Car reviews - MG - HS
Interior design and quality, seat comfort, great standard specification, styling, handling, MG Pilot customisation
Room for improvement
Poor body control, dim gearbox, clunky and fussy infotainment system, space-saver spare wheel
MG’s new HS mid-size SUV promises class-leading value, but what is it like to drive?
20 Feb 2020
MG MOTOR Australia has once again waded into the local mid-size SUV pool, this time with the all-new HS – a model the Chinese brand has described as a “revolution”.
The key to this self-proclaimed revolution lies in the HS value factor, offering more active safety equipment than any of its rivals, especially in its basic trim.
The previous GS failed to fire in Australia, with just 361 sold last year, while the new HS chalked up 131 sales the first month of 2020, just prior to launch, which was equal to more than a third of the GS annual sales figure.
So what is all the fuss about?
WITH pricing from just $29,990 plus on-road costs, it is not hard to see why the new MG HS is finding favour with Australian SUV buyers.
For the money, you get a stylish, well-equipped, safe and practical high-riding package aimed squarely at pinching sales away from the market-leading Mazda CX-5 and other heavy hitters in this category such as the Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4.
Indeed, at first glance, you would be forgiven for mistaking the HS for a CX-5 due to its frowning headlamp arrangement, prominent dark mesh grille with chrome surrounds and contoured, contrasting chin.
The two even look similar side-on, with almost matching window and rooflines, black wheelarch/ side skirt cladding, character lines and the way the tail-lights creep around from the tailgate.
Similarities aside though, the HS is unquestionably a smart-looking vehicle, especially in the ‘Surfing Blue’ or ‘Phantom Red’ metallic paint finishes.
Inside, the classy theme continues with a simple and elegant-looking interior with even the base Vibe model coming as standard with leatherette (read: vinyl) upholstery and a massive – for this class – 10.1-inch infotainment screen.
Not only does everything look good, but the Chinese-built HS feels good, too, with no squeaks or rattles or loose pieces of trim to be found anywhere.
Drivers also score a chunky, flat-bottomed leather-clad steering wheel and semi-digital instrument cluster which, again at first glance, all looks very promising.
Priced at $32,990 (plus on-roads), the top-spec Excite sticks with the leatherette seats and there is no electric adjustment, but we found no issue finding and setting a comfortable driving position, and welcome the fact that the steering wheel can be adjusted vertically as well as telescopically.
The seats themselves are comfortable with a surprising amount of bolstering to the cushion for a family SUV.
Both HS variants are powered by the same turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine good for 124kW of power and 250Nm of torque, powering the front wheels via a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
Around town the drivetrain is quiet and reasonably smooth, however cracks start show when a little more urgency is asked, for instance exploiting a gap in traffic or going for a quick overtaking manoeuvre.
The chief culprit here is the transmission, which proves itself somewhat dim-witted and slow when caught off-guard, which to our frustration occurred often on our launch drive.
Pull up to a roundabout, spot a gap in the peak-hour traffic you fancy and go to move off with even the vaguest whiff of gusto and the DCT trips over itself not knowing what to do before lurching you forward, holding first gear for far too long.
On the open road, this is far less of an issue although gear changes can on occasion still seem a bit lurchy.
Pulling the gear lever across and into manual mode seemed to solve this issue and we were pleased to see gearbox gives you the gear you ask for, when you ask for it, unlike many torque-converter units.
Gear changes still prove a little slower than expected, especially on upshifts, though we would like to see the transmission hold onto higher gears a little longer and try to make better use of the engine’s torque – 100km/h in seventh gear sees the engine spinning at 2000rpm.
The engine itself is not a bad unit and actually proves quite punchy and aural in the upper half of the rev range, especially given it is pulling along a 1520kg SUV.
This was especially evident in the Excite which scores a ‘Super Sport’ drive mode (and paddle shifters) which quickens up the throttle response and makes the gear changes snappier – especially with the transmission in manual mode.
In maximum attack mode, the HS is actually quite good fun to punt along a twisty backroad with decently flat handling and admirable road handling … that is until the transmission trips over itself on a downshift and leaves you puzzled as to what just happened.
While Yarra Valley back roads revealed this car’s decent handling prowess, it also unmasked perhaps its biggest weakness – the ride quality.
At low speeds around town you’d be hard-pressed to fault it bar a bit of springiness on larger bumps but on the open road it was simply sub-par.
As with most SUVs the ride is relatively firm which is fine but the level bounce and wallowing that follows immediately after hitting a half decent bump (of which there are a lot of in Australia) is borderline intolerable.
There is a definite lack of composure here, especially in the rebound settings of the suspension.
On the topic of disappointments, the infotainment system while smart-looking, proved to be slow and clunky to use, lagging some two seconds behind the operator’s input, although the colour and crispness of the display is genuinely great.
Despite being touchscreen, you must first select which section of the infotainment system – including the climate control – you want to adjust via a row of piano key-like buttons that can prove difficult for the driver to see and reach.
Also accessible via the screen is MG’s active safety suite, dubbed MG Pilot, which comprises adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane assist, traffic-jam assist, intelligent cruise assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent headlight control and a speed assistant system including speed-sign recognition.
All of the systems we sampled on launch worked effectively and could be tailored to suit individual tastes, with special praise going to the adaptive cruise control/speed-sign recognition combination which will slow the vehicle even in accordance of corner speed advisory signs.
In the back there is enough room for three adults with generous amounts of legroom – even behind our 185cm driver’s seat position – although headroom could become an issue for those taller than that and the same goes for the front passenger’s seat, which has no height adjustment.
Boost space is a CX-5-beating 463 litres (vs 442 litres) though we feel it could be better still – the boot floor and lip is quite high with an underfloor storage box sitting atop a space-saver spare wheel which should really be a full-sized unit.
With the seats folded flat using the 60/40 split-fold arrangement, a generous 1287 litres is on offer, 55 litres down on the CX-5’s 1342 litres.
All in all, MG is on the right track with the HS.
To get so much active safety tech and standard equipment even on the base model at this price point is genuinely impressive.
The MG Pilot suite combined with the six airbags as standard means the HS was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating last year, which counts for a lot.
The HS is smart to look at, a nice place to be inside, relatively comfortable (on smooth roads), handles well and is competitively practical.
But a genuine threat to the class leaders?
As a value proposition the HS could well be unbeatable, but from a driving point of view it is no revolution.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
Model release date: 1 February 2020
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