IAIN ROBERTSON

MG HS

MG HS

As one of the Sino-pioneers into the UK new car scene, MG has enjoyed something of a head start over a rash of future Chinese brands, states Iain Robertson, and the opportunity to drive the latest and priciest newcomer confirms its growing maturity.

While not wishing to be unkind to a Chinese car manufacturer that used as much guile, during the failure and subsequent folding of the former MG-Rover Group, as BMW displayed, there is a certain sadness attached to an historical brand and its new status. MG, renowned for its octagonal badge and those two vital capital letters, is an emotive car company…at least it was prior to SAIC owning it.

Possessing an history as long as your arm that is rooted deeply in the West Midlands’ former industrial supremacy, MG also represents one of the largest marque clubs in the world that operates actively its racing championships and truly charming social calendar. It is as British as afternoon tea, which is a factor that its ‘new’ Chinese parents decided would win it fans, following its successful bid to own the brand.

MG HS

MG HS

In reality, the journey that SAIC has undertaken has been riven with distrust and a torrent of ‘fake news’. Its first products under Sino ownership were based on the MG TF sportscar, produced in China but supplied in ‘Complete Knockdown’ kit form to be reassembled in Longbridge, Birmingham. Sales were sluggish to say the least, even from MG enthusiasts. It was followed by the MG6, a Skoda Octavia sized family car. A few hundred found homes and a couple of examples are raced in the BTCC but it was a truly awful machine, certainly not worthy of an MG badge, however cheapened it became during the post-Austin-Rover Group era.

The more recent MG3, despite looking like a composite of Renault Clio, Fiat Punto and Skoda Fabia, is quite a decent compact hatchback and the ZS (baby SUV) is equally impressive, notably from a value-for-money standpoint. To provide a great package has become central to the MG Motor remit, last exemplified by the introduction earlier this year of the all-electric version of the ZS EV model (sold with a £7,000 price reduction to the first 2,000 customers). With the first eight examples available of the HS replacement for the ever-so-chintzy GS, a brief drop-in-and-drive on the roads of Hampshire was truly too good to miss.

MG HS

MG HS

Park HS alongside GS and it is abundantly clear that, apart from minor head and taillight changes, plus the chunkier radiator grille, something more all-pervading has happened at MG that I shall refer to as ‘transparency’. Do not worry; the MG HS is tough enough but it is also abundantly clear that the firm needed a more upmarket appeal for its top-of-the-shop model. HS succeeds where GS never could, which warrants the model name-change. Perhaps it is time for the Chinese carmaker to reveal its true colours, especially since the Longbridge, Birmingham, production facility was revealed as being little more than a sham.

Yet, I believe that HS compensates with its much-refreshed stance. The quality of materials used in the cabin is now of such a high order that it makes ALL of its C-segment rivals look seriously overpriced. Soft-touch plastics abound but they look, as well as feel, of significantly higher grade. HS starts at a modest £17,995, which is admittedly £3,000 more expensive than the outgone GS but is also pitched directly into the heart of the small dimension, B-segment territory, many of which models are considerably more costly.

MG HS

MG HS

It has a roomy cabin space, with plenty of head, shoulder and legroom fore and aft, a multi-adjustable driving position (electric for the driver’s seat; the top model featuring power and heating for both front seats) and a decent boot, accessed via the rear hatchback (electric, on the top model), with 60:40-split to the rear bench for added practicality. Lesser Explore and Excite (£20,495) models feature ‘leatherette’ cladding for the seats and door cards, although the highly specified £22,995 Exclusive offers the choice of black, or black and red real hide, among a host of trim and detail enhancements.

Powering the HS is a turbocharged, petrol-injected 1.5-litre engine that drives the front wheels only; its performance is zesty. Mind you, it should be, with the unit delivering a punchy 162bhp, with 184lbs ft of torque on tap (0-60mph in 9.5s; top speed of 119mph; 139g/km CO2; 37.2mpg). However, it tips the scales at almost 1.5-tonnes and its aerodynamics are best described as ‘bluff’. The reality is ‘no change’ from the GS, other than upgrading the engine to meet CO2 emissions requirements. Drive is via a choice of 6-speed manual, or 7-speed twin-clutch, automated-manual transmissions.

MG HS

MG HS

The car’s handling is acceptable, with a fluent ride quality that was unexpected, as it absorbed the worst of road surface imperfections, without excess jostling of occupants. However, despite assurances that damper refinement was carried out on British roads, it needs more effort to be expended to iron-out secondary springing issues (from the anti-roll bars, probably), as well as ‘jounce’, or rebound reactions, which are inconsistent.

The $64,000 question is: has MG managed to hike the former GS onto a higher plane? I would suggest that, when all of the latest safety and connectivity aspects are included alongside sequential indicators and a panoramic glass roof (on Exclusive models), the benefits are conspicuous. However, be under no illusion, the HS is simply a well-revised GS. Its appeal is going to be to people, who are not car fans, although they need the personal transport benefits, which include the 7 years warranty…a Daewoo for the modern age.

Conclusion:       Complying with a painless ‘Identikit’ SUV appearance ensures that the MG HS fits well with its rivals and at the top of the firm’s current UK offering.

MG HS

MG HS