By now, I hope you’ve read our review of the new Proton S70 sedan – if you haven’t, you can do so here – and it’s safe to say the car has earned Gerard’s seal of approval. But there’s a lingering question as the national carmaker continues to lean on its C-segment-sedan-at-B-segment-prices messaging, and that’s the use of a relatively rudimentary torsion beam for its rear suspension.
You see, the line between the B- and C-segments is pretty blur as it stands, particular as cars in the former camp grow in both size and sophistication. The key delineation has always been the rear suspension, with the larger car tending to make use of an independent multilink setup – most notably the local sales leaders, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
So why doesn’t the so-called “C-segment” S70 have it? According to product specialist Gary Lee at the S70 media drive Q&A session, the answer is as always down to cost. “If the base car [uses a] torsion beam, and we change it due to a market request, is there any additional volume or price premium we can get, because we have to invest some money to change the body? Sad to say, this is always the question,” he said.
The former R3 man was quick to praise the company’s prowess in ride and handling tuning – this, and not the basic suspension layout, is what he believes will make the difference in the way the S70 drives. “From the parameters provided by the base car, it did meet our requirements and we didn’t see any need to [change the suspension].”
Lee also points to the Mazda 3 as another exception in the C-segment that uses torsion beam rear suspension (not to mention base models of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which is in a different price bracket entirely). Many will draw parallels to the X90 SUV that uses a multilink setup not found in China, but Lee said that car’s higher D-segment positioning made the switch necessary.
The S70’s pricing – which starts at under RM75,000 and does not exceed the crucial RM100,000 mark – makes it an entirely different proposition for customers, and Lee said buyers in this price range place less of an importance on the suspension layout. “Ask any customer, “for this price, below RM100,000, torsion beam, will you accept it?” The majority of customers actually don’t really care what the rear suspension is. Can move, can already.”
Deputy CEO Roslan Abdullah chimed in, saying that while China’s relatively good road quality meant the torsion beam on Geely’s X90 equivalent, the Haoyue, provides an acceptable ride over there, Malaysian roads come with some “special unique features” (think potholes and other surface irregularities). This, together with the X90’s higher positioning, justified the adoption of a multilink rear setup.
“But when it comes to the S70, there is a big question mark. What is the difference [in ride quality] if we change [the suspension]? If we change, that would involve greater cost, because in China tak ada.”
A fact that most people don’t realise is that the Haoyue is already offered with multilinks in markets outside China (such as in the Philippines), where it is badged as the Okavango. There’s no such option for the S70 equivalent – the Emgrand – anywhere in the world, so speccing multilinks would’ve required Proton to go at it alone (and incur huge development costs in the process). Don’t forget, Proton already undertook the engineering task of turbocharging the S70 and giving it ADAS features, which surely wasn’t cheap.
In any case, we found that the S70 provides a very good ride in spite of the torsion beam setup, one that’s more than capable of handling the “unique” challenges Malaysian roads throw at it. The lack of sophistication means the car isn’t also able to deliver the sporty driving feel one would expect from a Proton, but given its intended positioning, that’s hardly a great loss.
GALLERY: 2024 Proton S70 1.5T Flagship X
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