Not your grandad’s MG!

11 April 2017

WHAT do you think of when picturing an MG? Slinky English roadsters? Hotted-up hatchbacks, sedans and wagons? Or maybe just old piles of rust broken down by the side of the road?

While a thoroughly modern SUV is probably not what springs to mind, the brand that started off as a dealer modifying Morris cars in the early 1920s in Oxford (hence the initials Morris Garages) does have its roots in providing fun and affordable motoring with a sporting slant. And, within its jumped-up five-seater wagon limitations, the latest iteration – the somewhat forgetably badged GS – has some of that same thinking going on too.

The typical MG in most peoples’ eyes is something like this – two seats, rear-drive and a long bonnet. This is the MGB from 1962 to 1980

Actually the third model range released in Australia since the marque was reborn under Chinese rule (SAIC of Shanghai) in 2006, it joins two other MGs (a three-door hatch called the MG3 and a medium-sized liftback dubbed the MG6) launched last October, but only in Queensland and New South Wales. Victoria is next. Someday soon MG will be national.

Probably the most technologically advanced MG roadster was the 1995-2002 MG-F, which employed a mid-mounted engine as well as suspension with ‘Hydragas’ pressurised nitrogen instead of springs for a fine ride/handling compromise

And it’s the GS that has the potential to really have some cut through with today’s consumers.

Priced from around $24,000 like a Mazda CX-3 yet sized (almost) like the larger and more expensive CX-5, the world’s first SUV to wear the octagon logo is certainly packaged to stand out, and ought to give the likes of similarly themed crossover rivals such as the Mitsubishi ASX a run for their money. Yet there are a few other aces up its sleeve.

A neat nose and chunky rear end meld well to create one of the more handsome small SUVs on the market

For starters, the GS is handsomely proportioned and neatly detailed, especially from behind, to make it stand out from the crowd a little. Secondly, the interior is spacious out back as well as up front, with ample room all round and a bigger-than-average cargo capacity. The dash is neat if unadventurous, the seats seem fine (especially out back), and the finish is probably better than you might think from a Chinese-built vehicle – even if some of the plastics are on the cheap and shiny side.   

And thirdly, the MG has been created to be fun to drive – something that should be at the top of the list of any vehicle wearing the 93 year-old nameplate.

Behind that pert posterior is a considerable 483L of cargo capacity, making the GS one of the more practical small SUVs

Using SAIC’s new SUV-only architecture, the GS was designed and engineered in England, to take on Europe’s better small SUVs. An example of this is how the rear suspension departs from the class norm by ditching torsion beams for a multi-link layout, in the interests of better handling and ride characteristics. Steering is electric rack and pinion and four-wheel disc brakes abound.

At the pointy end of the MG is a pair of fresh four-cylinder direct-injection turbo petrol engine choices.

Don’t be fooled by the blacked-out wheel arches and action-ready stance – the GS’ meagre 174mm ground clearance makes it next to useless for off-roading

Shared with General Motors as part of the American corporation’s Small Gasoline Engine family, all three front-wheel drive variants – the base Vivid, Core and Soul – employ a 1.5-litre turbo twin-cam ‘Cube Tec’ unit delivering 119kW of power at 5600rpm and 250Nm of torque at 4500rpm.

The base version uses six-speed manual gearbox, to help return 7.3 litres per 100km, while the Core and Soul switch to an in-house developed seven-speed DCT dual-clutch transmission that adds a whole 0.1L/100km to the combined fuel consumption average. That’s pretty good for a 1450kg-plus SUV.

Behind that bonnet in the top-line Essence X is a 162kW/350N 2.0-litre turbo, driving all four wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission

If you want all-wheel drive, then the top-line Essence X AWD will oblige, with a SAIC-designed, Opel-tuned 2.0-litre twin-cam turbo producing 162kW at 5300rpm and a hefty 350Nm at 4500rpm. The front wheels are the main recipients of torque (until traction requirements call for up to 50 per cent to travel to the rear axle) via a six-speed DCT. But the move to this flagship model adds nearly 180kg and, it averages 9.6L/100km, partly reflecting this variant’s substantial 1642kg kerb weight.

So far so good, but in one key area, the GS is not quite as progressive as the rest of the car.

Unlike most small SUVs, the GS has a multi-link rear suspension system, instead of the more space-efficient but cheaper torsion beam arrangement, benefitting dynamics

AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking isn’t available at all (the CX-3’s about to get it as standard), and nor are any other semi-autonomous driving technologies like adaptive cruise control. With six airbags and the usual array of mandatory safety gear like electronic stability control, as well as ABS anti-lock brakes, cornering brake control, emergency brake assist, six airbags including full-width curtain head protection, LED daytime driving lights and rear parking sensors, the GS scores a four-star ANCAP crash test rating.

Most buyers will overlook the base Vivid manual and go straight for the cheapest automatic, which in this case is the Core DCT from $26,000. It’s pretty well equipped too, featuring goodies such as a rearview camera, climate control air-conditioning, rear-seat air vents, reclinable rear backrest, a six-inch touchscreen and 17-inch wheels.

Except for some hexagonal shapes around the console, this dash could be from any number of European or Asian manufacturers. Not very MG in here then…

The Soul from $29K adds niceties like satellite navigation, a larger central touchscreen, leather, foglights, rain-sensing wipers, and 18-inch alloys, while that Essence X helps justify its $35K pricetag with a jump from 1.5 to 2.0-litres for the engine, all-wheel drive, hill descent control with anti rollover tech, paddle shifters for the DCT, Xenon headlights and a sunroof. Just don’t accidentally go off-roading, because ground clearance in the flagship remains steady at an average 174mm.

So the GS is a larger-than-usual small SUV with good looks, a pair of fiery turbo petrol engines to choose from, and a chassis that has been born and honed in Great Britain. Yes, it looks nothing like a ‘50s Magnette, ‘80s Metro Turbo, or ‘00s ZT – let alone a TC, MGA or MG-F – but that’s the reality of today.

People are SUV-mad and the marque is trying to be relevant in an ever-changing world. Your grandad would probably get that.

Byron Mathioudakis