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DRIVEN: 2020 Proton X70 CKD with 7DCT in Malaysia – full review


When the original Proton X70 was launched back in 2018, there were a lot of people saying it was like getting a Volvo XC60 on the cheap. That’s obviously not true, of course, with the engine being all Geely and the transmission coming from Geely-owned DSI. Still, there’s no doubt the brand association did help the X70’s image and sales.

Proton has sold around 28,000 units of its first SUV model so far, and perhaps even more telling is its claim that the X70 was the best-selling vehicle (regardless of body type) priced above RM100,000 in Malaysia throughout 2019 (and seventh best overall for the year). Out of all that, over 50% X70 customers opted for the Premium variant, signalling that once again people are willing to spend money on a Proton.

I, for one, certainly was, and I did the deed – there’s a Cinnamon Brown X70 Premium parked at home now. It has been completely faultless over 13 months and 16,000 km, in case you’re wondering.

The market acceptance – for both the X70 model and the Proton brand – was nothing short of astounding. The halo effect helped the rest of Proton’s existing range too, with the carmaker registering 100,821 vehicles in 2019, up a massive 55.7% compared to the year prior.

Now, the 2020 Proton X70 CKD is here, with Proton hoping to continue its positive growth into the years to come. The targets are astronomically high: to be Malaysia’s number one carmaker (i.e. overcoming Perodua, as unlikely as that may sound now) as well as claiming a top three slot in ASEAN by 2027. This is a big first step towards all that.

Proton won’t go unassisted, obviously. The X70’s Volvo connection is no longer through association alone; the 2020 version now uses the exact same transmission as the Swedish premium brand, which is a Volvo/Geely-developed seven-speed wet dual-clutch transmission (7DCT).

So, it’s now time to answer all your questions regarding the new Tanjung Malim-assembled 2020 X70 CKD. What’s the 7DCT like? What’s new and what has been left unchanged? Does it handle better now with Proton tuning? And what about the build quality, now that it’s made in Malaysia? Continue reading, then.

First up, let’s start with what I find to be a little disappointing – the styling changes, or rather the lack thereof. After months after months of being told to expect “some surprises” and “unique differences” in the CKD model by Proton’s lead designer, what we have here now is underwhelming. There’s no other way to say it.

Practically the only change visually is the adoption of Proton’s new logo, this being the first model to do so. The “uncaged tiger” emblem is now used throughout the car: on the front grille, the centre wheel caps, steering boss and even the small prints on the windows.

Personally, I find the new logo to be a little gaudy, and as it is on the X70’s grille, a tiny bit on the large side too. It doesn’t help that the Infinite Weave pattern appears to naturally cradle a triangular crest, making the big round logo appearing slightly out of place. I’ve been assured repeatedly, however, that you will get used to the new logo, and soon. Time will tell.

The application on the steering boss is no less ham-fisted too. It’s finished in bright chrome, standing in stark contrast against the predominantly black and satin silver cabin. A bit more consistency would have helped here, for sure.

In Proton’s defence, though, the X70 is hardly a year old, and it would be somewhat unrealistic to expect a radical change so soon into the model’s life cycle. After all, the car is still fresh to the eyes of Malaysian motorists, the company says. My take is, that’s fair enough. Just, maybe lay off from making bold, sensational claims next time? Being understated does have its value – just ask Perodua.

Proton also says that customers can expect more changes, both visually and mechanically in time to come. It’s worth noting that Proton has started to latch on model years into its car names – the 2019 Saga, 2020 X70, etc. – so perhaps it is planning to roll out yearly updates for all its models, constantly keeping its products fresh. If executed well, there are big gains to be had, both for the company and us, the consumers.

The styling letdown aside, the most significant change for the CKD model is the switch from a traditional six-speed torque converter automatic to a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. As mentioned above, this is a true blue Proton-Volvo tech sharing, being the exact same design as used in various Volvo models (though none are available in Malaysia as of yet).

Made in Geely’s new transmission plant in Ningbo, China, which also supplies the same gearboxes to Volvo’s assembly lines in Sweden and the USA, the wet clutch 7DCT weighs just 75 kg, compared to the older 6AT’s 98 kg. But beyond a simple weight saving measure, it’s clearly a much more advanced piece of machinery.

Geely claims that it’s a fair bit more efficient compared to the old 6AT, to the benefit of outright performance as well as fuel efficiency. More than that, the Chinese manufacturer even goes on to say that its design achieves a higher efficiency rate (max 97%, overall 94.6%) than Volkswagen’s DSGs (overall 91% for wet, 92% for dry units). The 6AT benchmark has an overall efficiency rate of 89%.

I myself have put my own X70 with 6AT on a dyno last year, where it recorded 160 hp and 248.5 Nm on the wheel against the official claimed (on crank) figures of 181 hp and 285 Nm. That translates to an efficiency rate of around 88% (or 12% transmission losses), which is close enough to Geely’s numbers.

With the more efficient 7DCT on board, more of what the engine makes can be transferred to the wheels, so even though the 2020 X70’s engine outputs remain largely the same at 181 hp and 300 Nm (up 15 Nm, more on that later), the car effectively gets a substantial performance boost – theoretically 171 hp and 284 Nm on the wheel, up 11 hp and 35 Nm compared to the CBU model’s dyno numbers.

These aren’t mere claims either, as the 0-100 km/h time has dropped from 10.5 seconds in the 2018/2019 X70 to 9.5 seconds for the 2020 model. A full second quicker is a significant change, no matter how you look at it.

Surprisingly enough, Proton also claims that it has fine-tuned the 7DCT’s power delivery characteristics to be slightly more aggressive to suit typical Malaysian driving behaviour (stand by a busy traffic light for five minutes and you’ll understand how they came to this conclusion). Drivers in China are apparently a lot more relaxed than us, which isn’t hard to believe.

On the road, you can certainly notice the improved performance of the 2020 X70. It is by no means an X70 R3 now, but it accelerates harder than its precedessor, both from a standstill and at speeds. Through my butt dyno, it doesn’t really feel like a sub-10 second 0-100 km/h-car, with a rather slow surge from a dead stop, but it’s definitely less lazy than the 6AT-equipped model.

On to how the 7DCT feels from behind the wheel – the best way to describe it is “like a normal automatic,” which in this case, is not a bad thing.

Most dual-clutch transmissions, even the best of them, have a rather distinct behaviour: rough coming off from a stop, and ultra smooth beyond that with lightning-quick, near-imperceptible gear shifts. The X70’s 7DCT, however, shows complete polar opposite characteristics.

It starts off with a clean and gentle creep (rare among DCTs), much like a regular traditional torque converter automatic, but as the speeds rise, you do feel the gearchanges – small little lapses and pauses of power delivery as the cogs change. So it isn’t quite as seamless as a typical DCT is, but it is smoother at slower speeds. It’s a very likeable gearbox in my books – again, much like a normal automatic.

The slower gear shifts compared to other DCTs could be down to Geely/Volvo prioritising the transmission’s absolute reliability over outright performance; using more reasonable/manageable speeds instead of chasing every last tenth. If the choice was mine, I’d have done the same too.

In many ways, the 7DCT here doesn’t feel like a dual-clutch unit at all. There’s no hunting for gears in start-stop situations, nor do you feel the transmission struggling at all when going up slopes. As enjoyable and quick-shifting as most VW DSGs are, you’d have to admit that they feel clumsy in a traffic jam, and especially around multi-level parking lots.

Simply put, this is not a performance-biased transmission in any way or form. A lot of people associate DCTs with performance cars such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mercedes-AMG A 45 or even the Nissan GT-R, but this very one is a whole different breed. The focus here is more on maximising efficiency rather than performance.

And it sure has worked. Proton claims that the 2020 X70’s fuel consumption has improved by 13% compared to its predecessor, now rated at 7.6 litres per 100 km, or 13.2 km/l. My own 2018 X70 6AT has averaged around 10 km/l over 16,000 km of mostly city traffic, so even if you round down the claimed improvement to 10%, 11 km/l for a big and heavy SUV doesn’t sound bad at all.

As this transmission is shared with Volvo, it had to comply to the Swedish carmaker’s high durability requirements. It’s designed to have a product life time of 350,000 km, which is 46% longer than the industry standard of 240,000 km (used by most European and American carmakers).

Seeing that Volvo has a rather decent reputation when it comes to mechanical reliability cetainly bodes well for the 2020 X70. The Geely and Volvo R&D team deployed testing teams across a wide variety of roads and locations globally, including hot, crowded, hilly, dry and wet conditions. The validation mileage totalled over nine million km over 17 tests, double the normal OEM standard.

Proton ran its own durability tests in Malaysia too, racking over 100,000 km in six months, including stress tests of going up and down Genting Highlands. It’s also worth remembering that this transmission runs an oil-cooled wet clutch design rather than the typically more problematic dry DCTs. Geely, Volvo and by extension Proton, are confident that the 7DCT won’t be beset by reliability issues.

It should also be slightly cheaper to maintain, with the Proton service handbook stating 7DCT fluid changes are required at every 80,000 km or four years, compared to every 60,000 km/three years for the previous 6AT. Previously, Geely had also mentioned that its own proprietary DCT transmission fluid, marketed by Shell as the Spirax S5 DCT10, would be cheaper to buy than the recommended ATF for the outgoing 6AT.

Win-win then, cheaper to maintain and cheaper to run. That’s always good to know.

Another change that comes along with the new transmission is the electronic shift-by-wire gear lever. This is similar to what carmakers such as BMW have been using for quite a while now – a joystick that can be rocked back and forth to select the desired drive modes, which goes back to its original position once released.

Park can be selected via an oversized button on the knob itself, and before you say you can’t rest your palm on the lever as you drive along now, lest you mistakenly press the button, fret not, as there’s a foolproof override that cancels out the request if you do so. A buzzer will come on, along with an accompanying warning screen on the digital instrument cluster. Clever.

The gear lever itself does look good, but while it adds a touch of modernity to the somewhat sombre cabin design, I do believe that a bit more effort could have been put in to fit the lever onto an otherwise-unchanged centre console. In my opinion it looks rather undercooked, especially the large piece of bare black plastic trim around the base of the lever, which has no stylistic cues whatsoever. A little bit of that Proton Design magic here would have been much appreciated.

The 1.8 litre turbocharged direct injection engine remains mechanically identical to the outgoing model, with the extra torque not coming from Geely wanting to give it more performance per se, but rather because the previous 285 Nm rating was limited by the old 6AT gearbox. With the new 7DCT rated at up to 330 Nm, the engine can now be tuned back up to its natural state of 181 hp and 300 Nm of torque.

What has been updated is the engine cover, which now sports a new design and “Proton GPower” letterings. Weirdly enough, the cover layout visually suggests the use of a longitudinally-mounted engine instead of a transverse motor, even though the car obviously adopts the latter. Certainly one for car nerds to laugh about, this.

It came as a surprise to me and I’m sure a few others as well that Proton had chosen to run the same 1.8 litre four-cylinder turbo engine instead of the newer 1.5 litre three-cylinder turbo motor that is now available on various Volvo and Geely models, together with the 7DCT. The smaller engine, being of a more advanced Volvo design would have elevated the X70’s stature even more, I would have thought.

Proton’s justification for this is simple: it had run a series of surveys among existing and potential X70 customers, and the conclusion is that Malaysians are still somewhat conservative when it comes to engine size. Apparently, we still prefer a larger-capacity engine for SUVs which are deemed big and heavy, regardless of the high outputs that smaller, downsized units can now offer.

While I have not personally tested the new 1.5 litre engine just yet, its three-cylinder design is a bit of a worry for me – there’s no telling just how smooth or refined it will be. Refinement being one of the X70’s key strengths compared to its competition – I rate it ahead of the Honda CR-V by a mile, and superior even than the Mazda CX-5 by a pinch – it would be a shame if that advantage is taken away by a less refined motor up front.

The smaller engine has the potential of offering more power and even better fuel economy, but it also runs the risk of compromising the refined edge of the X70 as a whole. Look at it that way, and Proton’s decision to keep the 1.8 litre turbo four starts to make a lot more sense.

Now on to other notable updates on the 2020 X70. There are now ventilated front seats fitted on Executive variants and up. With Malaysia being as hot as it is, this addition is a Godsend in my books, being able to cool your bottoms at a press of a button.

Speaking of that, however, there are no physical buttons to activate the new feature – they’re burried under the HVAC screen within the touchscreen head unit. You can also activate it through the much lauded “Hi Proton” voice commands, but again, I myself see this novel feature as a marketing gimmick, and not something you’d actually use on a daily basis.

In a year of ownership, I’ve used voice commands perhaps a total of five times, including the few times of showing it off to friends. Beyond that, there’s not much use for it as the voice recognition system is still very much hit and miss, and I’d much rather use actual buttons for all the controls anyway. Nothing against the new ventilated seats, which I love, but more the lack of dedicated controls for them, which I don’t.

Another change is reclining rear seats, fixing one of the original X70’s minor drawbacks – the rear backrest can now be adjusted from 27 to 32 degrees of recline. The update necessitated a redesign of the seat hinges, now with added railings for the sturdier tonneau cover too. As part of the update package, the sides walls of the cargo area also gain carpeting and an extra hook for shopping bags.

Beyond that, the 2020 Executive variant also gains a power tailgate, with the Premium versions adding a foot sensor. More than anything else, this was the feature that a lot of existing X70 owners wanted the most – with quite a number of them even retrofitting the feature at the risk of voiding the warranty – so it’s great to see Proton taking in their feedback for this yearly update.

Yet another change made based off customer feedback and demand is the new variant lineup of Standard, Executive, Premium and Premium X. The Executive AWD option has been dropped, as that version accounted for less than five percent of the CBU model’s sales tally. What’s more interesting is the introduction of a new Premium X flagship model.

This, essentially, is a carry over of the outgoing Premium model, complete with all the bells and whistles, while the new 2020 Premium variant is the exact same, but without the panoramic sunroof – practically making the sunroof an optional item at the top of the range.

The way it is now, customers who truly want a sunroof can still get an X70 with one fitted (Premium X), while those who don’t, but still want the rest of the Premium goodies like the 19-inch wheels, Nappa leather upholstery and ADAS active safety suite can get their ideal specs too. If I was given such a choice in 2018, I would have gladly saved the difference and picked the solid-roofed Premium.

What’s less positive, is the SUV’s driving dynamics. Unfortunately, the 2020 X70 has not been given the full Proton ride and handling treatment, with just some fine-tuning work done to the dampers and not much else. The suspension hard points, the springs, even the steering characteristics, remain as before.

The revised dampers do work as intended, reducing body-roll through corners, improving body control while not compromising ride comfort. But unless you’re very familiar with the original X70, or are lucky enough to compare them back to back, you’ll hardly notice the difference. There’s clearly an improvement, but ultimately the 2020 version feels very much like the old car and by extension, the Geely Boyue.

A taller Preve or Iriz, this is not, then. With the original X70’s handling characteristics being its biggest weakness (average by class standards, well behind the athletic CX-5), this is definitely a disappointment.

The payback for this, though, is fantastic ride comfort. The X70 has the best ride quality in its class, striking the perfect middle ground between the stiff CX-5 and the overly soft and rolly-polly CR-V. Compared to its similarly priced rivals such as the HR-V, this is on a whole different planet, to be completely frank. Borrowing one of Proton’s old taglines, you really need to drive it to believe it.

It may not be a fun car to throw into corners with, but it is supremely comfortable be it in the city or on the highways, with a stable and planted feel even at high speeds. It’s a pleasure to drive in that sense, if not exactly fun in the more traditional sense of the word.

As for build quality, the cars we drove were pre-production units with a few minor flaws (untidy paint finishes, uneven panel gaps), but I’ve been assured that all of them have been fixed for the production units. Speaking to those in the know, I believe them.

Inside, the interior’s fit and finish and material use is on par with my own fully-imported unit, with no discernible difference to be seen. Looking closely, the Nappa leather upholstery now appears to be more cocoa instead of saddle brown, but beyond that, the two models appear nigh on identical. Trust me, I’ve looked for flaws to report, but failed.

That also means in terms of look and feel, it is still far ahead of the local CR-V, if not quite on the same level of the CX-5 in my books. Those who are always skeptical of locally-assembled cars, well, head on over to Proton showrooms to make your own conclusions.

So there you go, the 2020 Proton X70 CKD. Yes, visually it’s a bit underwhelming, because apart than the new logos it’s exactly the same as before, but the improvements underneath are much more impressive. The new seven-speed wet DCT feels good, very solid, and it really does help both performance and fuel economy. Plus, you can now rightly say you’re getting a piece of Volvo in your Proton.

Beyond that, the other changes like the reclinable rear seat, power boot, ventilated front seats, slightly improved handling and the move to make the sunroof optional really makes it clear that Proton is listening to its customers to make constant incremental improvements to give them what they want.

As for the CKD build quality, it’s pretty much the same as the CBU, so for those worried about quality issues, well, you don’t have to. And besides, since when is “Made in China” better than “Made in Malaysia” anyway?

Overall, yes, this 2020 X70 is a small step forward, not a big leap over the CBU model. But the fact is, the original X70 was a great car, and this new one is even better. At this price range, nothing even comes close – the Proton is in a class of its own.

Heck, I’ll say it again, even if it’s priced the same as the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5, the Proton X70 is still the one I would buy for myself, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone looking for a family SUV. It’s a no brainer, really.

The 2020 Proton X70 CKD has just been launched in Malaysia, priced at RM94,800 for the Standard 2WD, RM106,800 for the Executive 2WD, RM119,800 for the Premium 2WD and RM122,800 for the Premium X. Prices include a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. You can browse full specifications and equipment on CarBase.my, and read our Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin reviews on the X70 CKD.

2020 Proton X70 CKD Infohub

GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD Premium X in Jet Grey
GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD driving exercise
GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD colour options

GALLERY: 2020 Proton X70 CKD official images

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Car Reviews, Cars, Proton

DRIVEN: 2020 Proton X70 CKD seven-speed wet DCT review


It’s safe to say that the Proton X70 has been nothing short of a massive success for the national carmaker. Since its launch in late 2018, it has been one of the company’s bestsellers, with more than 26,000 units finding homes last year alone. More importantly, it has sown the seed of change within Proton, altering long-running customer perceptions and informing a new range of vastly improved models.

And it only takes one drive in the SUV for you to see why. Proton may have drummed up hype with its attention-grabbing “Hi Proton” voice control system, but look past the trinketry and you’ll realise there is a solid car underneath. Interior quality, long a bugbear in Chinese vehicles, is exemplary; it’s also supremely comfortable and quiet enough at a cruise to shame vehicles two, maybe even three classes above.

But it’s not perfect, and the sole notable bugbear – and not a big one at that – is the gearbox. The six-speed automatic may be a world away from the wretched Punch CVTs, but it’s still not the sharpest of transmissions around, masking the X70’s true turn of speed. It also contributes to the car’s less-than-stellar fuel economy.

Happily, all that will change when the CKD locally-assembled 2020 model goes on sale very soon, as it will receive a new seven-speed wet dual-clutch transmission, developed in collaboration between Geely and Volvo. Is a high-tech gearbox a good fit for this large crossover? We tested it out in China to find out.

Full disclosure first. The car we drove in Ningbo, Zhejiang a few weeks ago was the Geely Boyue Pro, an upgraded version of the model the X70 is based on. Before you get any ideas, no, the Pro isn’t coming to Malaysia anytime soon – we got our hands on it simply because it was the only Boyue variant to come with the 1.8 litre TGDi engine and DCT combination (which has since been extended to the normal version).

So the main focus here is the transmission which, as mentioned, is a wet clutch DCT. This gearbox is fitted to a variety of Geely and Lynk & Co models, usually accompanied by the latest 1.5 litre turbocharged three-cylinder mill. There is also an electrified version that is found on the group’s plug-in hybrid models, including the Volvo XC40 T5 Twin Engine (the regular petrol variant gets an Aisin eight-speed auto).

In the X70, the non-electrified unit will be paired to the existing 1.8 litre turbo four-pot, replacing the six-speed torque converter auto built by the Geely-owned Drivetrain Systems International (DSI). In fact, Geely no longer uses gearboxes from DSI, as the six-speed slushbox it now utilises – confusingly mated to the 1.5 litre mill in the Boyue Pro – is sourced from Aisin.

Back to the DCT, which is said to be of roughly the same size as the outgoing auto and weighs less, tipping the scales at just 75 kg. The gearbox comes with a BMW-style shift-by-wire electronic gearlever and paddle shifters, and can shift gears in as little as 0.3 seconds. It also has a maximum torque rating of 330 Nm, which allowed engineers to free up an extra 15 Nm from the 1.8 litre mill, bringing the total up to 300 Nm, available from 1,750 to 4,000 rpm. Power remains identical at 181 hp at 5,500 rpm.

The increased torque comes as part of a revision of the engine, internally referred to as Generation 3 (the one in the CBU, imported X70 is known as the Generation 2). There aren’t any mechanical changes, save for updated emissions equipment that can be tuned to meet new Euro 6d regulations, if so required.

Geely claims the DCT provides class-leading efficiency, and it says it actually benchmarked Volkswagen’s dry clutch DSGs (which provide lower driveline losses than Wolfsburg’s wet clutch units) here, with an overall efficiency figure of 94.6% and a maximum figure of 97%. The latter number is close to a good old-fashioned manual gearbox, and is also much higher than Aisin’s eight- (88%) and six-speed (89%) autos.

But while the company says that’s enough for a 1.0 litre per 100 km improvement in fuel consumption over the previous Boyue, the Pro’s quoted figure of 7.5 litres per 100 km is only 0.3 lower than before. Time will tell if the CKD X70 can achieve the same sort of improvement in the real world.

It’s important at this point to address the elephant in the room – reliability. Dry clutch DCTs may be efficiency champions, but both VW and Ford have been scarred by various issues related to these gearboxes, such as premature wear and poor refinement over time. The subject of a mountain of complaints, recalls, buybacks and class action lawsuits, the dry clutch DCT has sullied the reputation of the once-adulated technology.

Simply by switching to an inherently more robust wet clutch design, Geely is confident it is able to avoid these issues. Speaking to us during the event, senior chief engineer Tejinder Singh said that bathing the clutches in cooled oil gets rid of the temperature-related issues that beset dry clutch DCTs, and it also eradicates most of the low-speed hesitation and juddering encountered by consumers in the past.

Geely’s DCT also conforms to Volvo’s stricter durability requirements, designed for a service life of more than 350,000 km – significantly higher than the industry standard of 240,000 km. The company has also conducted numerous hot and cold weather and high-altitude tests in China, South Africa and Europe, racking up over nine million kilometres before putting the gearbox into production.

One important fact often overlooked by consumers is that DCTs require different fluids with unique properties compared to traditional automatic transmission fluids. Geely’s unit uses a proprietary low-viscosity formulation, which Tejinder said further improves reliability and smoothness.

It is, of course, way too early to properly assess maintenance costs vis-à-vis the previous automatic gearbox, but while Proton has yet to announce specific figures, it said that service intervals will be comparable, and in fact the fluid will be cheaper than the ATF used in the CBU X70.

We tested the Boyue Pro at the Chunxiao powertrain plant in Ningbo, which builds the DCT for every application, even the Volvo ones. The state-of-the-art facility, opened in 2017, currently churns out 50,000 of these gearboxes every month, but Geely expects to ramp up that figure to a whopping 200,000 units monthly. A second plant is being built in Changing, also in Zhejiang, to increase production still further.

At this juncture, I would like to point out that the “test drive” in question consisted of just a couple of runs up and down the arrow-straight and runway-flat piece of road behind the factory, so it could hardly be considered a challenging route – a more thorough test on local roads will be conducted very soon. This, then, is merely a brief taster of what’s to come, but hopefully an informative one all the same.

Something that consumers will need to understand before getting into the car is that because a dual-clutch transmission works in a fundamentally different way compared to a regular automatic, it also behaves differently. Engineers work very hard to replicate the behaviour of a torque converter, from its smoothness in operation to its quick response upon stepping off.

One of the biggest hurdles these engineers face is implementing a “creep” function – the ability of the car to simply roll forwards (or backwards, in reverse) without touching the accelerator. It’s something that comes naturally to a torque converter, but in a DCT this requires the slipping of one of the clutches, which of course causes wear. Balancing the requirements of customer satisfaction and reliability is therefore key.

Indeed, the first thing I noticed driving the car was that the “creep” was not quite as pronounced as it would have been with a conventional auto. This wasn’t exactly a bad thing, just something I had to get used to (as will owners). At least the gearbox responded quickly as soon as the brake pedal was released, and did not adversely affect our progress from a standstill (I’m looking at you, Mercedes-Benz A-Class).

And once we got rolling, the Boyue Pro picked up speed noticeably quicker than the CBU X70 ever could. Whereas the outgoing model felt a little lazy off the line, the new one accelerated with considerable vigour. This could have been down to the extra twist on hand, but I’d wager a guess and say that the DCT was actually more efficient in transmitting power to the ground.

Gearshifts were also seamless and instantaneous in automatic mode, and downshifts came swiftly whenever I floored the throttle. One minor niggle was that the paddle shifters weren’t quite as responsive as I’d have liked, often taking close to a second after clicking one of them for the shift to follow through. It really wasn’t that big of an issue, however, especially on a family-oriented SUV.

More worrying was the fact that some members of the media reported a slight but noticeable thump as the gearbox downshifted while coming to a stop, though it wasn’t something that I personally experienced. While it might alarm those stepping out from a smooth-shifting automatic, it could simply be a quirk of this particular DCT, and it certainly wouldn’t have been as pronounced as in, say, a tired VW dry clutch DSG.

We were also given the opportunity to try out the previous Mercedes GLA back-to-back with the Boyue Pro. This being fitted with a first-generation Daimler DCT, it inevitably felt outclassed, being slow to respond to throttle inputs and shifting sluggishly between gears. It was a perfect demonstration of how far dual-clutch technology has come, even though both feature wet clutch designs.

Despite the brevity of this encounter, one thing is clear – Geely’s venture into dual-clutch transmissions is a very competent one. This is a high-tech gearbox that belies the relative inexperience of the company, performing better than gearboxes from supposedly more established brands. It exhibits very few flaws but provides some excellent benefits, not least being the car’s newfound verve under acceleration.

Some questions remain, of course. We still don’t know how well the gearbox will fare in our weather, on our roads and amongst our cutthroat traffic, though we’ll find that out soon enough. And while Geely makes big claims about the DCT’s reliability, those of you who have been stung by past issues will understandably still be concerned. Like I said, only time will tell.

Until then, the introduction of this new DCT looks to bring some welcome improvements to an already compelling package. More than that, it proves that Geely isn’t going to restrict Proton from receiving its latest technologies, and for us customers, that can only be a good thing. With the smaller X50 SUV also due to arrive this year, it’s set to be a great 2020 for the once-beleaguered national brand.

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Car Reviews, Cars, Perodua

DRIVEN: 2020 Perodua Bezza 1.0G and 1.3AV Malaysian review


It may not be the most exciting thing to look at, but there’s no denying that Perodua’s first ever sedan model, the Bezza, has been a commercial success. Since its debut in 2016, over 185,000 units of the Bezza has been sold in Malaysia.

Hoping to continue that run, the automaker has given the Bezza a significant facelift for 2020, with an upgrade in specs, safety, comfort and even handling, so let’s see if this is still the entry-level sedan that you should all buy.

We’ll take a look at what’s good, what’s bad, what’s new, what’s old and, most importantly, how it compares against its primary rival, the Proton Saga. Also, which of the two engine variants you should go for if you’re shopping for one.

The Bezza facelift range starts from RM34.5k for the 1.0G manual and RM36.5k for the 1.0G Auto. These base models get a silver grille instead of chrome, no front foglamps and smaller 14-inch wheels from the Myvi 1.3. The good thing is they now get wing-mirror mounted signal indicators as standard, so out go the ugly bulbs on the front fenders. What’s not so good are these body-coloured B-pillars, which is a clear downgrade from the old cars and makes it look cheap.

The lack of extra safety features, beyond the standard two airbags and ABS, unfortunately hasn’t been addressed. There’s still no electronic stability control, which we’ve been stressing for years now as being a must-have in all modern cars.

In the Axia range, there’s the 1.0L Gxtra variant that adds on ESP for about RM1,500, so the question must be why ESP wasn’t added on – even at RM38,000, that would still make it cheaper than the only Proton Saga with ESP, the Premium at RM40,000.

Thankfully, ESP is now fitted to both 1.3 litre models as standard instead of just the AV like before, so that’s definitely good. Not so good news is the deletion of a 1.3 litre manual variant, which Perodua says had such a low demand it didn’t make sense to continue making it.

So what we have presently is the 1.3X for RM44k and the range-topping 1.3AV for RM50k. On top of the bigger engine, you also get back the chrome grille, foglamps, front corner sensors, brand new 15-inch wheels (which makes the 1.3 litre model sit 15 mm taller than before), keyless entry and blacked out B-pillars. Even more important is the inclusion of solar and security window tinting, which is not el cheapo film, but quality stuff.

The extra RM6k for the 1.3AV adds on a leather-wrapped steering wheel and seats, a touchscreen head unit with a reverse camera and the most significant update of all, in this case Perodua’s latest active safety suite, Advanced Safety Assist or ASA 2.0.

The system, which includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, can now warn you of objects ahead at up to 100 km/h, autonomously brake for you at up to 80 km/h, and even detect pedestrians at up to 50 km/h. It’s fantastic that it’s available on an entry level car like the Bezza.

It’s by far the cheapest sedan to have this feature, and in fact, plenty of much more expensive cars in Malaysia don’t have it. We’re talking about BMWs, MINIs, Audis, Jaguars, Land Rovers, even Porsches that cost more than 10 times this price, so, well done, Perodua. Credit where it’s due.

On the other hand, RM50k is still a lot of money for an entry-level car, no matter how you look at it. Its closest rival, the Proton Saga, only tops out at RM40k, and yes, I know, this has better fuel consumption. But you know how much fuel you can buy with RM10k? At today’s prices, over 4,800 litres. Assuming you refuel every week, that around three whole years worth of fuel.

Also, at RM50k, you can buy the bigger Proton Persona with a more powerful 1.6 litre engine. So yeah, for all intents and purposes, the Bezza is an affordable car, but let’s not call it cheap, shall we? Because it’s not.

What else is new on the 2020 facelift? Well, at the front, the old Bezza’s big and ugly reflector headlamps have been banished, replaced by slim LED units. These look a lot closer to the original Bezza Concept from 10 years ago, and to me it completely transforms the look of the Bezza. While the old one looked a bit too smiley and boring, this new one looks angry and sporty.

Remember, the latest Saga still runs reflector halogen lights, so this is technically 2/3 steps ahead in terms of technology. But having said that, this still doesn’t have LED DRLs, which the Saga now has, so yeah, tit for tat, I guess. It also gets new bumpers all around, which I think do look good, but perhaps a little bit too aggressive and too sporty for what is supposed to be a family car or a Grab vehicle, no?

Whatever the view, the front end makeover is much more successful than the rear half. The facelift slaps on a huge rear bumper in an attempt to hide the original Bezza’s infamous tonggek looks, and, I’m not quite sure if it has worked. To me it makes the rear look too bulky, too tall and too narrow. I still think the old car has a cleaner looking rear end.

The rear bumper adds on 20 mm to the overall length, but this does little to alter the Bezza’s awkward proportions. It’s just a weird looking sedan – in comparison, the Saga has a much more traditional sedan shape. There are two factors for this; one, this is Perodua’s first sedan design, and I guess it kind of shows. Number two, this car is based on the Axia hatchback, which is short and narrow, not an ideal starting point for a sedan.

Now, before you say that Perodua designers are just not very good, remember again we’ve seen plenty of weirdly shaped sedans that were based on hatchbacks, from all sorts of car brands. The Proton Persona first comes to mind, but let’s not forget the Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Nissan Almera, Peugeot 207, and so on.

It’s not all bad, of course, and I do like the new two-tone look for the rear garnish and side skirts, and the new Garnet Red colour for the 1.3L models does look pretty sweet.

Inside, the revisions are a lot less apparent. The biggest change is a new centre panel with silver trim, replacing the full gloss black piece from before. In a way, it looks a little bit less classy, but it does add some layering to the overall design, and the side vents now look less tacky without the big contrast rings. Plus, it’s a lot less reflective now and it won’t collect as much dust, fingerprint or scratches as before.

The good news is that Perodua has made this standard across the range, so even if you buy the base model, your dashboard won’t look so cheap. In the old Bezza, the basic all-grey dash was nasty.

Another thing that has been updated is the instrument cluster, which now have more intricate, white crystal rings. It’s a pity that the fancy orange rings around the meters have been omitted – I thought they were cool, though some people found them to be distracting. The car also gets a new gear-lever design taken from the latest Myvi, which has a soft plastic padding at the top and less sharp edges than the old one.

The range, with the exception of the AV, comes with a standard head unit, and this looks and works just fine. Like before, Bluetooth is fitted on all models, unlike on the Axia, which is great. The touchscreen head unit for the AV variant is new, and now has less buttons around the sides, the same as the latest Axia.

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the unit, because the interface doesn’t look very good, the touchscreen itself is not that responsive, there are no physical volume buttons, the reverse camera feed is blurry, and the language is a bit off. But the screen is not as distracting and reflective like on the Saga, so there’s that.

The rest of the cabin is pretty much the same as before, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s still a spacious interior that’s put together rather decently. Fit and finish is all ok, considering this is an entry-level car. There are no misaligned panels, no sharp edges, the knobs work cleanly enough, and I’m sure we’ve all been in enough Bezza Grab cars to notice that it all holds up pretty well over the years.

One major complaint people have voiced out about the Bezza has been the lack of steering adjustment, but that didn’t surface as a problem for me – the steering position is comfortable enough, and I can see the meters perfectly fine. Comparatively, the Saga may have an adjustable steering, but even at its highest position it’s still too low for my liking, and it blocks my view of the meters a little bit. Personally, I rather have the fixed steering here rather than an adjustable one with a worse driving position, like in the Saga.

The front seats are a little on the small side, but the semi-bucket units on the 1.3 litre models are far more supportive and comfortable than the flat seats in the 1.0G models. Neatly, the automaker has addressed a big complaint about the rear seats being too upright and being uncomfortable for long journeys, and has adjusted the angle of the backrest from 23 to 27 degrees. This doesn’t sound like much, but the effect is actually quite remarkable, making for a big improvement.

This has been done by moving the seat base forward a tiny bit, allowing the back rest to be angled more. The good news is that the change has minimal effect on rear legroom – Perodua says the facelift has just 20 mm less rear legroom compared to before.

So the Bezza still has a super spacious rear cabin for the class, miles better than the Saga in terms of outright space. Headroom is alright, legroom is fantastic for a car this small on the outside. Having said that, I still think the Saga has more comfortable rear seats. The cushion just feels nicer than this Bezza, and is better shaped as well.

Elsewhere, you’ll find two sets of Isofix mounts as well as the standard teh tarik hooks and anti-snatch handbag hook. One thing I wish this car would have though is the Myvi’s SmartTag toll reader. Now that, I think, would have been a great addition.

Next, the Bezza’s party piece, which is its humongous boot. At 508 litres, it’s over 20% bigger than what the Saga offers, and it’s more than big enough for your family balik kampung trips. There’s even a hidden underfloor storage to keep smaller items, plus a full-sized spare tyre.

That’s all on the standard car. If you want, you can dress it up with optional GearUp accessories. The catalogue of optional parts is comprehensive, and includes stuff like a complete bodykit package that looks super aggressive to items such as leather seat covers, a centre armrest, LED scuff plates and floor lighting, among other things. If you were to get everything on it, you’d add on more than RM5,000 to your sticker price, so there’s every reason to choose wisely.

What you absolutely should not do, however, is buy the base model and add on thousands and thousands worth of options. Remember, you can always add on a bodykit and accessories later on, but you can’t retrofit safety features. You can’t drive up to an accessories shop and order ESP, or ASA. So always buy the best version you can afford, before you even look at accessories.

The review starts off with the 1.0L version of the sedan. The three-cylinder, 1.0 litre engine with VVT-i, the same one used in the Axia, makes 67 hp and 91 Nm or torque, all sent to the front wheels pulling just under 900 kg of weight.

Despite its low output, the performance is decent. It doesn’t feel as slow or underpowered as you may think, and on the highways the Bezza can quite comfortably accelerate to beyond the national speed limit without breaking a sweat. I mean it’s not fast by any means, but as a city car it’s more than adequate. Even going uphill, it pulls strongly enough. It’s just not underpowered, full stop.

Strictly speaking, purely on performance, the 1.0L is enough, and you don’t necessarily need the 1.3L. But, you’d definitely want the bigger engine, not so much for more power, but to avoid the loud, rough and rattly three-cylinder engine. With the 1.0 litre, as soon as you put this car into gear, you start to feel the vibrations of the engine coming through the car, from the pedals, the steering and the seats.

There’s nothing wrong with mill – this is something to be expected from a three-pot engine, because by having just three cylinders, the engine is inherently unbalanced, and so it’s going to vibrate. It’s simple physics, and in the case of the engine, it is what it is.

The only reason you’d want this engine is for its fuel economy. Perodua says it can do over 20 km per litre, but in the real world you’re likely to see around 15 to 17 km per litre, depending on your driving style. The Bezza 1.3 will give you a little bit less, around 14-15 km per litre, while the Proton Saga is a little thirstier still, at around 12-13 km per litre.

I think if you’re really limited to this price range, around RM35k, you’re better off getting the Saga. Even if you’re okay with the vibration, then I’d recommend you to get the Axia Gxtra, for the same price you get ESP as standard. Or, how about saving up a bit more until you can afford the Bezza 1.3, because that is a much, much better car.

The Bezza 1.3 gets a proper four-cylinder engine with Dual VVT-i, making 94 hp and 121 Nm of torque. The 30 extra hp and Nm isn’t all that apparent, to be honest, because it’s just a little bit faster, but you’ll appreciate the extra refinement. The engine now revs smoother, sounds quieter, and there’s barely any vibrations to be felt. It’s a night and day difference, trust me.

The transmission here is a simple 4-speed automatic, which Perodua has been using for what seems like forever now. The gearshifts aren’t the smoothest around, and you definitely feel the shift shock even when you’re just accelerating gently.

I think the Saga’s new 4AT feels smoother and more refined than this, but having said that, this gearbox isn’t that bad. It’s smart enough and reacts quickly enough to your inputs, like dropping a gear or two for an overtake, and it’s definitely more responsive than Proton’s older CVTs.

I’d say it’s competent enough for most people. I say most, because there will always be a few people complaining that there isn’t a Sport mode for a more engaging drive, and well, if that’s what you’re after, I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree, buddy. This is not the car you’re looking for.

This is because as much as Perodua has tried to improve the dynamics of the Bezza by tweaking the suspension, it’s still well short of the Proton Saga. The steering still feels too light, too twitchy at times, especially on highways. There’s a constant need to correct the steering angle, even on a straight road, because of the floaty feel of the drive.

Worse still is when there’s a faster car or, God forbid, a big truck passing you, because the steering pulls the car towards them due to the wind and pressure. In time, you’ll learn to hold the steering a little bit tighter to avoid drifting off line. Over a long drive, that can get tiring really quickly though.

Stability has been improved slightly compared to the old car, so you’ll feel more confident behind the wheel, more assured that this car will stick to the road. Drive this and the old car back to back and you’ll find that there’s quite a significant difference in terms of highway stability. It’s not quite there yet, but at least Perodua is heading in the right direction.

As for handling, the Bezza is very dependable. The steering is actually better through corners than it is on the straights, because it does load nicely when you turn in. There’s enough heft and feel through the corners to give you back some of that confidence you’ve lost on the straights. It also helps that ESP is standard on both the 1.3 models.

The change to bigger wheels and lower profile tyres have also played a role in the improvements – the car definitely feels more planted now than before. The 15-inch wheels do have an impact on the car’s turning circle – it’s now a little bit wider compared to the Bezza 1.0 and its 14-inch wheels. The difference isn’t that big though, because the 1.3 is still very easily manoeuvrable through tight spots.

Where the Bezza has a clear edge over the Saga is in its braking feel. The brake pedal is more linear, so it’s easy to modulate, whereas in the Saga you have to go through a long way of dead travel before the brakes actually engage.

Lastly, ride comfort and refinement. Here, the Bezza is just about average. The ride is decent enough, avoiding the nasty brittle and underdamped ride characteristics usually associated with cheap cars. The damping is pretty good at absorbing small bumps, although the car’s relatively short wheelbase and narrow tracks mean that it doesn’t handle bigger bumps all that well.

As for refinement, the Bezza isn’t all that quiet, with engine noise, tyre roar and wind noise being quite evident, and it gets worse in the rain, as you can hear the water splashes from the tyres. In both ride and refinement, it’s the Saga again that has the upper hand.

Actually, even within Perodua’s own range, the Myvi feels significantly more modern and sophisticated compared to the Bezza. I think the Myvi has made such a big leap forward in terms of ride and handling that it has opened quite a big gap between it and the Bezza.

Everything considered, it’s clear that for this facelift, Perodua has put more focus on things that existing customers have complained about, like the car’s looks and the rear seat. I guess not many of them had issues with the handling, which again, isn’t really that surprising.

After all, I think it’s safe to assume that Bezza customers are mostly regular commuters and, more recently, Grab drivers, and not driving enthusiasts. Look at it that way, and I think Perodua made the right choices here.

Overall, the 2020 Perodua Bezza is a mixed bag. Its showroom appeal is fantastic, I’ll give it that, and the upgrades for this facelift bring about tangible improvements in looks, safety and even handling. But ultimately, the car remains very much a compromised experience from a driving perspective, with a few flaws left unfixed.

It’s far from perfect, but then again, no car is. Actually, to make a perfect car in this segment, you’d want a combination of the Bezza’s sporty looks, practical interior, fuel economy and safety, allied to the Saga’s price, more balanced proportions, ride and handling and refinement. There’s no such car, obviously.

So choosing between the Perodua Bezza and the Proton Saga depends very much on your priorities and preferences. If you just want a car to get you from point A to point B, of if you want to use it for Grab, I’d fully recommend the Bezza – the 1.3 that is, not the 1.0.

However, if your budget is a little bit tighter and you’re a little bit more particular about how your car should feel dynamically, then perhaps you should give the Saga a look first. Or, if you don’t really need a boot, perhaps a Myvi?

GALLERY: 2020 Perodua Bezza 1.0G facelift

GALLERY: 2020 Perodua Bezza 1.3AV facelift

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Car Reviews, Cars, Toyota, Video Reviews, Videos

FIRST DRIVE: 2020 A90 Toyota GR Supra Malaysian review – RM568,000

We finally get to grips with the A90 Toyota GR Supra, the car that has made for plenty of discussion among staffers at paultan.org, with no shortage of opinion about it. As is already known, the Supra and the G29 BMW Z4 were developed as part of a sports car collaboration involving both companies, and although the fundamentals of both vehicles are common, each supposedly has its own identity, in line with the different philosophies of each parent.

That’s the intent, of course, but the question begs, is it a BMW dressed as a Toyota, or has the Japanese automaker done enough to give the car its own character? No better way than to find out by driving it, which is what Jonathan Lee did. Watch the video to find out what the call on this one is.

The fifth-gen Supra made its Malaysian debut in September, and is available only in a single variant form for our market, a 3.0 litre GTS. The mill is the same BMW unit as seen on the G29 Z4 in its M40i guise, the B58B30 turbocharged straight-six developing 340 PS (335 hp) from 5,000 to 6,500 rpm and 500 Nm of torque from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm on the Supra. Paired with an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, the Supra does the 0-100 km/h run in 4.3 seconds and gets to an electronically-limited 250 km/h top speed.

Standard fit items include an Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), Brembo brakes, an electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential and 19-inch five twin-spoke two-tone wheels shod with 255/35 front and 275/35 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.

Kit includes black leather upholstery, carbon-fibre trim, eight-way powered seats with driver’s side memory, a dual-zone climate control system and a Toyota Supra Connect infotainment system with an 8.8-inch touchscreen, iDrive-style controller and a 12-speaker JBL sound system.

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Car Reviews, Cars, Mazda, Video Reviews, Videos

FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Mazda CX-8 CKD – from RM180k


The locally-assembled Mazda CX-8 was just recently launched in Malaysia, and it’s available in four flavours. Kicking off the range is the 2.5G 2WD Mid (RM180k), followed by the 2.5G 2WD Mid Plus (RM186k), 2.5G 2WD High (RM201k), and 2.2D 4WD High (RM218k).

Included in the price list are add-ons such as window tinting (RM2,000), illuminated sill plates (RM400), optional leather seat upholstery for the Mid and Mid Plus variants (RM4,500), as well as a RM3,000 option for premium metallic colours such as Soul Red Crystal, Machine Grey, and Snowflake Pearl White. Also standard is a five-year or 100,000 km manufacturer’s warranty with five-years free maintenance.

Just two powertrain options are available, starting with the 2.5 litre SkyActiv-G petrol engine whici makes 192 hp at 6,000 rpm and 258 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. The top variant gets a 2.2 litre SkyActiv-D turbo, making 188 hp at 4,500 rpm and 450 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm. Petrol-powered models are strictly front-wheel drive, whereas the diesel is only available with all-wheel drive. A six-speed SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission is standard across the line-up.

For equipment, all variants get auto-levelling LED headlights with LED daytime running lights (only the base model gets bulb-type DRLs), LED tail lights, keyless entry, powered tailgate, and 19-inch alloys wrapped with 225/55 profile tyres.

The cabin gets a seven-inch Mazda Connect infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, three-zone automatic climate control with rear air vents, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and electronic parking brake. Only the most expensive pair benefits from a 360-degree surround view camera and windshield-projected colour heads-up display.

Safety-wise, there’s the usual three-lettered acronyms, six airbags, and Mazda’s i-ActivSense (level of features depend on variant). Items such as Mazda Radar Cruise Control (MRCC, active cruise control) remain unavailable, though it’s worth noting that the CX-8 was awarded five stars in the ANCAP crash safety test. So, watch the video, and let us know what you think!

GALLERY: 2019 Mazda CX-8 CKD at the Inokom plant in Kulim

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Car Reviews, Cars, Lexus, Video Reviews, Videos

FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Lexus ES 250 Luxury – RM333k

In comes the Lexus ES. The Japanese luxury automaker spared no expense when it comes to building the seventh-generation sedan, and it shows in nearly every aspect, from design to build quality, material selection and driving experience.

Just two variants of the ES 250 are available, starting with Premium at RM299,888 and the Luxury, which is the unit we sampled, at RM332,888. Both models are fully imported from Japan and come with five-years unlimited mileage warranty. There are seven exterior colours to choose from, and two interior colour schemes to boot.

In terms of powertrain, the ES is only available with the latest 2.5 litre Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine, making 204 hp at 6,600 rpm and 247 Nm of torque at 5,000 rpm. The direct-injection A25A-FKS petrol unit is paired to an eight-speed Direct Shift conventional automatic transmission, which directs power to the front wheels. The 0-100 km/h is done in 9.1 seconds and top speed is 210 km/h.

For the ES 250 Luxury, the equipment list includes distinctive LED headlights with Adaptive High Beam System and sequential turn signals, 18-inch wheels finished in Hyper Chrome Metallic Coating, 10-way powered front seat with memory function, powered reclining rear seats, three-zone climate control, head-up display, a 12.3-inch centre screen with navigation, and more. Interested? Well, find out what our man Hafriz Shah thinks of it in the video above.

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Car Reviews, Cars, Volvo

DRIVEN: 2019 Volvo S60 – it’s very Swede, very sweet


What’s with us guys and sedans? The SUV is clearly a more efficient bodystyle with minimum wasted space within a given footprint. Essentially engorged hatchbacks, the sport utility vehicle is inherently more practical (big hatch opening versus a small boot aperture, square loading bay with lots of height) and is surely the best machine for daily urban warfare, thanks to extra ground clearance and a high perch, from which you can command and conquer, or simply avoid.

It’s a hit with the ladies and families across the world, and it’s something that Volvo knows well. The original XC90 felt like it had been around forever when it was finally replaced in 2014 – a 12-year run is rare, and its longevity was a testament to the car’s ease of use and practicality.

The slick sequel ushered in a new era of design for Volvo, and those good looks are now standard across the family. Momentum was already there when the second-gen XC60 came onboard in 2017, followed by the all-new XC40, which completed an SUV range so strong and desirable. It is the XC family that has propelled Volvo to year after year of sales records.

The SUV may be the hottest thing in town, but the sedan is far from finished. Now I don’t have stats to back this up, but it seems like when it comes to choosing vehicles for themselves (as opposed to picking family transport), men are by and large very much loyal to sedans. The coupe fan and hatchback diehard are outliers.

In the premium segment, sedans are still the bread and butter. The younger bloke likes a good sporty sedan, the more matured businessman a plush executive saloon. And while Alphards have disrupted the status quo slightly in our part of the world, is there a better way to arrive than in a big shiny limo? Look around you.

It’s likely that the paragraph above led to flashing images German premium sedans. The upwardly mobile young man – BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class; the businessman – E-Class; limo – S-Class, Bentley, Rolls-Royce (both British luxury brands are of course owned by Germans). That’s the reason why Volvo has found the premium sedan segment hard to crack. The S80/S90 has had three tries now, and the car you see here is the S60’s third roll of the dice.

Third time lucky? The competition is so stiff here and the stalwarts so entrenched, it will take more than luck to stand any chance. Thankfully, the Volvo S60 looks like a million and one bucks, and we all know that buying a car is far from just an exercise of the brain, especially at aspirational levels. No one’s looking for a pure tool.

To me, the S60 is the best-looking car in the compact premium exec class; perhaps Volvo has hit top form at exactly the same time that some of its German rivals are trying too hard stylistically. Brutish yet elegant, macho yet sensual – the S60 carries over much that’s good from Volvo’s current design template, but with a twist.

That twist could well be in the centre of the car, like a Coke bottle. While broad-shouldered and handsome like the S90, the S60’s body is more chiselled and contoured, with more definition and curvier panels. It’s a stronger look, but organic at the same time.

While the S90’s profile features a straight character line from front to back, this car’s shoulders are most apparent at the rear, thanks to a sharp crease that surfaces from the rear doors backwards.

At 4,761 mm, the S60 is some 202 mm shorter than the S90, but the smaller car is just 29 mm less wide (at 1,850 mm), which gives it more athletic proportions. That, plus the more muscular body, leaves the observer in no doubt which is the sports sedan. In comparison, the S90 looks like the more formal and “proper” sibling, which is appropriate.

The most obvious design difference between 90 and 60 sedans is at the rear. I’ve always thought of the blank space between the S90’s tail lamps as awkward; Volvo remedied that by moving the number plate slot up to its natural position. The signature Volvo logotype has been bumped up in a knock-on effect. The result is a more conventional looking bum, but one that’s still very distinctive thanks to those “E 3” LED tail lamp signatures.

Lastly, the front end, which at first glance appears identical to the S90, or any other modern Volvo for that matter. Look closer however, and you’ll find that the S60’s “Thor’s Hammer” LED daytime running lights protrude from the headlamp housing, which itself is slimmer. R-Design vs R-Design, the S60’s gloss black lower bumper elements are joined together by a slim lip – there’s no such bridge on the S90.

I think it’s cool that Volvo managed to achieve a sporty vibe (mildly aggressive even) for the S60 by keeping it clean and simple, and without resorting to exaggerating elements or adding unnecessary ones for machismo (by this scale, the 3 Series M Sport and C-Class AMG Line are rather juvenile).

To exclaim “Scandi” would be too easy, but they’ve never been heavy-handed, the Swedes. Even in R-Design form, the S60 is far from over-designed, but the look is unmistakably Volvo. I was tailing a gorgeous Alfa Romeo 159 the other day and observed the same – clean design, strong identity.

There’s much less differentiation inside compared to the S90, with only the silver “wings” that spread the width of the dashboard looking more elaborate here (cupping the side AC vents) and the centre console looking less adorned (S90 has a leather boundary).

The typical modern Volvo layout – high cliff dash, big portrait touchscreen – is repeated here. It can be quite a challenge to change things on the move, but at least the target area is large. Better for looks than user-friendliness, but with the amount of functions on modern cars, it’s either this or plane cockpit’s worth of buttons. Or BMW’s iDrive, which is still the best.

I’m a fan of light-coloured cabins, and we know that Volvo does it quite well, but the S60’s sporting brief means that we’ve only seen it in the R-Design regulation black. It never gets too dull though, thanks to judiciously applied silver, chrome and piano black trim.

The dashtop is covered in leather, while the knobs (engine start, drive mode) have an interesting knurled finish that reminds me of the motifs on whisky glasses – they act as jewellery for the cockpit.

Speaking of sparkly stuff, the top T8 Polestar Engineered adds on the Orrefors crystal gear knob that owners of range-topping Volvos are familiar with. That and the yellow seatbelts are the only differences between the cabins of the T8 PE and T6 AWD. Overall, it’s a modern and suave workspace for the driver. Very comfortable too, as you’d expect from Volvo seats.

As a static object, the S60 is a fantastic proposition then, but some might feel a sense of deja vu. Did you think of the outgoing S60 as a looker with plenty of pace, deserving of a spot on the grid with the favourites? Not me. I was moved by the S60 of the “ReVolvolution” era.

Retrieved from deep in the memory as I arrived in California for the drive of the new S60 was the original, specifically a black T5 with multi-spoke rims. I’m no brand fan, but that car – the second Volvo that wasn’t a box, after the first S80 – created a lasting impression on my teenage self (as the B5 Audi A4 did). Like Jennifer Love Hewitt, it was gorgeous.

It was fast too, with 250 turbocharged horses in an era where the Germans were still pushing big NA engines. Billed as sporty because that’s what the “3 Series segment” is about, the first S60 never had the driver appeal to match its looks and on-paper potential.

The second-gen S60, which first surfaced a decade ago, carried the same torch for the brand, and was hailed as the most sporting car Volvo has ever made. Dynamically, the Mk2 was a big improvement, and it was no chore to drive.

“The S60 feels refreshing and miles better to drive than its predecessor and big brother S80… Very surefooted and stable, not overtly sporty in nature but good to drive fast and without any vices… Good enough for most people most of the time, but there are better entertainers in the class,” this writer noted in 2011.

Fast forward to 2019. We’re in Malibu instead of Melaka, but the message is the same – the new S60 is the one of the most exciting cars Volvo has ever made, said CEO Hakan Samuelsson, who calls it a true driver’s car. That proclamation, plus the beauty of the S60 means that I set off into the hills really wanting to like this car. As a neutral, I’m rooting for the S60 to succeed.

We start with the T8 Polestar Engineered, which looks like a car Darth Vader himself would drive. Darker than the night, your eyes are immediately drawn to the fancy 20-inch alloys and gold-painted six-piston Brembo calipers, which grab 371 mm slotted discs. Under the hood, there’s more big-name gear in the shape of Ohlins dual flow valve dampers with 22 clicks of adjustment, attached to a strut bar.

Powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged and supercharged four-pot (318 hp/430 Nm) mated to a rear-mounted electric motor with 88 hp/240 Nm (11.6 kWh lithium-ion battery in the floorpan), total system output reaches up to 405 hp and 670 Nm. Volvo quotes 0-100 km/h in 4.4 seconds. Is this a rival to the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63?

No. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes behind the wheel for one to realise that the top S60 isn’t that kind of beast. It’s nowhere as brutal as those super saloons in acceleration, which might come as a surprise if your expectations had been inflated by the branded hardware and 400+hp rating. Perhaps it’s the over two-tonne weight, plus the fact that plug-in hybrids rarely perform to the level their total system output suggests.

There’s no attempt to fool you with sound and drama either; the “Twin Engine” powertrain is reserved compared to the testosterone-fuelled motors from M and AMG, and gimmicks such as sport exhaust flaps are beneath Volvo.

So, it’s no hammer, but the T8 Polestar Engineered is a stealthy and swift saloon that’s a pleasure to gobble up miles in. You pull away in PHEV-style electric silence (up to 51 km WLTP electric range) and there’s satisfaction to be had rolling around town without consuming petrol or emitting gases. In the default Hybrid mode, the ICE comes in and goes unobtrusively, which is not always a given.

In town and on the freeway, the S60 exhibits good refinement and a solid ride quality that’s less wafty than the usual Volvo fare. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the Scalable Product Architecture chassis (SPA, as used by the XC60 and 90 series) or the Ohlins suspension doing its magic, but the T8 PE excels in both comfort (despite the big wheels) and control (this is not a light car) as you push on. It’s most probably the trick dampers.

If there’s one thing I didn’t quite like, it’s the brakes. No complaints with the absolute power of the Brembos, but it’s the blending between the system braking upon initial input, and the part where the mighty stoppers bite. It isn’t very progressive, can be rather abrupt, and definitely needs getting used to.

No such issues in the T6 AWD R-Design, which is the highest variant you can get without an electric motor. The same modular 2.0L Drive-E is employed with a turbocharger and supercharger (lesser models are turbo-only) for 310 hp and 400 Nm of torque. Paired to an eight-speed Aisin conventional automatic, 0-100 km/h takes 5.5 seconds.

The T6 shares much that’s good about the T8 PE, but has its own character, and I enjoyed it more than the faster car. Besides feeling more agile and light on its feet, the engine had perkier response and there’s a nicer soundtrack to boot, which really came as a surprise. The steering is quick and direct enough, but there a synthetic feel to it that’s not unexpected.

As good as the Ohlins suspension is on the T8, it doesn’t make or break the S60, which in T6 form is firmer than you’d expect a Volvo to be. Over coarse tarmac, the ride can get a little knobby, and you’ll feel the road surface, but it doesn’t cross the line from feedback to annoyance. We didn’t encounter any big ruts or potholes, and it remains to be seen how the ride will fare on Malaysian roads with the 19-inch wheels, which look visually perfect on the S60.

We’re not sure which variant Volvo Car Malaysia will launch initially as a CBU import from the the USA. Coming from Charleston, South Carolina, the S60 is the first Volvo to be made in America. CKD local assembly and T5/T6 variants should happen down the line as Malaysia is the brand’s regional manufacturing hub.

So where does the new S60 stand in the grand scheme of things? Has anything changed after all these years? I feel that the Volvo is more desirable than ever, and it should be in any shopping list which has BMW or Mercedes-Benz in it – anything that looks so good should.

Let’s face it, BMW has always been the dynamic benchmark and still is with the latest 3 Series. When you’re really in the mood for a backroad blast, the car from Munich gives good vibes. That said, the S60 is fast and athletic enough to be a pleasant steer – not too comfort oriented like the S90 – while being a great cruiser.

In a sense, it’s a similar verdict to the one from eight years ago, but the S60 scores high elsewhere to make it a better proposition than it ever was. My guess is that very few buy a premium compact exec to bomb around and drive above seven tenths most of the time, and to judge it purely on driving would be to miss the point – comfort, design and individuality matters too, and the Volvo is a strong all rounder.

It’s funny that the good old sedan, for so long the default, is now a selfish purchase that the other half might try steer you away from. In a sea of SUVs, you’ll buy the S60 for how it looks, and I applaud you. It’s very Swede, and very sweet.

The third-generation Volvo S60 will be launched in Malaysia this week. Stay tuned for local variants and specifications



GALLERY: Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design

GALLERY: Volvo S60 T8 Twin Engine Polestar Engineered

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