Car reviews - MG - GS - range
Design, space, practicality, equipment levels, strong performance, meaty steering, perky chassis, big boot, pricing
Room for improvement
Firm to hard ride, insufficient damping at speed, road noise, so-so cabin plastics, no AEB availability, poor/no dealer distribution so far
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29 Mar 2017
AS FAR as first efforts go, the clue to how well MG’s first SUV stacks up is in the GS’ (inexplicable) name. Good Start.
With shades of the Mazda GLC (Good Little Car – as the original 323 was known in North America), the British-branded and engineered but Chinese-owned and built rival to the Nissan Qashqai has a number of surprising plus points. And not many negatives.
Yep, we’re pretty impressed.
Speaking of which, first off, the styling. Except for the derivative (is it a Toyota RAV4? A Renault Captur?) nose, GS design chief Anthony Williams-Kenny has managed to get the general proportions and detailing right. Especially from the rear, the small SUV has quite a big presence on the road. Nice work.
And big is the operative word. A class-leading 2650mm wheelbase liberates a decent amount of space, with the reclining split/fold rear seat (featuring vent outlets in the cheapest automatic variant upwards), cupholders, reading lights, map pockets and arm rests enhancing what is a comparatively large and accommodating cabin experience. The rear cushion also folds down with the backrest to provide a long and tall load area.
From a distance, the dashboard’s pentagonal shapes, recessed analogue dials and sizeable buttons suggest recent Opels, and this is no bad thing. An agreeable driving position, decent all-round vision, ample storage and sound build quality further underline an interior that doesn’t scream discount knock-off.
We’re less enamoured with the large but shapeless front seat cushions, cheap LCD screen between the otherwise crisp instruments, hard scratchy shiny plastics that betray the MG’s Chinese origins more than anything else.
There is also a fair amount of engine, road and tyre noise that comes through inside, suggesting that some sound-path and refinement work still needs to be sorted out.
Yet the GS has been engineered to be sporty – that’s what the MG octagon stands for, after all – and in the powertrain and dynamic departments, the little SUV is, delivering the other big unexpected outcome here.
While lacking the headline 162kW of power and 350Nm of torque that the top-line 2.0-litre turbo AWD in the Essence X boasts, the smaller of the two engines, a 119kW/250Nm 1.5-litre four-pot turbo certainly isn’t lacking in performance.
Putting its outputs through a smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in the Core auto as tested, the MG steps away smartly, and gathers pace eagerly as desired. A willing revver, this so-called NetBlue turbo powerplant provides more than sufficient speed and response. Some lag from the transmission at really low speeds was detected, however, combined with a bit of shudder.
Weighing a reasonable 1460kg thanks to its front-drive layout, that sportiness carries through to the GS’ handling. Heavier than you might expect for something pitched against a Honda HR-V, the electric power steering is quick in reaction and alert enough to tip in instantly, and even manages to provide a fair amount of feedback. Unfortunately, there were hardly any curvy roads to really test the MG’s chassis mettle, but on first acquaintance, it seems clear that the UK engineering shines through here.
In fact, the Core 1.5T seven-speed DCT was the preferred variant, because the Essence X 2.0T six-speed DCT AWD felts much heavier, underlining its circa-180kg weight penalty as a result of all that extra gear. Our car had not even accrued 400km on the odometer, compared to over 4000km in the 1.5T, but even then, up until about 40km/h at least, there wasn’t much between the two.
After that, though, the larger-engined GS just pulled away, and kept doing so until we ran out of nerve. It is a very muscular engine.
The Michelin Primacy 235/50R18s tyres were certainly quieter than the more basic variant’s Maxxis M3215/60R17s, but they could not provide any respite from the overly firm and busy suspension, meaning that the MG is just not comfortable enough in the ride department. No adaptive dampers are offered, sadly. Furthermore, both cars very occasionally suffered from a curious damping issue at speed over undulating roads, pitching a little too much on the rebound.
We did not have the chance to try the GS around town or even in built-up urban areas, so more time is needed before we can make a definitive call on how supple (or not) the suspension really is. But as with most big-tyred small SUVs, ride quality seems to take a back seat, and so the MG isn’t the worst offender in this department.
In fact, considering China’s total lack of credibility in designing and engineering quality vehicles, the GS is capable enough to change minds. Strange as it is to see the MG octagon on a small SUV, there is enough attitude, oomph and athleticism to suggest that the badge is deserved, while the unexpectedly thorough packaging also makes this one for smaller families.
If SAIC (who owns MG Motor) sorts out the invisible dealer and distribution situation (currently you have to live in Sydney, Brisbane or Coffs Harbour to be able to test drive one), the hard ride, the lack of AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking even as an option, and fits better front seats as well as smoothing out some of those cheaper cabin details, then this could be a credible and likeable alternative to a Mazda CX-3.
GS? Good start.
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