First Drive: MG GS 1.5 turbo Exclusive

Mike Humble:

The SUV market is a myriad of makes and models from almost every manufacturer going. MG Motor have brought into the arena the much waited for MG-GS, only this time it has some class leading attributes in its favour rather than cost alone being its ace card.

Room for a little one?

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The most convincing MG yet? The GS in top flight Exclusive spec.

 

From Qashqai to Kuga, from Kadjar to Kia Sportage… everyone is into SUV cars seemingly. Once, I personally loathed them along with people carriers but more recently have warmed to the notion and now fully understand that an SUV offers the room of a family saloon with the practicality of a hatch – all in one vehicle. The traditional market for the “trad” three box family saloon is a dying one, especially in the retail purchase class and any newcomer must surely be brave and special to muscle in alongside some very popular brands.

In what may seem a surprising move to some, MG Motor has just launched their own take on the compact SUV – its called the MG GS. Unlike its rivals, the GS comes with just one power unit option – a 1.5 turbo petrol developed in alliance with General Motors mated to either a six speed manual or seven speed electronic automatic. There’s three levels of specification to – Explore / Excite and Exclusive. All models feature alloys, cruise and aircon with the top line Exclusive adding larger wheels, DAB and leather.

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The 1.5 turbo engine was developed in conjunction with GM but MG have no plans for a diesel model. Its refined and smooth unless you really push it hard. Its mated to a decent 6 speed manual and there’s an optional 7 speed electronic dual clutch auto option too – but only on the top of the range model which adds an extra £1000 to the ticket price.

 

At a recent launch event, the MG sales and marketing director told me in no uncertain terms that this is a car aimed at the retail customer. Of course they wont turn fleet business away but there isn’t going to be a huge push into the corporate market. The GS desperately needs to crunch some sales numbers after the dismal success of the recently deleted MG6 range. And yet that said the GS isn’t going to threaten the likes of the Nissan Qashqai or Ford Kuga either – the company quite simply doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to produce or sell a colossal numbers of vehicles in the UK.

All MG want to do is sell more cars – its that simple. Public perception is the all important maker or breaker of any brand success and MG understand and admit their past endeavours have been far from perfect when it comes to handing the brand. If managed correctly and professionally, the new GS will certainly boost the company image and its fortunes in the UK. Ignoring company politics and after driving the car, I’m in little doubt about its chances having had a good close look and feel.

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Comfy and commanding driving position. Only the awkward and fiddly cruise controls under the indicator stalk blots the copybook. Well equipped too in this spec. Some incidental trim inside feels a bit cheap… but for the money? you’d be mad to complain too much.

 

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Head and leg room is good. Face level vents for rear passengers. The quality of the seat trim is much improved over MG3 and MG6. Also of note is the split rear seat with three recline positions on the backrests and a totally flat floor when you fold them down. Rear belts that get snagged up when you reposition the seats back into passenger mode is the only grumble worth mentioning.

 

The 5 door GS looks on a par with rival offerings. It has a well equipped cabin, an insulated driveline and in its favour – pretty impressive value for money. In terms of visual presentation inside and out, this is MG’s best interpretation of what a European car should look and feel like so far. Build quality is generally very good although some textures of minor trim feels rather cheap… though that’s also a trait you’ll also find in some of its rivals. It has an almost perfect driving position, communicative steering and for most of the time – a really sweet and quiet engine… honest, its not bad at all.

Equally pleasing is the room inside the cabin and its practicality. Not only do the rear seats fold completely flat, the back rests also have three positions of recline angle too. The test car came with face level rear air vents and some very cool looking alloy running boards although the latter make entry and exit from the drivers seat a bit of a leg stretch. Some spirited driving along the M40 and around the Oxfordshire back lanes found the GS to handle tidily with a reasonably good ride – high speed motorway driving does bring in a touch of suspension restlessness into the cabin though its not unbearable.

All the usual stuff works fine too – a decent feel to the gear change quality, progressive (if slightly spongy brakes) good all round visibility, effective demisting and pleasing audio sound quality. I will also mention that the refinement is okay too, so long as you don’t push the engine into warp drive it remains smooth and unfussed – especially when cruising. The plant develops 166Ps of power with 250Nm of torque and the latter figure is class leading but engine grunt does drop off quite quickly under 1300rpm. Horrendous weather on the day blighted any economy runs but I averaged 33mpg over a 30 mile test drive over some very mixed roads using the aircon.

Its a lot of car for the money that’s genuinely not a bad motor overall. The GS doesn’t excel in any particular area but nor does it really fail in any either. Pleasantly average is what I would call it and based on previous MG efforts that’s no bad thing.

The Humble Opinion:

If past lessons with sales and marketing have been studied and learnt the MG GS has the opportunity to sell in much better numbers than the company has done historically. But we need to remember that the company is not looking to outsell the established competition despite the GS having a few class leading credentials about it.

All MG want to do is boost their profile, make some money and build up the new range of cars that are in the pipeline over the next four years. GS doesn’t and wont set the world alight… but it will make a lot more people sit up and take notice – and its this awareness (or rather lack of it) in the marketplace that’s previously done a lot of harm to MG.

Proof that the company is now presenting itself as a viable and worthy purchase consideration remains to be seen but the 5yr / 80,000 mile warranty is a good statement from the manufacturer. I can only hope everyone concerned with the GS will push it hard in order to make it a success… the marketing will be its maker or breaker!

Its not going to drive Nissan or Kuga customers in droves to the MG dealerships, but it will create some interest from brand fans and curious floating customers. If they generate enough footfall traffic into the dealers, sales will result… but its gonna be a slow burn I reckon!

I hope it does well for them.

MODEL TESTED: MG GS Exclusive

Driveline: 1.5 turbo petrol with 6 speed manual (auto option on Exclusive trim only)

Power: 166Ps with 250Nm Torque

Prices: £14,995 to £19,995 (£20,995 for the 7 speed DCT auto Exclusive)

WHATS HOT: Value – Styling – Refinement – Much improved quality over other MG models – Well equipped – Good driving position – Practical – Tidy handling – 5 year 80,000 mile warranty shows the maker has confidence – Its underpinnings feel solid and well developed – Spacious interior.

WHATS NOT: Brand image and public perception not brilliant – Awkward positioning of cruise control lever – Needs dealer network improvements – Only one model for automatic choosers – No plans for diesel option as of yet – Still one or two minor rough edges if you look hard enough – No mobile Wi-Fi feature – Other rivals are so established in this sector.

More details on GS by CLICKING HERE


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