Since April when Proton confirmed that the first model from its new partnership with Geely would be a SUV and then invited Malaysians to choose a ‘name’ for the model (from a choice of four), the excitement has been building up. From September onwards, after the name was confirmed as ‘X70’, details of the new models and pictures were slowly released and by the time of the KL International Motor Show at the end of November, Malaysians knew almost everything about Proton’s first SUV and at the motorshow, they could also see it, get inside it and if they liked it, make a booking. But the big question was: how much will it cost?

Tonight, we know the answer and the prices for the four variants range from RM99,800 to RM123,800 (without insurance). Significantly, these prices are applicable nationwide, meaning that customers in East Malaysia will also pay exactly the same. This has not been the case before and most companies have to charge more due to shipping costs to East Malaysia. For Proton, it has been tougher since its margins have been thin in order to keep retail prices to what Malaysians expect of a Malaysian brand, ie below what others charge. So it has never been able to even consider a move to offer the same prices in East Malaysia. But now, as Proton moves into a new price category with the X70, it must have better margins which enable it to absorb the shipping costs.

Looking at the prices, some may wonder why the 2WD variant has a higher price than the one with AWD (all-wheel drive). This is because Proton must have decided that most people don’t care about whether there is 2WD or AWD but to a manufacturer, AWD means extra cost. So, like Honda Malaysia, Proton has used the savings from not having AWD to offer premium appointments such as nappa leather and additional features in the Voice Command system, as well as installing an audio system of a higher grade.

The X70 also comes with extras that enhance its value for money such as 5 free labour services, a 5-year warranty with no limit on mileage, low interest rates (from 2.34% per annum) and a 5-year internet data plan for the built-in wifi hotspot (a SIM card is installed in the vehicle).

Under the bonnet, all variants have the same powertrain – a 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine with turbocharging and direct fuel injection which produces 184 ps/285 Nm that goes to the wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. There’s no manual option but if you want to select gears yourself, there is a manual mode available.

As mentioned earlier, almost everything there is to know about the X70 has already been revealed and we have already written about it earlier. It’s no secret that it is adapted from a Geely model but the Malaysian team of designers has made sure that there are elements of Malaysian design around the SUV to differentiate it from the Geely model. There’s nothing wrong with adapting the model of another manufacturer and in fact, that was how Proton started – adapting a Mitsubishi sedan to create the Proton Saga.

By adapting instead of spending another few years developing an all-new model – which would also be very costly – Proton has been able to get the X70 into showrooms within a short development period of about 12 months. It had to be quick since the existing model line has already aged and the absence of new models has also contributed to diminished interest in the brand.

The X70 is packed with impressive technology, some of which you won’t find in other models of this price class. Connectivity is the big thing in the X70 and this connectivity extends to even the driver being able to interact with the vehicle through voice commands that start off with ‘Hi Proton’. The ‘intelligence’ in the voice command system is so sophisticated that it has led Tun Mahathir to refer to the X70 has ‘The Talking Car’!

33 years later, a different Proton model but the very same couple as Tun Mahathir and Tun Siti Hasmah reenact a pose in a picture taken when the Saga was launched.

Concerns about safety can be pushed aside; in this day and age, with strict regulations, every model has to be equipped with safety systems and engineered with structures that absorb and dissipate the energy of collisions. The X70 is as safe as any modern car and ASEAN NCAP has already crashed tested it and given it a full 5-star rating.

Apart from high passive safety standards, the X70 also has a package of active safety systems in ADAS – which stands for Advanced Drive Assistance System. The car will brake automatically if a collision with another vehicle is imminent, adjust the cruise control speed to maintain a safe gap, warn the driver if the vehicle wanders out of its lane, activate/deactivate the high beam according to the traffic situation and even warn the driver of other vehicles in the blind spot. 15 years ago, you had to own a very expensive high-end model to have such features.

It’s also no secret that the ‘first thousands’ of X70s have been produced in China at Geely’s factory. This has partly been due to the Tg Malim factory not being ready (it has been renovated) in time and local production will start early next year. Before then, at least 10,000 Malaysian buyers who have already booked one will get the units made in China.

The X70 is a crucial model for Proton as it is the first one of the new partnership with Geely. Much is expected of this partnership, foremost being the recovery of the company and then regaining its No. 1 position. Much as Tun Mahathir wants Proton to be selling models it has developed entirely on its own, most Malaysians are unlikely to care as all they want – and have wanted all along – is a car which is reliable and durable, and built to high quality standards. This is what Proton must prove it can deliver because failure to do so before was what dragged it down.

At the time when the original Saga appeared in 1985, it was comparable to the Japanese cars of its time and today, the X70 is not only comparable to models in the same class but even has some features that put it ahead. From what we can see of the X70, it has all the right elements to win the hearts and minds of Malaysians – just like the original Saga – so it can also take the brand upwards again.

Click here for other news and articles about the X70.

Visit www.proton.com.my to locate a showroom to view and test-drive the X70.

[Chips Yap]

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