machine finish and grey inserts, and the tyres are 235/50R19 Continental EcoContact 6 all around.
The X90 has a brand new proximity-based automatic unlock and walk away auto-lock feature, similar to what we’ve seen on recent BMWs and Honda models. With this, you can just keep the key in your pocket – the key looks exactly the same as on the X50 – and the vehicle will sense the keyfob approaching and unlock the doors automatically.
Once you’re done driving, you can just turn the engine off, walk away, and the system will lock the doors up. There’s no need to touch the sensors on the doors anymore. In BMWs it works perfectly, so we’ll see how this one works soon. Anyhow, it’s a nice next step over the keyless entry system we’ve had over the past 10/15 years.
One thing I did not like about the X90 is that the B- and C-pillars have the usual matte and textured plastic covers instead of the much nicer gloss black finish we’ve seen on the X50. Small thing, but to me it makes the car look a little bit cheap and not quite as premium as it’s claimed to be.
As for the back of the car, it looks exactly like the base Geely model. It was a bit funny when the Proton designer was talking about the rear, and all he could talk about was the new Proton lettering font. So the badges now have a more intricate design to them, but practically everything else is as per the Haoyue/Okavango.
I don’t think the car looks bad at all. If anything, it looks quite handsome – for an SUV of this size and girth to look fairly elegant takes a really good design. It’s just that again, it’s more of a Geely and not a Proton at all, except for the fancy front grille. In a way, it looks exactly like what we expected it to ne, but I was hoping it would look a bit more unique. Wishful thinking, as it turns out.
Now, let’s move on to the interior. Again, 100% Geely, just that this time the steering’s on the right side and of course, with the round Proton logo on the centre boss. That’s not such a bad thing, because it’s a nice looking interior. It feels good and expensive as well – the entire centre half of the dashboard is lined in black leather with real contrast stitching, which then extends to all the door cards too. Premium stuff.
The top half of the dashboard on the left side is also made of soft touch materials, although the instrument panel cover is all hard plastic, which is a bit of a let down. But overall in terms of quality and fit and finish, it’s mostly impressive.
Brand new is the instrument cluster, this time a full widescreen display. We’ve had digital clusters in the X50 and X70 for a while now, but both of them use smaller square screens flanked by physical gauges. This time, it’s a full-blown widescreen unit. I didn’t have that much time to play around with it, but from what I saw it looked really good – you can customise a few things, it’s nice and sharp, very modern.
The centre screen looks similar to what we’ve seen on the X50, but here it’s slightly bigger at 12.3 inches. It runs the ACO Tech ATLAS OS and it feels fast, clearly smoother and far snappier than what I have in my X50. It uses a much higher spec processor with 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal memory, so even the local map app can be zoomed in and out without a hint of lag.
That’s all well and good, but the big disappointment is that the Proton X90 goes without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I asked them directly: consumers nowadays expect to have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as an absolute bare minimum, so why is it that Proton is not following the set industry standard?
The answer was that integrating CarPlay is not as easy as we may think. Proton deputy CEO Roslan Abdullah said yes, he knows for a fact you can just easily buy a head unit on Shopee with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but for an OEM or a car brand to have them as an official feature is much harder. You’ll need to have official direct contact with Apple and Google, and it’s a very long process.
And for ACO Tech to properly integrate the connectivity software in its proprietary ATLAS operating system, they’d have to restart from scratch, apparently. That would have delayed the X90 launch schedule quite significantly, which has already been pushed back because of the Covid-19 pandemic, so that would have been far from ideal.
Whatever the case, the fact remains that in 2023 we are still getting a brand new Proton model without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. To me, that is a massive disappointment and it’s coming to a point of being unacceptable, especially at the new elevated price segment the X90 will be fielded in.
Moving on, further down the dash, the X90 has a new kind of gear selector to match the recently updated Haoyue. The wider, aircraft-style lever looks great, but I think the separate P button south of the stalk will be a little be awkward to use, at least before you get used to it. There’s also a large rotary dial for drive modes, as well as a dedicated button for the 360-degree cameras.
The parking cameras are absolutely fantastic this time round, even sharper than the ones on the X70, which is already one of the better systems in the business right now. It’s much better than the low-res, blurry cameras on the X50, that’s for sure.
Also good are the front seats, as they’re both attractive and comfortable, lined in black Nappa leather. That in itself is quite interesting to me, as over the past couple of years, Proton has insisted on putting brown leather on the so-called family or premium cars that they have, like the X70 and even the Persona.
The sportier offerings like the X50 and Iriz get black seats, so it’s a bit of a surprise to have this big family car with black leather seats. However, the headliner is still beige, which to me is a good thing. This is a big three-row SUV, so making the whole cabin feel more airy and spacious is definitely the right way to go.
Now let’s move on to the rear seats. The X90 will be available in four different variants – Standard, Executive, Premium and Flagship. The lower three variants will come with the standard 2-3-2 seven-seat layout with a bench middle-row. The Flagship will have a 2-2-2 six-seat configuration with a pair of captain seats, similar to the much-forgotten Exora Prime.
In the X90 Flagship, the two captain seats are basically the same seats from the front row, but with the addition of MPV-style adjustable armrests. You can manually slide them front and back, and each one can be individually reclined too. The seats actually feel quite comfortable, but for a person my size it felt a little bit narrow. Your mileage may vary depending on your body of course.
Still, leg room is very generous, and it’s easily more spacious than X70 that we know now. One excellent feature that this car has that makes it really unique are the ventilated seats on the two front rows for the Flagship, so the driver, the front passenger and two middle row occupants can have their bottoms cooled to combat our year-long hot weather.
As for air conditioning, every single row gets their own dedicated vents. The front has a dual-zone climate control system, while the rear section gets separate blower controls. This is technically a manual AC system with digital controls, as you cannot set exact temperatures for the rear cabin.
There are no vents at the lower centre console nor the B-pillars, but what you get are roof-mounted top vents on both the second and third rows, so every single passenger in the SUV will have their own individual air vent. Quite literally, cool stuff.
Another feature worth mentioning is the absolutely massive panoramic sunroof fitted on the Flagship. It stretches from above the driver’s head all the way back to right behind the head rests of the second row. The front half can be vented or opened completely.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of sunroofs in Malaysia because of the excess heat it lets into the cabin, but for a big family car, I’ll admit having a glass roof is great especially for the occasional road trips and holidays.
As for the seven-seat versions, you get a standard three-wide bench in the second row instead of individual captain seats. You can slide the bench back and forth, and you can adjust the backrest angle as well so yeah, nothing much to report here really. But I will say that the base of the bench is nice and long. Like in the Flagship, there are two sets of Isofix anchors on the middle row.
The all-important third row seats are kind of difficult to access. For the six-seater, you have to walk between the captain seats which is a bit narrow, far from ideal. The seven-seater is a little bit easier as you can slide and push the bench forward to clear a wide-ish aperture to climb through. It’s not quite a one-touch tumble mechanism, requiring a bit more effort, but it works well enough. If you’ll be using the last row often, I’d suggest getting the seven-seat version.
Once you’re in, the rear-most seats are actually pretty good. There’s definitely more than enough leg and headroom for someone my size. We actually tried fitting seven full-size adults in the car and we all fit just fine. I think even if you are 180/185-cm tall, you’d be able to fit in the back without too much trouble.
One thing I will say is that you will still feel like you’re squatting while seated in the back, because the floor feels very high so your knees will be up in the air. It’s not going to be all that comfortable over longer journeys. It’s perfectly fine for children or teenagers though.
As it is, it’s easily more spacious and more comfortable than most three-row SUVs in the same price class such as the Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-Trail. However, I’ll admit to not being all that familiar with cars one size up from those such as the Mazda CX-8, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, so I’ll make it a point to try them out before reviewing the X90 proper.
Probably just as important to passengers are USB charging ports, and here Proton has everyone covered. At the front, you’d find a USB port hidden behind the rear view mirror to power dash cams, and there’s also a pair of USB Type A ports below the AC controls. A wireless charger is available here too. Moving further back, there’s a pair of USB ports for the middle row (a Type A and a Type C), and two more USB Type A ports for the last row.
As for the boot, Proton didn’t show any exact figures with all the seats up, but visually it looked about enough to fit two cabin luggage bags, just. Geely Philippines claims 257 litres with the third row up, which sounds about right. Once you start folding the rear seats down – which you can do individually for the third row – that’s when you get a much larger boot space.
To me, this SUV will work as a fantastic five-seater with a massive boot. You’ll get a lot of leg room in the middle row as you can push them way back, plus have an enormous cargo bay in the back. Geely PH claims 1,200 litres with the last row folded down, but this is likely measured to the roof, which isn’t comparable to normal SUV boot dimensions. I’d guess around 500-600 litres to the beltline.
With all the seats down, Proton says it will have 2,050 litres of space, which will apparently fit a “four-door fridge or a full-size mattress.” One detail that’s hard to miss is that the boot lip itself is rather high, so while it may well fit, good luck carrying that heavy fridge up to begin with. As a bonus, there’s also a deep under-floor storage, and yes, there’s still a spare tyre for the X90.
The tailgate itself is also quite interesting, as it now has a new feature where if you have the key in your pocket and you approach the boot directly, it will open automatically within three to five seconds. This is an upgrade over the contactless kick sensor in the X70, Proton says, but personally I prefer the “older” system as it still relies on you manually triggering it. A fully automated one will often result in the boot opening when you don’t want it to, as we’ve seen in quite a few Hyundai/Kia models recently. We’ll soon see if the Proton’s is any better.
Let’s move on to the tech bits. The engine under the hood is the same 1.5 litre three-cylinder turbocharged GDI engine that’s used in the X50 Flagship as well as the newer X70 models, but here there’s also a 48V mild hybrid system attached. Claimed outputs have gone up quite significantly – 190 PS and 300 Nm here from 177 PS and 255 Nm. The familiar seven-speed wet clutch DCT is present here too.
In terms of fuel economy, Proton claims that with this 48V mild hybrid belt starter generator or BSG, you save an extra 15%. The numbers do sound impressive, but we’ll soon find out whether it’s going to be powerful and efficient enough in the real world. In theory, it should be just fine – the 1.5T X70 is proof itself – but with a bigger, heavier body and the possibility to load seven adults, we’ll see if the hybridised downsized engine can still cut it.
The base Geely model actually has a choice of two different rear suspension systems: a simpler torsion beam or a more sophisticated independent multi-link setup. Thankfully, Proton has chosen the latter for our X90. Proton says it picked the independent suspension system because Malaysians have very high standards in terms of drivability and comfort, and rightly so.
The famed Proton ride and handling team has also given the SUV unique tuning to fit our road/driving conditions. According to the development team, the three things that they focused on for the X90 were Premium, Modern and Family, so I would guess that they had tuned the suspension more for comfort rather than dynamics/handling. I’d be surprised otherwise.
In terms of testing, Proton claims to have done 96,000 man-hours of testing on Malaysian roads to get the car ready for our local conditions. As for mileage, it’s a combined 1.2 million km of tests done, so you can now start to understand why Proton has taken so long to bring the car into the market.
The local carmaker also said that the X90 has 45% local content with 500 separate components sourced locally at the start of production. This is slightly higher than previous CKD Geely-based models like X50 and X70 at launch and remember, the 48V mild hybrid engine is also assembled in Tanjung Malim from the get go.
Lastly, safety. The Proton X90 will get a full suite of ADAS active safety suite, now with three new features: front collision warning, rear cross traffic alert and something called traffic sign information. The last one is a system that uses the front camera to detect speed limit signs, which will then be displayed in the instrument cluster. It’s not going to stop you from over speeding, but it serves as a good reminder of the legal limit.
As for pricing, Proton has not officially mentioned anything yet, just that it will be positioned very competitively in the market. Funny story on this, Proton CEO Li Chunrong approached me personally after the media preview to ask how much I think the X90 Flagship should be priced at. I answered ideally, I hope it’s going to be around RM140k, RM10k more than the top X70.
You should have seen the look on his face – shock and horror. “How can? You look at this car, the specs, and the Mazda CX-8 is over RM200k!” he said. Well, I did say I was being hopeful.
Judging from his response, I would hazard a guess that the X90 Flagship would be priced around RM150k or so, perhaps slightly over. If that’s the case, then the range should start from around RM120k for the base model, all in all a RM20k-odd premium over the X70. This is my own estimate, so don’t come at me if it turns out to be wrong!
Now, a Proton for RM150k may sound like a lot, but I genuinely believe that it’s a fair asking price for the car that I had just seen. It looks really good, feels very expensive inside, with specs that are through the roof, including many features that are unheard of in this price range. Even at or slightly above RM150k, uncharted territory for Proton, I think the X90 will be well worth it.
Whether or not people will be willing to spend that much on a Proton remains to be seen, but based on the company’s recent track record, it’s looking positive. When the X70 was launched in 2018, everyone said Proton had lost the plot by pricing it at RM120k. And yet, it has consistently been the best-selling model in its class for four years straight now.
We will find out soon if the X90 can repeat that success. It shouldn’t be too long now until it’s launched, and order taking will officially start in a few weeks. For now, what do you think of the Proton X90 so far, and how much do you think it should be priced at? Discuss below.
GALLERY: 2023 Proton X90 official images
GALLERY: 2023 Proton X90, other exterior colours
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