MG’s reasonably priced SUV gets things mostly right

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 10:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 10:33pm

British Leyland, Austin Rover, MG Rover, or whatever else you want to call it, was like a British soap opera – long running, with a plot lurching from one crisis to another, with never really any glamour and it generally left you feeling disappointed. It should have been all over in 2005 with the appointment of the administrators, but the Chinese decided to kick-start their car industry with the remains of the last British volume carmaker.

MG Roewe, by way of divorce, reconciliation and a name change, has not only taken on the heritage but inadvertently the drama. The Rover SD1, 800 and 75 were all meant to be the last-chance saloon under British ownership, full of potential but never quite achieving what they should have. With Roewe seeming to be the domestic brand, and MG for both export and Chinese sales, it is up to the marque previously best known for small sports cars to breathe life into the company.

In Britain, where there is still considerable nostalgia for Rover and MG, sales were hotly anticipated. Before MG and Roewe rejoined at the end of 2007, both Chinese companies promised imminent sales in Britain. The excitement was lost by the time the MG 6 made it to those shores in 2011. Hampered by an antiquated drivetrain, initial sales were appalling despite it having good handling. Things got off to a better start with the MG 3, thanks to keen pricing and customisability.

With the MG ZS having been unveiled at this month’s Guangzhou Auto Show, we decided to take a look at the brand’s first stab at an SUV – the MG GS – and here, the carmaker put the sport in sports utility vehicle. At last, it’s a car from the new MG that does not suffer from lacklustre performance. For the Chinese market, there is a choice of 1.5 and 2.0 litre turbocharged engines.

Our test car came with the 1.5T developed in collaboration with General Motors, available with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dry dual automatic transmission. With 166hp on tap, the engine gives brisk performance once the turbo kicks in. Changes are smooth with the dual-clutch system. Paddle shifts are only offered on the 2.0T Deluxe trim, so the only option is to use the drive selector. Despite similar weight and dimensions to the Nissan Qashqai, the 1.5T has a slower top speed (190km/h) and uses more fuel than the European specification 1.6T Nissan.

One of the first things you notice when driving is that there is little travel with the brake, meaning even a light tap of the pedal leads to quite jarring braking. The steering is also on the light side and does not give the feel or precision you would hope for. Generally the ride is quite smooth but a corrugated stretch of road did create a lot of shaking in the cabin.

Externally the car is modern looking but the rear seems to have too many competing lines to create a good visual impact. On the inside, hard plastics dominate the dashboard and it is aesthetically boring.

The MG 3 is funky, thanks to coloured inlays around the air vents, and it would have been good to see something similar in the GS. Or, as is currently popular in many new Chinese cars, dual colour seats. It is left to the orange-piped floor mats to inject the only element of excitement.

There is a choice of beige or black leather seats with the dashboard remaining black no matter which option is chosen. The base model gets a 6-inch touchscreen infotainment system. On the Deluxe trim, this is upgraded to an 8-inch system using SAIC’s InkaNet 4.0. Similar to GM’s OnStar system, it provides features like a 24-hour telephone service to assist with navigation or in cases of emergency. It also comes with Mirrorlink, allowing you to slave your phone to the system and operate from the infotainment screen features including apps. There are also more standard features, such as the reverse camera with dynamic guidance.

In the back there is enough space for three adults with good head and leg room. While the seats do fold pretty much flat, the bench does not come up, leaving a gap to the front seats. The boot is sturdy and there is a small compartment below the floor and above the spare wheel. Capacity is one of the largest in class, beating even the Volkswagen Tiguan.

Prices start at a reasonable 109,700 yuan and go up to 179,700 yuan. However, the specifications seem on the low side compared with some Chinese competitors. You would expect on top-spec models some features like blind-spot warning indicators, lane departure or even a head-up display.