With the recent deletion of the mid sized MG6, the company has introduced a bold new model to gain a foothold in the cut throat SUV market sector with the promise of more new models in the pipeline.
Does it have the minerals? and equally as important, is it different enough to warrant serious consideration? There are reservations with the cars broader picture but in the interests of balance and fairness, there’s some impressive qualities too…
Who would have thought? an MG SUV. Cast your mind back a few years and that mental picture would have been impossible to conjure up. Almost as soon as the MG6 takes a slow boat to China after its UK discontinuation, MG have launched the simply titled GS range leaving the company to nibble away at the market fringes with just two car ranges for the time being – though more models are due into the fold over the next four years. The MG3 which isn’t a bad little thing in the right colour and trim, is now joined by a medium sized front wheel drive SUV. It comes with a single engine option of a GM SAIC developed 1.5 turbo petrol unit allied to a six speed self shifter or a new in house designed seven speed dual clutch electronic automatic.
A simple trio of trim start off with the “Explore” for a smidge under £15K to the “Excite” and the range topping “Exclusive” which gives you enough change for a weekend break out of £20,000. The automatic model is only available in the aforementioned top level trim – this will shake another grand (£21,000) from your pockets. Why MG have only offered the two pedal car in that trim level seems a bit odd considering its aimed right at the heart of the family / retail customer… automatics have never been more popular these days and are no longer seen as the automotive social outcast they once were with smaller cars. The lack of a diesel engine is also rather confusing – despite what MG say our UK market still clamours for them.
MG claim they are on the wane in terms of UK popularity and there is little market for heavy oil burners in Asia… rubbish, the UK diesel SUV market, until the Government tax it to death that is, is still huge and to ignore the black pump buyer in Britain is madness… for now anyway. So for the foreseeable future the GS comes with its 166PS 1500 petrol engine and the test car we are concerned about here has the six speed manual gearbox. After the less than impressive attention to paintwork detail that was noticed with our last MG review of the MG6 TL diesel, its pleasing to note they have listened and improved. In fact, the quality of the press cars paintwork was pretty much excellent… possibly one of the best seen for a while this side of a premium brand model perhaps.
The time honoured practice of an external walk round discovered nice tight and consistent shut lines, no gaping gaps between panels and materials, nothing loose or insecure, all in all the first impressions of the car from the outside seem to point towards a well made body shell that stands tall amongst most of its class rivals. The 18″ diamond cut alloys look stylish and well made too – even the most critical of person will struggle to find a knit to pick when its comes to first contact inspection. The burnt orange colour suits the car well and certainly gets you noticed, the comments passed when out and about confirm this… people seem to like the look of the car and were most surprised to discover it was an MG.
Climbing inside, you’ll notice a lofty view ahead and once settled into the seat its easy to find that perfect position. There’s standard electric seat adjustment with manual lumbar support (the latter a bit awkward to use) but as a bonus all these features are mirrored on the passenger seat too – nice touch MG. We couldn’t find fault with the driving position, the wheel and pedal interface along with seat support seem just about right. The front seats also have a good bolster support too – something that the MG3 with leather trim notably lacks. Its wide centre console contains all the heating, ventilation and audio system controls along with the standard sat-nav operation via a large touch sensitive multicolour screen.
Another thing that MG have cottoned onto is tactile feel of the controls. All of the switches be it a button or a dial have a pleasant damped action to them in operation, only the headlamp switch felt slightly wobbly and even then far better than some of the inconsistencies that could be found on the MG6 of old. Overall, the GS feels well engineered and robust in construction but there is still a high content of bone hard plastic and it seems slightly at odds to find a slightly dour interior after the pleasingly bold exterior. Also improved is the appearance of the leather on the seats. there’s now a nice ruched effect to the central areas and the white stitching on the armrest cubby box and the edged of the padded centre console are both nice little touches you soon notice.
Leg and headroom is vast both front and rear while those in the back have the luxury of 60/40 split rear seat that also has a variable angle of backrest angle. Space for five is reasonable while room for four is quite exceptional but points are lost for the lack of a rear seat area charging socket for phones, tablets and other kiddie quieting implements- this is meant to be a family car after all but there is one fitted in the boot. My main concern with the interior was a notable plasticky kind of smell – especially on a hot day, its really hard to describe but almost like the whiff you would find in a hardware store… go and try one and you’ll see what’s meant by this. The seat foam and carpets need to be impregnated with a perfume additive the way the old Rover Group used to make their cars smell so good when they were new, as things are currently it makes the GS smell notably cheap and not befitting a car with a leather interior.
To drive the GS brings no real disappointment and some reviews talk about a bouncy ride and an awful gear change action. Well its got a firm(ish) ride you soon get used to and high speed cruising on an undulating road can become slightly choppy and the only gripe about the gear change is a slightly cheap feeling lever and gaiter. Show the GS a nice smooth piece of road and the ride comfort becomes really good at any speed but the payoff for the firm nature is a really good feel to its steering and handling. Despite its lofty looks the MG corners with precision and should you find the pace too hurried, the brakes reign the car in superbly. Even with E-PAS fitted there is a good amount of communication and feel at the steering rim but woe that column adjusting lever… its the nastiest looking component I’ve seen in a car for a number of years!
Performance is fairly good for the size of the car but engine torque drops off rapidly below 1400rpm. It could have been my imagination but I’m sure I noticed a flat spot once or twice between 2800 and 3500rpm especially in the higher gears. Maybe a test car glitch perhaps but anyway, providing you keep the revs below 4500rpm the driveline is superbly insulated – motorway cruising is commendably refined in fact. There’s hardly any wind noise at speed and despite the fact of its large door mirrors and for almost all of the time, unless you are aiming for warp factor eight, the MG GS is a very pleasant place to be – I was quite impressed with its overall refinement and comfort on offer.
As a car its not too bad, far from being a class leader but there again far from being a complete failure. Things in its favour are the general refinement, space and comfort, good level of standard kit, a large boot with flat loading floor when the seats are folded and thoroughly decent road holding… but there are major reservations. A few phone calls to rival dealers found models such as the Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai undercutting the GS on list price – one dealer was keen to mention a pre-reg Nissan Qashqai Tekna with similar spec could be on my driveway if I wasn’t too fussy on colour for under £18,000. Here lies the problem… can a GS be sought for a similar deal on a pre-reg and does the tiny number of UK dealers (circa 80) potentially cause a logistical nightmare for potential ownership?
Other SUV models also present problems for the GS’s penetration such as the Ssang Yong Tivoli… which is also cheaper and comes in diesel flavour. There’s also the Dacia Duster to consider but the MG GS roundly trounces that one in terms of overall quality. Its overall appearance sets the GS ahead of some rivals, it visually looks like a well made car but the top spec only auto model and a 1.5 petrol turbo only option of which I struggled to better 37mpg are potential own goals. But by their own admission, MG don’t expect to sell them in colossal numbers – their current UK infrastructure simply couldn’t cope with massive throughput so forget MG Rover days of mass production… those days are over.
Where it will do well is with the dealers. With many being small family businesses, their square dealing reputation with superb customer care actually sells more vehicles on their own name than the merit, ability or quality of the vehicle itself. The GS will capture a good few number of floating customers too and once the potential buyer steps over the threshold, the dealer has a straight 50/50 chance of a signed order. My own opinion is that the GS at the moment is a bit of a gamble until the Longbridge based arm of SAIC up their game in terms of marketing and credibility. Its present main hurdle is the large number of rival SUV vehicles from a myriad of manufacturers offering the full package of instant parts and service support, dealer network, predictable residual values and mix and match optional extras or model variations.
AUTOBRITANNIA.NET RATING: 6/10
Model Tested: MG GS Exclusive 1.5 Turbo
Price: £19,495 (excluding options)
Driveline: 1.5 16v turbo petrol with 6sp gearbox and front wheel drive
Power / Torque: 166Ps / 250Nm from 1600rpm
Performance: *0 – 60 in 9.9 seconds
Economy / Co2: *46.3 mpg combined (37.4mpg on test) / 139G per KM
* Manufacturers / Govt claimed data
WHATS HOT: Spacious, comfortable and extremely practical – Good refinement especially when cruising – Feels robust and well engineered – Great handling – Quite nice to drive – Good brakes – Ample boot space with flat load floor – Exterior fit and finish is really impressive – Looks smart and stylish… in the right colour – Newly introduced 5 year warranty shows good manufacturer confidence – The best MG yet – Well equipped.
WHATS NOT: Expensive automatic option – No diesel model – Some interior trim feels hard and scratchy – Strong smell of plastic inside on a hot day – Running boards, though very stylish looking, make entry / exit awkward and undignified – Questionable residual values – Patchy dealer network coverage – Lack of mix and match options and trim variations – Other rivals have aggressive pricing deals and offer a potentially better all round package for the buyer in terms of total ownership peace of mind.
For more information on the MG GS CLICK HERE