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Proton X90 Endurance Challenge Experience

Proton lay down the Gauntlet. We Won.

TopGear Reporter
June 11, 2024
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Conquering Proton’s X90 Endurance Challenge, against all odds.

Words: Jordan Schmidt

How do you end up behind the wheel of a Proton X90 at 100km/h on the highway, headed for St. Lucia, with a perfect stranger sitting next to you, eyes entirely fixated on your fuel consumption? Well, it began after receiving a notification on our social media feed with a challenge from Proton South Africa to see if we could get to a little coastal town some 850 kilometres away in its large X90. 

The first day began on a crisp morning, when we were introduced to our cars and companions for this trip. My companion was a big guy named Desmond, who won the opportunity to tag along with us on this trip via a competition on TopGear SA’s social media. I’m a big guy but Desmond is bigger. His arms are the size of Ntsako's thighs. Almost. Following the banter before the official send-off, we brimmed the tanks, taped them off, and hit the road. Confidence was high in the grey Proton X90 as Desmond, still a stranger, and I began to slowly chip away at the kilometres. It was at Harrismith, some 285-kilometres that my bold and unsupported statement claiming we would only make it to Pietermaritzburg became far from the truth, as more than half of our fuel still remained.

It was a welcome surprise to discover that our range exceeded Ntsako by 60 kilometres. The remaining drive on the first day consisted of reckless truck drivers in the dark as we crept into Durban. This is where my biggest slip-up of the trip occurred. I let the team—yes, the TGSA team, which cares little about efficient driving most of the time—take my fully loaded car to dinner. Naturally, that killed the painstaking lead I had built. Though the dinner destination was some 7-kms away, the roundtrip sapped my range by, you guessed it, 60-kilometres. 

The following morning, I discovered that we were now behind Ntsako on our range, but despite this, and with some 240 kilometres to get to St. Lucia with just under half a tank, confidence was still with us. But what we didn’t anticipate was the endless rolling hills as we made our way north on the N2. This put a damper on our excitement as our consumption increased from a frugal 5.7 litres/100km to 6.1 litres/100km.

With 20 kilometres to go to St. Lucia, our fuel reserve light lit up, but amazingly, we still had more than 120 kilometres of indicated range. So, with big smiles on our faces, we successfully met Proton's challenge and arrived in St. Lucia with petrol to spare. But Ntsako quickly confirmed his suspicions; he did have more fuel upon arrival, and supposedly the challenge wasn’t over yet. Avon pulled us aside to inform us that we now had to push on and see how long we could actually go on our remaining fuel. The new target was to hit 1,000 kilometres. The self-assurance began to fade.

Day 3’s surprise began with nervous excitement in the air. With a full jerry can in the boot of the support vehicle and less range than my rival, we hit the road, tucking behind every truck we could find in unairconditioned silence. Before long, the range indicator hit 0.

We were looking strong as the kilometres ticked over, but then disaster struck. There were roadworks about 70 kilometres beyond the zero mark and one kilometre from the 1,000-kilometre mark. The next kilometre was agonising as we waited for the trip computer to hit that sweet four-digit number.

To everybody's surprise, we crossed the 1000-kilometre threshold, celebrating with cheers from the entire team. However, our joy was short-lived as the X90 came to a heaving halt at 1,002.2 kilometres, and the seal on our tank was broken. Ntsako passed, laughing away without a care in the world of our troubles. 

To say we were impressed with our X90, considering its size and seven seats, would be an understatement. As we wrapped up the challenge, it exceeded even Proton's expectations and left a lasting sense of accomplishment, as several factors indicated that not even St. Lucia would've been a feasible outcome for this challenge. I can't help but wonder what our next assignment could be. 

The seal was eventually broken and the jerry can made its first appearance some 1002.2kms from home.

Words: Ntsako Mthethwa

1,000+ kilometres, one tank; an impossible ask. 

“Boys, we have been challenged; have you seen the post?” asks Avon, his eyes twinkling with mischief. I immediately responded with a resounding "no" as I turned to look at Jordan, who also looked as confused as a soccer fan at a car meet. 

Knowing our reputation at TopGear SA for pulling off the impossible (and occasionally the ridiculous), I knew instantly that Avon was up to something. “Hey TopGear, are you ready to rev up the excitement? We dare you to take the Proton X90 hybrid for an unforgettable ride. Can you tame the power of our beast and conquer the road with a single tank of fuel? Show us what you’ve got," he continued. 

This was a challenge from Proton South Africa to take two of its X90 7-seater SUVs on an expedition. The mission? Drive from their dealership in Midrand down to St. Lucia, with a stopover in Durban. The catch? Do it all on a single tank of fuel. No pressure, right?

Hmmm, quite ambitious, I pondered. Why? I tested the car a few months ago, and it had a thirstier attitude than an elephant at a watering hole. There was no way we were going to travel over 800-kilometres on a single tank. Never. Maybe, just maybe, we'd make it to Durban, but any further and we'd be pushing the car beyond its limits.

On the other hand, my esteemed colleague, Jordan, was less optimistic. He took one look at the challenge and estimated we’d only make it to Pietermaritzburg, which is about 80-kilometres from Durban. Like all the challenges thrown at me, this one was worth taking on. I wasn’t doing it alone, but with one lucky TGSA reader, Thabo Sifumba, also a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead who joined us as a winner of one of our social media competitions. 

Arriving at the Proton dealership in Midrand, the starting line of our endurance challenge, Jordan, myself, and the Proton staff huddled together, sharing knowledge on how to drive like someone on a petrol budget. The advice ranged from ditching the air conditioning, sealing the windows, maintaining the pace of a snail, turning off the Auto Start/Stop setting, and clearing car weight like it’s a pre-summer diet.

I was having absolutely none of that. Driving to Durban without air conditioning is like having a burger without the patty. It's just not right. And closing the windows? You might as well ask me to hold my breath the whole way. As for maintaining a steady pace, I wasn’t about to imitate a tortoise on a highway. And as for losing weight, well, let's just say I didn't sign up for the Car Edition of the Biggest Loser.

Sure, Sifumba and I were okay with giving the temperature control a break and driving slowly, but the rest? We decided to do the opposite. We cranked up the tunes, packed some extra luggage (yes, we were prepared for the unknown), and hit the road with confidence. Driving slowly and shedding weight? No, we were all about settling into a steady cruise.

Surprisingly, with the right economy mindset, the X90 showcased itself as an efficient 7-seater road cruiser thanks to the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that works in tandem with a 48-volt electric motor for better efficiency by letting the car coast with the engine completely shut off until it detects an incline or an acceleration input.

About nine hours later, we made it to Durban with almost half a tank left and an average consumption that consistently hovered around the 5.8l/100km mark, with the best figure registered being 4.7l/100km. Well, that’s mighty impressive. We did an activation at the Berea Proton dealership in Durban before travelling to St. Lucia. It was only when we left the dealership in Durban that my partner and I realised how hairy the situation was getting, yet we made it to St. Lucia. But that was not the end. I had in inkling that Avon would come up with something else and sure as heck, he set a new challenge for us, turning our planned 2-day trip into a 3-day journey. The challenge now? Go as far as possible and see if we could break the 1000-km barrier. 

St. Lucia is home to the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, a world heritage site famous for its diversity and eco-system of incredible wildlife. A bucketlist place to visit if you haven't.

It was, ultimately, a test of endurance so we journeyed on, and surpassed even Proton’s expectations when we hit 1,000 kays and continued on until, at the 1,042-kilometre point, it happened. The moment we had been simultaneously dreading and eagerly anticipating—we got stuck, grinding to a halt quite a few more kilometres ahead of Jordan and Desmond. Success.

In a nutshell, the Proton X90 excels as a 7-seater cruiser, and our participation in this Endurance Challenge allowed us to truly appreciate its excellent blend of comfort, performance, and efficiency. This outstanding package sets a formidable standard in its category, rendering the Proton X90 a compelling option for discerning motorists who value quality, efficiency, and comfort. 

As we sat there, waiting for help to arrive, I couldn't help but smile. On the journey we had undertaken, we proved the X90's capability, doing it our way, air conditioning on, tunes blasting, and with a generous helping of the camaraderie that often turns a journey into an outright adventure. That is the efficiency of the X90 with the right driving mindset, and ultimately the true essence of the TGSA spirit.

The duo of Proton X90 Hybrid's arrive in St. Lucia. Notice the smiles...873kms on one tank was already amazing.

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