Car­rier with a catch

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

AS with many of its British con­tem­po­raries, the MG (for Morris Garages) brand, renowned in the mid-20th cen­tury for its stylish, sporty road­sters, al­most sank with­out trace when MG Rover went belly-up in 2005.

It was res­cued by Chi­nese buy­ers and is now part of the largest car man­u­fac­turer in the peo­ple’s repub­lic, the sta­te­owned Shang­hai Au­to­mo­bile In­dus­try Cor­po­ra­tion, or SAIC.

SAIC built 6.5 mil­lion ve­hi­cles in 2016, so it’s prob­a­bly the big­gest car com­pany you’ve never heard of.

MG Mo­tor, as the brand is now called, is a tiny part of SAIC’s port­fo­lio, with only two mod­els to date, the Toy­ota Yaris-sized MG 3 and Corol­la­sized MG 6, and just three deal­ers in Aus­tralia.

The new MG GS com­pact SUV, launched this week, should sig­nif­i­cantly lift the brand’s pro­file in this coun­try. De­signed and en­gi­neered in Bri­tain (in Birm­ing­ham), it is built in China.

Drive-away launch pric­ing kicks off at $22,990 for the Vivid, with 1.5-litre turbo, sixspeed man­ual and front-wheel drive. It gets 17-inch al­loys, Blue­tooth, re­verse park­ing sen­sors, au­to­matic head­lights and an elec­tric park­ing brake.

At $25,990, the GS Core adds a seven-speed dual clutch auto, rear cam­era, hill holder, du­al­zone air­con with rear vents, Arkamys au­dio, leather­wrapped wheel with in­fo­tain­ment con­trols and a cooled stor­age box.

The $28,990 Soul gets 18-inch wheels, more sup­port­ive front seats, leather up­hol­stery and lum­bar ad­just­ment, eight-inch touch­screen, nav­i­ga­tion, fog­lights and auto wipers.

It’s then a big jump to the $34,990 GS Essence X, which runs a 2.0-litre turbo, sixspeed auto and all­wheel drive. It adds pad­dle-shifters, au­tolev­el­ling head­lights, sun­roof, hill de­scent con­trol and ex­tended sta­bil­ity con­trol to in­clude rollover pro­tec­tion.

The sheet­metal is more in­ter­est­ing and at­trac­tive than your typ­i­cal Euro-box SUV.

That trait does not, un­for­tu­nately, carry over into the cabin. It’s an unin­spir­ing place, with dated, unimag­i­na­tive de­sign, a wall-towall grey palette re­lieved only by a few swathes of gloss black plas­tic trim in up-spec mod­els and dull and un­re­spon­sive touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment and in­stru­ment dis­plays. There’s and no voice con­trol, Ap­ple CarPlay, An­droid Auto, dig­i­tal ra­dio or driver as­sist safety tech in any vari­ant.

There’s am­ple space for four, with plenty of driv­ing po­si­tion ad­justa­bil­ity. Front seats are com­fort­able and sup­port­ive and there is rea­son­able rear legroom, though adults sit slightly knees-up on a low bench.

The 483L of cargo volume is 100L greater than Toy­ota’s C-HR. Fold the seats to yield 1336L — and the ex­tended floor is com­pletely flat.

ON THE ROAD

In a class where de­cent per­for­mance is dif­fi­cult to find, the MG’s 1.5-litre turbo/sev­en­speed driv­e­train is its big­gest at­trac­tion.

A smooth, sweet, tractable little en­gine, with strong out­puts (119kW/250Nm), the 1.5 works well with the gear­box, which also de­liv­ers more re­spon­sive, ef­fi­cient go-for­ward than the CVTs and au­to­mat­ics in most ri­val SUVs.

Pre­mium un­leaded is re­quired. Most nat­u­rally as­pi­rated ri­vals run on reg­u­lar.

Move up to the 2.0-litre Essence X and you get the high­est out­puts in the class (162kW/350Nm) but on the road it feels as though 40kW or so has gone miss­ing in ac­tion.

The larger en­gine is also a less than happy match with its sixspeeder, fal­ter­ing and lag­ging oc­ca­sion­ally at low revs, buzzing ex­ces­sively at the top end and gen­er­at­ing re­ver­ber­a­tion in the cabin, am­pli­fied on coarse bi­tu­men by tyre roar.

Essence X op­er­ates as a front -driver un­til slip is de­tected, when up to 50 per cent of drive can be sent to the rear wheels. Drive can be locked in a 50-50 split for low trac­tion sur­faces.

Dy­nam­ics also favour 1.5-litre mod­els, which en­joy a 182kg-222kg weight ad­van­tage over the heavy (1642kg), cum­ber­some Essence X.

They’re firmly sus­pended and ag­ile, with rea­son­able bal­ance and sharp, well­weighted steer­ing.

A firm, slightly ag­i­tated ride, es­pe­cially for rear pas­sen­gers, will be­come try­ing on rough roads.

VER­DICT

As with any bit player brand, es­pe­cially one that has come back from the dead, you’re tak­ing a leap of faith if you put your money down on an MG GS.

Backed by SAIC, MG should sur­vive but re­sale val­ues may be weak, re­li­a­bil­ity is un­proven and, in the GS, 21st-cen­tury safety and in­fo­tain­ment tech is con­spic­u­ously ab­sent.

At these prices, the GS is a tough sell when sim­i­lar money will put you into a no-risk, bluechip Toy­ota C-HR, Mazda CX-3 or Suzuki Vi­tara.

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