Proton X50 Flagship: First impressions at the race track

Few will disagree that the Proton X50 looks great in the metal. One will naturally wonder next how well it drives.

If looks and dynamic performance impress, then the battle for sales success is a battle half won. It also hinges on other factors important to customers such as specifications, pricing and aftersales support.

How the X50 drives was the motivation for the media to gather at the Sepang International Circuit recently.

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Prior to the drive, Proton held a presentation and revealed as well as confirmed some details about the X50. Pricing will be revealed at launch, which should be soon.

Malaysia's first national carmaker said the X50 would be powered by two 1.5-litre (1,477cc) turbocharged three-cylinder engines for the front wheels and both will have dual variable valve timing (VVT) technology.

The powerplants are managed by a seven-speed (wet) dual-clutch transmission with Tiptronic "manual" mode as standard. There will be no paddle-shifters.

The transmission is the same as the one found in the X70, but its shift ratios have been adjusted to fit the engine's power ratings.

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The X50 Standard, Executive and Premium model variants will use a port-injection system for its engine which allows it to produce 150PS and 226Nm of torque.

The range-topping Flagship variant makes use of direct-injection technology that uprates the performance to 177PS and 255Nm of torque - allowing it to sprint from 0 to 100kph in 7.9 seconds.

Proton assured that the engines, which was jointly developed by Volvo and Geely, are durable after having undergone more than 1.9mil kilometres of testing and has been used in more than 550,000 vehicles worldwide.

With respect to carbon buildup around the intake valves - a condition which plagues direct-injected engines, Proton said that even after 100,000km of testing by their Geely donor vehicle - the Binyue - there were no such deposits.

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Proton also said the X50 will have three driving modes of Normal, Eco and Sport, which will adjust the steering, transmission and handling characteristics accordingly.

Proton explained that the reason for having two engine variants is part of its powertrain strategy as they would be used in future models.

The X50 suspension system is different from the Geely Binyue's in that it has been altered to suit the Malaysian market. It was found that the suspension settings for the Chinese market were too stiff.

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Proton benchmarked the X50 against other vehicles within the market and tuned the suspension's absorbers, springs, anti-roll bars and bushings down towards a more comfort-oriented setting without compromising control.

During the presentation, Proton vice president of sales and marketing Roslan Abdullah announced that the X50 had received its EEV certification as well as a five-star Aseasn NCAP (ASEAN New Car Assessment Programme) crash-test rating. Roslan is also Proton Edar's chief executive officer.

Expect the X50 Flagship to be well-equipped with safety features.

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The X50 marks the first time the national carmaker has fitted level-two advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) into their vehicles.

Level-two ADAS refers to partial driver automation where the system is able to assist in terms of steering, acceleration, braking and maintaining cruising speed with another vehicle ahead.

This does not mean that drivers are able to remove their hands from the wheel at any given moment while driving.

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Drivers must always keep their hands on the steering wheel and always be at the ready to take control when necessary.

Certain ADAS systems fitted in the X50 include Lane Keep Assist which helps to keep the X50 within a marked lane and will remain active for about 10 seconds before disengaging.

The X50 has also been fitted with adaptive cruise control with Corner Detection and stop-go function as well as autonomous parking - a feature not available in the X70.

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To test the X50's accelerative qualities, it was pitted against a BMW X1 sDrive18i and a Honda HR-V for a 0-100kph sprint.

From the get-go, the X50 would lag behind by up to half a car's length during the first 150 to 200m, but as the X50 overcame its turbo-lag, it surged ahead to take the lead and finish as the winner.

The BMW seemed to consistently finish in second with the HR-V bringing up the rear.

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In the ADAS demonstration, the X50 Flagship impressed with its ability to navigate through a corner with its adaptive cruise control engaged.

The X50 was also able to maintain its distance from the vehicle ahead as well as come to a full stop when needed and move off with the vehicle.

The X50 also demonstrated that its stopping abilities were equally as impressive.

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The system is able to help its driver prevent a frontal collision when at slow speeds by automatically increasing brake input via its electronic brakeforce distribution system.

The X50's Automated Parking Assist (APA) system proved competent and is tuned on by the driver holding down a dedicated button.

Releasing the button during the manoeuvre will halt the APA operation mid-way, but holding down the dedicated button again will allow it to resume its operation.

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The system helps the driver to enter and exit a parallel parking spot as well as provide reverse-parking assistance.

During the slalom test, the X50 Flagship demonstrated its ability to weave its way at around 50kph with an almost neutral feel.

The X50 will begin to understeer progressively when passing the front tyre's grip limits to keep the rear-end planted and to give the driver a chance to dial-back some speed in order to regain more control.

In addition, the cabin was nearly devoid of vibrations coming from the little three-cylinder engine in the engine bay.

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Some roll was experienced due to the softer suspension setup, higher ride height and high-profile 215/55 series tyres fitted on 18-inch wheels.

The thicker anti-roll bars used did help to keep this compact SUV from experiencing any unexpected loss of control.

Overall, the X50 was found to be a sporty compact SUV. It has a refined suspension and offers considerable control through a well-weighted steering, great stopping power and advanced driver-assistance systems that add value and inspire confidence in those who will buy it.

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