Gareth Butterfield wonders if it will be third time lucky for MG and its new SUV
CAST your mind back to when MG was in its heyday. It was a British firm with a solid reputation for building sports cars with a pedigree on the road and track to back up its brand credentials.
Those two little letters on the front of a car bought you respect, admiration and access to a community of like-minded drivers. In fact, the MG Owners Club is still the largest single-marque car club in the world.
Nowadays, the cars that were produced in its heyday are real collectors’ items, and can command some extraordinary prices.
But although the brand remains on the consumer market, we’re well past its heyday now. We’ve seen its rise, we’ve seen its fall, and we should be seeing its rise again.
Now in the hands of the Chinese, with Chinese money and manufacturing marrying up with British innovation, design and development, and being several years into this relationship, MG should be back in its stride. But it’s been a slow start on the path back to glory.
The first offering to emerge from the alliance was the MG6. It had its strengths and I for one was quite fond of it, but the brand had been away for a long time and it needed a strong product to assure buyers it meant business. The MG6 was not a strong product. It sold in handfuls and has recently died a death.
This meant the next car started on the back-foot. The MG3 was remarkably good, and represented excellent value. Sales have been better, but still disappointing. And now there’s this, the GS. MG is taking a stab at a small SUV for the first time in its history. Can it be third time lucky for the brand?
For a kick-off, it looks pretty good. In fact, from some angles, it’s very attractive. Those huge side panels make the wheels look pretty small, but it has a distinctive back end and a pretty, pointy front end.
Inside it’s a bit less daring but fairly practical and brings the best build quality we’ve seen from the latest line-up of MGs. Yes, there’s some rough edges, but there are worse offenders out there.
Interestingly, the range has been introduced with just one engine to choose from. It’s petrol-powered because MG isn’t gunning for the fleet market and diesel lumps don’t tempt so many private buyers these days.
It’s a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol with 164bhp, mated to either a manual or DCT dual-clutch automatic.
with either gearbox it feels lively and it’s remarkably quiet at low revs. It’s fairly economical too, but there are rivals that would beat it. Still, 46.3mpg and 139g/km is a good start.
Still, you’ll be saving quite a bit of extra cash on the purchase price – so the sums might add up for some families. The rear seats are very roomy, with a nice flat floor – no transmission tunnel as the GS is front-wheel-drive only – and a decent boot with 60/40 folding seats.
The suspension is smooth and settles well under normal driving conditions. Push on and it can get a bit bouncy but it drives well for a car in its sector.
True to form with cars sporting the reborn MG moniker the array of standard equipment is a big plus point. Alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control and automatic headlights are all thrown in, while Excite models bring a large touchscreen infotainment system.
This, unlike many of the mainstream marques out there, is surprisingly good. It would have been easy for the Chinese owners to have thrown in the sort of device we Brits take a punt on on Ebay, but its interface is designed in Longbridge and it feels high-tech and easy to use.
Mid-range models also have a reversing camera and Bluetooth while the top trim adds leather upholstery, sat nav and heated, electrically adjustable front seats.
Another modern MG trait is good value. The GS range starts at £14,995 and a top-spec model can be had for £19,495. This means it’s knocking on the door of the similar SsangYong Tivoli which has all-wheel-drive and a diesel engine, but a badge we’re not quite so familiar with.
But, flaws aside, it’s largely good news for MG. If you poke around hard enough you’ll find some typical Chinese cheapness, but it’s not as if they’re charging an unreasonable price.
It’s another tough sector and part of me wishes MG would go back to tapping into niches in the sports car market but the GS makes an admirable attempt at breaking into the mainstream.
Third time lucky? I genuinely hope so.