THE MG GS SUV HAS TOUCHED DOWN IN AUSTRALIA, AND WITH IT COMES A LIST OF QUESTIONS.
Let's get those questions out of the way: No, this isn't anything like a classic MG roadster. Yes, it is built by the relatively new Chinese operation, but run by a different mob to those who had a crack locally with the MG6 sedan in 2013. No, it's not a total dog... though this is not a purebred example of the species.
Instead, the MG GS is a model that represents the furthest departure yet from the brand's British heritage. It's classed as a medium SUV, although more similar in size to Nissan's Qashqai and the Mitsubishi ASX. Also, pricing is closer to even smaller machines such as Nissan's Juke and the Toyota C-HR.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: From $22,990 to $34,990 drive-away
Engine/trans: 119kW/250Nm 1.5 litre or 162kW/350Nm 2.0 litre | 4cyl turbo-petrol | 6sp manual, 6sp or 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km or 9.6l/100km
There are four models in the range, starting with the sparsely-equipped GS Vivid, a manual-only model priced from $22,990 drive-away with 17-inch wheels, Bluetooth and parking sensors as standard, but no niceties such as cruise control, a reversing camera or steering wheel-mounted audio controls which are reserved for the next rung up the ladder.
Buyers with a little more in the budget can get hold of the GS Core for $25,990 drive-away, adding all of the above plus a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, a 6.1-inch stereo with better speakers and iPhone USB connectivity (but not Apple CarPlay) as well as practical touches such as a cooled glovebox and rear cargo blind.
The GS Soul serves as the third model in MG's lineup, adding 18-inch wheels with quality Michelin tyres, front fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, an 8.0-inch touchscreen stereo with sat nav, leather seats with electric driver's adjustment and more for $28,990 drive-away.
Those three models are powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels, while the top model offers a 2.0-litre turbo engine with all-wheel-drive and a six-speed dual clutch auto.
Known as the GS Essence X, the top-of-the-range proposition includes an electric sunroof, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, sports pedals and metal-look side sills for $34,990 drive-away.
It's important to note that the drive-away prices represent an introductory offer in place until May. After that, most models will cost the same digits plus on-road costs.
All models feature an impressive six-year, unlimited-kilometre roadside warranty and assistance package.
Our time with the MG GS centred on upper-level Soul and Essence X models that impress at first glance, blending a large touchscreen with a separate driver's display including a digital speedo.
There are silver, charcoal and piano black elements throughout, and it's easy to comprehend the functions offered by buttons spread throughout the cabin.
The driving position feels natural, helped by reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel, and there's a decent amount of room on back seats that fold truly flat to maximise storage space.
Probe deeper and the car's hard, brittle-feeling plastics lower the ambience when parked, while harmonic buzzing and rattles on some test models suggest the car's execution could be a little better.
Not only does it fall short of the likes of Volkswagen today, some of its interior finishes are at least a decade behind the German brand's small car efforts.
While it costs a fair bit less than a Volkswagen Tiguan, the GS's prices sit close to much more polished VW Golf or Mazda3 models, and the latter matches its 160mm ground clearance.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 119kW/250Nm 1.5 litre or 162kW/350Nm 2.0 litre | 4cyl turbo-petrol
- Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp or 7sp automatic
- Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km or 9.6l/100km
Speaking of the Golf, the 2.0-litre turbo engine in MG's Essence X is an exact match for the 162kW and 350Nm outputs offered by the outgoing GTI hot hatch, giving it considerably more grunt than most rivals.
The downside is that MG's claimed fuel economy for the top model is a disappointing 9.6L/100km that sneaks into double figures in the real world.
It doesn't feel particularly brisk on the road, with noticeable lag from the get-go joining dull-witted programming for the auto that holds onto gears too long and refuses to properly drop back through the gears in sports mode.
That engine also sounds quite coarse in all driving environments - wheezing at low speed and roaring a Dyson-esque bellow under load.
Refinement isn't a particularly strong point of the smaller 1.5-litre motor, though it is a smoother proportion than its big brother. Sweeter-sounding with a better throttle response, the standard engine and its more efficient seven-speed transmission and front-wheel-drive transmission combination represent a better bet.
Boasting better manners and a more impressive (but well short of industry benchmarks) 7.4L/100km, the 1.5-litre motor is the pick of the pair.
It's also superior on the road, with a 200 kilogram weight advantage that helps it feel more agile than the hefty all-wheel-drive model that tips the scales well over 1.6 tonnes.
Supporters of MG's classic sport car heritage will be disappointed (if not surprised) to find that the GS's steering is less than enticing, offering precious little feedback and a reluctance to change direction at speed.
There's too much body roll, yet the ride is too sharp over bumps, particularly in the rear.
The GS also exhibited more noise than we expected on coarse surfaces. While it may have the right ingredients on paper, the execution lacks finesse.
The GS SUV represents decent value, but its safety credentials are somewhat lacklustre. Australia's ANCAP body tested the car locally, finding it offers a sound structural performance and satisfactory occupant protection thanks to six airbags including curtain coverage for the rear seats, but not enough electronic aids such as rear seatbelt reminders, autonomous emergency braking or lane keeping assistance features standard on some rivals.
TMR FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
MG's latest model makes a great first impression, one that fades the longer you spend with the car.
It's difficult to recommend the model in the face of fresh metal such as Toyota's excellent C-HR, or discounted favourites from the likes of Mitsubishi.
After a false start of sorts at the hands of an independent importer, MG is in Australia for the long haul with the full backing of its SAIC parent company.
That's just as well, because the brand will need to up its game to truly challenge established names in the local car market.