What is it?
Third UK model and first SUV from reborn MG.
Budget price for power and space.
With no significant downsides and plenty of plus points, there’s every reason for the MG GS to become a significant player in the brand’s progress.
Old-style British motoring enthusiasts will likely recoil in horror at the very prospect of the MG badge appearing on an SUV, and use this as a prime example as to why the reborn, Chinese-owned company is not the same brand as once produced much-loved affordable sports cars.
According to MG’s UK sales and marketing head Matthew Cheyne, however, that the brand’s third offering after the MG6 saloon and MG3 supermini, and its first launch in three years, is an SUV is definitely the way to go. “It’s not a two-seater sports car because two-seater sports cars are a declining market,” he says at the UK launch of the GS, days before it arrives in dealer showrooms.
And considering that the market for SUV crossovers is still mushrooming fast and even performance-pitched brands such as Bentley and Jaguar feel happy leaping into SUV sales it’s hard to argue against his view.
Cheyne also argues, however, that the MG heritage is still very much alive and well in the new model. “I’m asked whether an SUV can be an MG, and I think it can. (MG founder) Cecil Kimber talked about affordability, fun to drive, never once did he mention two-seater sports cars.”
And the MG GS is not really like any other SUV. For a start, it comes only as a front-wheel-drive model, with a petrol engine – its makers insisting that neither all-wheel-drive or diesel propulsion are in their current plans.
There’s little point, apparently, as some 90 per cent of GS owners will be retail buyers, who can’t be doing with the complexity of 4x4s and favour petrol cars – diesel buyers are predominantly in the fleet market in which the brand currently has little presence.
All of which significantly reduces the list of GS direct rivals, and the car outscores all of them on power and torque, with 163bhp and 184lbft available from its 1.5-litre turbo engine. This is a new unit for MG, developed with partner General Motors, and closely related to the 1.4 unit found in today’s Vauxhall Astra.
MG has an interesting view on what those rivals will be – at the launch a starting price of £14,995 is announced which puts the GS right at the bargain basement end of the market. But Cheyne insists that the car has been benchmarked not against the likes of Dacia or SsangYong but much bigger players – the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5 and even the SUV market’s biggest seller, the Nissan Qashqai.
In terms of looks, the MG GS can certainly hold its own in such company – MG is very proud of its styling and engineering studios based in the UK at Longbridge, and insists that the UK team had the major influence in the joint styling efforts with the much larger department in China.
Step inside the MG GS and one finds adequate space. The car is longer than most of its direct rivals, at 4500mm, though its wheelbase is shorter than most, at 2650mm. This allows the Kia and Mazda to outscore it on luggage space, at 503 litres compared to the MG’s 483, though this compares to a mere 430 in the Qashqai. Fold the MG’s seats down, a one-handed operation, and luggage capacity jumps to 1336 litres.
Fit and finish is also adequate, if not particularly noteworthy – the centre console controls are raised towards the driver and neatly finished if a little dated in appearance compared to rivals, while the touchscreen is high on the console. Generally the plastics used are somewhat hard and scratchy.
MG believes its reputation will be maintained by the engine, as mentioned a 1.5 turbo unit that out-powers all its rivals – the Mazda by a single horsepower admittedly. And despite the Japanese rival needing a 2-litre unit to provide its potency it also outdoes the MG on fuel economy, at 47.1mpg to 46.3mpg, and hits 62mph from rest in 9.2 seconds compared to the MG’s still swift-for-the-class 9.9 sec.
The GS feels eager on the road, and rides well on smooth surfaces. Lower-quality tarmac can unsettle it, however, pothole bumps easily finding their way into the cabin. In corners the car steers with confidence, though it does not feel the sportiest member of this class.
Value for money
MG also believes the equipment levels offered with the GS will attract buyers, particularly when one factors in the starting prices. Entry-level Explore models include such niceties as cruise control, automatic headlamps and air conditioning. The step up to Excite specification is £2,500 and the additions include DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and rear parking sensors.
Choose the range-topping Exclusive, another £2,000 more or £3,500 with the DCT gearbox, and electrically adjustable leather sports seats and navigation are included in the equipment. Finally all cars include a five-year warranty.
The GS is a very important car to MG, though Cheyne does not believe it will overtake the MG3 to become the brand’s best seller – that job he thinks will be done by another B-segment SUV coming in 2017 before the all-new MG3 a year later.
The GS is, however, expected to contribute significantly to MG’s 2016 sales target of 5,000 cars, up from 3,152 in 2015. With no significant downsides to the car, and plenty of plus points led by the price, there’s every reason that the MG GS should become a significant player in the brand’s progress.
MG GS – key specifications
Models tested: MG GS Excite, six-speed manual
On Sale: July 2016
Engines: Petrol 1.5.
Top speed (mph): 118 (DCT 112).
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 46.3 (DCT 45.5).
CO2 emissions (g/km): 139 (DCT 141).
Keyrivals: Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5
Test Date: July 2016.