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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Proton X50 on a mission to remove ‘returning’ stigma

Tie-up with Volvo and more than likely some Lotus chassis inputs work a dynamic treat.

Proton’s much publicised return to South Africa last year caused something of an unexpected surprise for a number of reasons.

In the past

Bluntly put, the Malaysian automaker, despite having been the long-time owners of Lotus, didn’t exactly cover itself in glory when it departed South Africa over a decade ago.

From the odd looking Savvy, the dull Gen.2 and its Persona sedan sibling, to the admittedly sporty looking Satria Neo, the bland Saga and the versatile but dated Arena half-ton bakkie, the brand never threatened to become a key market player as it only shifted 5 295 vehicles between 2005 and 2012.

ALSO READ: Ambitious Proton returns with a point to prove

That isn’t the main reason for frowning upon Proton’s return though. Owned by Geely since 2017, and therefore part of the same stable as Volvo, the completely reimagined marque has set itself the target of taking on Mazda and Volkswagen rather than being seen as an alternative to Haval and Chery.

In itself, that can be seen as pretty ambitious for a brand largely unknown and without the same reputation as the ones from Hiroshima or Wolfsburg.

The future

To have ambition is one thing, to live up to it is another and having secured the backing of Combined Motor Holdings to distribute its products in South Africa, it has to be said that the drive to succeed certainly prevails.

Proton X50 road test South Africa
Styling and sporty are aspects the X50 excels in

And after the customary seven-day stint behind the wheel of the top-spec X50 Premium, initial thoughts were that Proton might have just pulled a return worth taking notice off.

For starters, the X50, which slots-in below the flagship X70 as the first of five vehicles Proton will be bringing to South Africa, not only looks stylish and well presented, but similar to Chery, a world away from its previous product line-up.

Made by Geely

Spun-off of the Geely Binyue that debuted in China five years ago, before becoming a Proton in 2020, the X50, despite being a Chinese car, is built at Proton’s Tanjung Malim plant on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, that received a massive $500-million investment by Geely upon its takeover to become one of the most technologically advanced facilities in Asia.

On first glance, Geely’s efforts in transforming the Binyue into the X50 has been a success, as the newcomer goes to a number of avenues in order to live-up to the “affordable luxury” marketing slogan.

First review Proton X50
Tested top-spec Premium rides on 18-inch alloy wheels

Despite the Snow White paint option being anything but the best of the six colours the X50 can be specified in, as mentioned during the preview drive last year, it looks suitably stylish, aggressive and certainly sportier than the Haval Jolion and Chery Tiggo 7 Pro.

Being the Premium model, the 18-inch alloy wheels add to the X50’s appeal that, from certain angles, has undertones of the last generation Nissan Qashqai when viewed in profile.

Come in!

South Africa drive of Proton X50
Minimalist and clean interior looks smart, but the faux brushed aluminium feels become a pain in sunlight

Any inherent Nissan-ness when opening the door is unfound though as the clean and minimalist cabin layout, resplendent with a fetching dual tone red-and-black finish, provides an undoubted hint from where Proton’s racy intentions come from.

Besides the leatherette seats and two-tone dash, the ergonomics of the cabin are easy to fathom and the button heavy centre console not an issue despite appearing so on first glance.

In addition to the grippy steering wheel seemingly sourced from Skoda, most of the materials feel good with the stubby gear lever for the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox being especially well-placed. A further noteworthy touch is the flush door pulls and grab handle on the passenger side.

New Proton X50 South Africa review
Fronts seats are sporty and inviting

As for specification, Proton has furnished the X50 Premium with a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, climate control with rear vents, a six-speaker sound system, LED headlights, push-button start, rain sense wipers, keyless entry and roof rails.

Items on the safety side include a tyre pressure monitor, Autonomous Emergency Braking, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, Adaptive Cruise Control, Hill Descent Control, Park Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring and Lane Departure Warning.

Unlikely to be called half-stocked it may be, some issues with the interior lingers, chief of which is the brushed faux aluminium dashboard that becomes a massive eye-sore, literally, when exposed to sunlight.

New Proton X50 South Africa review
Standard sunroof robs headroom from taller passengers

As standard, the X50 Premium gets a panoramic sunroof taller rear passengers won’t take kindly too for robbing them of headroom. The flip side is a central armrest but flat cushions not everyone will appreciate.

At 330-litres, the X50’s boot looks smaller than what Proton claims and although the 60/40 split rear back can be folded down to unlock more space, the exact amount isn’t known.

Another annoyance is the lack of illumination around that beautifully crafted gear lever. While a display is provided within the instrument cluster showing the gear selected, the habit of looking at the lever when choosing and not finding the requested symbol backlight, will take time getting used to.

New Proton X50 South Africa review
Freestanding 10.25-inch infotainment system looks spartan on functions compared to newest systems.

The X50’s last foible is the 10.25-inch infotainment system that takes some time figuring out and which appears spartan in functions compared to most systems today.

That being said, the lack of sub-menus and endless scrolling will be welcomed by some buyers, especially as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.

For all its interior hits and misses, the X50 delivers the biggest smile when you fire-up the engine, select Drive and go.

Drive, drive, go

Unlike the X70, which rides on the same platform as the Volvo XC40, the X50 is mounted on a Geely specific architecture called B-segment Modular Architecture or BMA Proton says has no links with Volvo.

Irrespective, the qualities Lotus are known for is evident as the X50 not only handles well, but grips in way that you wouldn’t associate with a vehicle of this type. At the same time, the suspension does an accomplished job of ironing-out imperfections while providing a compliant ride.

First review Proton X50
At 330-litres, the boot appears small for the segment

Although light, the electric power steering feels over-supported but liveable, unlike the Lane Departure Warning and Steering Assist, that are both over overeager to react and unable to be switched off.

Just as overeager, but in a better way, is the 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine underneath the bonnet. The biggest link to the XC40, the unit, in the X50 Premium only, carries the T-GDI designation that avails it with 130kW/255Nm.

First review Proton X50
Premium the only model in the range to receive the more powerful T-GDI engine

An uptake of 20kW/29Nm over lesser X50 models, the blown three-pot delivers its punch subtly in a linear fashion, before exploding into a relentless surge that intensifies in Sport mode not ordinarily attributed to a compact SUV.

Given that it weighs a comparatively light 1 370 kg though, the brisk performance and rate of delivery becomes understandable.

South Africa drive of Proton X50
Button laded centre console is easy to grasp. Gear lever is well placed and beautifully crafted.

Despite the lack of paddle shifters, the dual-clutch ‘box goes about its business effortlessly by being slick and without the low-speed shudder often associated with double clutch transmissions.

An area the X50 isn’t as well vested-in is fuel consumption, which come a heavy indicated best of 8.8 L/100 km.


For fear of a better closure, Proton’s ambitions are lofty and with a price tag of R579 900, the X50 Premium runs the risk of being called “overpriced” and “not in the same value-for-money” league as the newer and more modern offerings from Chery and Haval.

The brand’s desire of taking on Mazda and Volkswagen is also controversial as those hopes, at present it has to be said, won’t materialise anytime soon unless something inexplicably major happens.

Proton X50 road test South Africa
X50 is currently Proton’s smallest SUV in South Africa

It’s return to South Africa is therefore a mixed bag as the newly found competency of its vehicles, especially the X50, are overshadowed by price tags buyers simply won’t be keen on paying compared to the stickers of a Jolion or Tiggo 7 Pro.

It is a real shame then as the X50 is by far the most dynamically sorted and best driving option with enough spec and tech, but priced too highly at the time when value-for-money is the key.

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