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First drive: MG to play the value card with GS

China town: MG’s urban SUV, the GS, is expected to be the Chinese brand’s biggest seller, both globally and in Australia where it will go on sale about August next year.

MG’s first SUV to target bargain hunters with a price as low as $22,990 driveaway

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MG logo13 Nov 2015

By RON HAMMERTON in DUBAI

MG MOTOR’S first SUV, the British-developed, Chinese-built GS, is likely to become Australia’s most affordable mid-sized SUV when it lands in Australia in the third-quarter of next year.

Although Australian pricing and final specifications are a long way from being fixed by the factory-owned distributor, SAIC Motors Australia, the entry version of the GS, with front-wheel drive, a 124kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine and dual-clutch transmission, could land in showrooms at about $22,990 driveaway – at least $3000 cheaper than the current class price leaders and in line with many one-size smaller, less powerful SUVs.

SAIC, which acquired the MG brand when MG Rover went bust in 2005, is under few illusions that its products – an unknown quantity in the Australian market – will need to have sharp pricing to attract interest from consumers faced with a huge array of similar SUVs from established companies from Japan, Korea and Europe.

At 4500mm long and 1855mm wide, the five-seat GS wagon is a long way from the two-seat, open-top MG sportscars that older Australians will remember, but this crossover is aimed at a much wider audience in the fastest growing vehicle segment in the world.

The GS will be the third MG model to be launched in Australia, following in the wheel-tracks of two passenger cars – the mid-sized MG6 sedan and liftback hatch and MG3 light hatch – that will forge the path for the reinvented brand in about March.

Front and centre in the grille of all models is the famous old octagonal MG (Morris Garages) badge, which is about the only element these cars owe to the MGs of yore.

With a tall-boy stance and myriad lines around the body, the GS looks smaller than its dimensions would suggest, but the tape measure suggests it is 40mm shorter and 15mm wider than the top-selling Mazda CX-5.

SAIC – China’s biggest motor manufacturer – expects the GS to be its top-seller globally. Initially, Australia’s version will be shipped from China, but ultimately all right-hand drive MGs will be crafted in SAIC’s new factory in Thailand.

To be available in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel drive and with a choice of two turbocharged petrol engines, the five-seat GS is expected to be offered in three specifications, as it will be in the UK.

The smaller of the two engines is said to have been developed in conjunction with SAIC’s Chinese partner, General Motors, and presumably is related to GM’s 1.4-litre turbo.

The bigger engine – an in-house-developed 2.0 litre producing 162kW of power and 350Nm of torque – will be billed as one of the most powerful powerplants in the class, although it falls short of Subaru’s 177kW/350Nm Forester 2.0XT.

For Australia, only one transmission will be available on both engines – a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

With the 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet, the 0-100km/h sprint is said to be completed in 8.2 seconds for the lighter (1542kg) two-wheel-drive version, and 8.9 seconds for the heavier (1642kg) AWD variant.

This compares with 7.5 seconds for the blown Forester. Figures for the 1.5-litre GS were not supplied.

Fuel consumption is claimed to be 7.9 litres per 100km for FWD and 8.3L/100km for the AWD.

Suspension is conventional MacPherson strut at the front and torsion beam at the rear.

In the UK where the GS will be launched in the second quarter of 2016, the GS will ride on alloy wheels in 17-inch and 18-inch diameters, depending on the model.

The base and middle variants will get cloth seats and cloth door trim, while the top spec will be cloaked in leather.

The real-time AWD system boasts a centre differential lock for (mild) off-roading, along with hill-start assist, automatic hill holder and hill descent control.

In the two specifications we sampled in a brief drive program at the Middle East MG launch in Dubai, a classy piano-black dash trim and soft-touch upper dash material was offset by some cheaper-looking hard plastics in spots.

The entry model we saw had beige seat upholstery, which unfortunately extended to the door armrests, making them a challenge to keep clean.

Build quality on the test cars was neat for a Chinese vehicle, which probably reflects years of co-operative manufacturing with companies such as Volkswagen in Shanghai.

Our test drive was limited to an urban run through a busy – and confusing – downtown Dubai city, although we managed some time at highway speeds on the local freeways.

Remembering that SAIC Motors Australia is yet to finalise its chassis package for the GS – local testing is to start soon – and that we hardly had a comprehensive test, we felt that the GS ticks most of the boxes.

However, the electrically assisted steering was noticeable dull at the straight-ahead while also lacking the sharpness of, say, Japanese rivals.

Cornering is somewhat blighted by a small but noticeable body roll lurch, which made us scratch our heads about unconfirmed reports that this suspension was tuned by Porsche.

We suspect the version we drove is the Chinese-market spec, which could explain a fair bit.

The accelerator and dual-clutch transmission are a little hair trigger when the foot is planted at slow speeds, and we are guessing the MG engineers were seeking a strong “launch feel”, as they say. We think they could back it off a little.

Once mobile, power flows from the 2.0-litre turbo GS in a steady but barely sporty stream, until the engine becomes raucous high in the rev range. Maybe there is a similarity with those old MGs afterall.

The top-spec car gets steering wheel paddle shifters for manual gear shifts, although they feel decidedly thin and plasticy. Yes, they change the gears, but after an initial burst, we reverted to automatic mode and let the ‘box do the work, which it does reasonably well.

Body wise, noise and vibration is commendably suppressed. Mind you, we did not spot any coarse chip bitumen or gravel surfaces in our brief spin.

Inside, the vehicle is well resolved, with a pleasantly chunky leather-clad steering wheel that is reach-and-tilt adjustable. We noticed a couple of blank buttons on the steering wheel, but by the time the car reaches Australia, they should be filled with cruise control buttons.

Our test vehicle had automatic climate control, but the base vehicle will most likely get a manual type. A six-inch touchscreen graces the console on the top version, but it remains to be seen if that will make it into the lower models.

However, the USB and plug-and-play ports should all be there, as will the electric parking brake.

Foglights appear to be standard on all models, along with LED daytime running lights.

Side curtain airbags were only available on the top-spec car, but we are guessing that is another issue that will addressed, unless SAIC Australia wants to incur the wrath of ANCAP.

Roof rails, 60:40 split folding rear seat and luggage screen are all standard, but the cargo area appeared a little on the small side, mainly because of a relatively high floor level.

Among the extras on the luxury version should be an electric sunroof, electrically folding exterior mirrors, Bluetooth and a higher-standard audio system, as well as leather.

On the spec sheet that we saw, nine colour schemes were offered, including two dual-tone paint finishes – orange/black and white/black.

In all, the MG GS is a fair effort for a first-time SUV aimed at western markets, but it just needs some tweaking between now and the Australian launch date in August 2016 to make it truly competitive.

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