DRIVEN: Proton X90 is big on practicality and luxury

Published Dec 20, 2023


More than a year after returning to the South African market, the Proton brand has introduced a new flagship called the X90.

It’s available in four model flavours, priced between R559,900 and R679,900 at the time of writing in December 2023. While it’s not exactly from the bargain bucket, it does undercut its closest rivals such as the Chery Tiggo 8 Pro (R609,900 to R669,900) and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace (R666,300 to R887,700).

Although Proton is technically a Malaysian brand, the X90 is closely based on Chinese parent company Geely’s Haoyue SUV and beneath the bonnet you’ll find some Swedish technology. Which means it has a mixed, but somewhat global heritage..

Yes, Geely also owns Volvo which is why you’ll find an adaptation of the brand’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbopetrol engine in Proton’s X50, X70 and X90. The X90 is the first Proton to bring 48V mild hybrid technology to the party, which adds an extra 10kW and 52kW to the petrol motor’s 130kW and 255Nm tally.

Of course, this is a mild hybrid, not a full hybrid like you find in various Toyota and Haval products. The e-motor feeds off regenerative braking and provides marginal assistance to the petrol unit, so don’t expect amazing fuel consumption.

Proton claims a combined figure of 6.8 litres per 100km, but around town our unit drank around 10.5 l/100km, which is still more than acceptable for a family-sized SUV and highway driving will see that figure drop somewhat.

The three-cylinder engine can be a little noisy at lower speeds and the performance it offers is adequate at best but acceleration is smooth and the X90 is pleasantly quiet and refined at highway speeds.

The engine is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which is smooth enough in its operation. But the shift-by-wire gear stick is quite cumbersome to operate as you have to shift into neutral between reverse and drive, turning what is a one-shift operation, in many cars, into a two-shift process like in old-school automatics. But you’ll probably get used it in time.

And despite our Flagship test unit sporting 19-inch rubber, the ride quality was fairly comfortable.

How practical is the Proton X90?

Despite its somewhat purposeful looks, the X90 has a great deal of cabin space.

The Flagship model is a six seater with two “captain’s chairs” in the middle row, and the three derivatives below that are conventional seven-seaters with a bench in the middle.

The individual chairs in middle row are a great place to spend time, although the adjustable arm rests are a bit finicky and don’t always slot into place easily. And if there’s no one in the third row you can slide the chairs back for abundant legroom.

If there are people in the back row and you want to be nice to them, it is possible to adjust the seats so that there is adequate space for everyone.

The boot is fairly small when all three seating rows are in place, but big enough for a few shopping bags. Proton doesn’t list the boot capacity, but with the third row folded down flat you will have ample room for luggage.

Upfront you get a digital instrument cluster and a large 12.3-inch (31.2cm) infotainment screen, albeit without Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity. An in-house phone replication system is available but it doesn’t work nearly as well as the aforementioned. The system also lacks a volume button, much to the ire of front seat DJs as sound can only be adjusted on the steering wheel.

Other than that the cockpit is quite user-friendly and there are separate controls for the ventilation system. It’s comfortable too, and there’s no real faulting the material quality, although it doesn’t necessarily feel premium.

As mentioned, the Proton X90 is available with four model grades. They may have boring names like Standard, Executive, Premium and Flagship, but they cover all the bases on the spec front from essentials to all the bells and whistles plus the kitchen sink in the case of the top version.

Here’s a summary of what you get in the different grades:

The Standard trim ships with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, cloth seats, dual zone climate control, cruise control, seven USB ports spread through the three seating rows, and a 12.3-inch (31.2cm) touchscreen infotainment system with voice command and reverse camera.

Safety features like ESP stability control, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Collision Warning, Lane Change Assist and six airbags are also part of the deal in the base model.

The Executive model gains a 360-degree view camera, power operation for the tailgate and driver’s seat, leatherette seat upholstery, auto headlights and wipers and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

The Premium derivative adds 19-inch alloys, Nappa leather seating, ambient lighting, wireless charging pad, auto dimming rear view mirror and a whole slew of driver assist gizmos like Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Intelligent High Beam Control, Autonomous Emergency Braking and Forward Collision Warning.

The Flagship comes with a panoramic sunroof as well as a six-seat layout with ‘Captain Seats’.


Call it Malaysian, Chinese or even slightly Swedish, the Proton X90 offers a lot of metal for the money. It’s comfortable, refined and family-sized. Just a pity about the lack of smartphone integration.