MG HS PHEV
It’s (only just) the cheapest plug-in hybrid SUV in Oz, but does that make this Chinese-made mid-sizer a bargain?
SHOULD WE TAKE A moment to get in a quick plug for buyers of hybrid vehicles? We could, but those who actually have a plug are deeply in the minority. Consider that in 2020 sales of PHEVs tallied just 1685 vehicles, compared to well over 60,000 in the same period for parallel ‘plug-less’ hybrids, which use recovered energy or the output of the engine to recharge the battery.
Toyota, which dominates the market of the latter, has done a top job of convincing Aussies as to the merits of its ‘self-charging’ hybrids, so most buyers either can’t be bothered with the plug or aren’t aware of the benefits.
MG aims to change that with the launch of its first PHEV, the mid-size HS SUV. Offered in a single high-level spec for $46,990 driveaway, it teams a 1.5-litre turbo four with a 90kW/230Nm motor sandwiched between the six-speed auto transmission for a combined
189kW and 370Nm. The motor is fed by a 16.6kWh battery to provide a claimed electric-only range of 52km.
In the context of its rivals, the HS is similarly sized to the Toyota RAV4, and a close spec match for the hybrid Cruiser 2.5 FWD at $43,290. So at first glance the MG’s pricing looks a touch ambitious. However, the rival RAV4 will barely leave your driveway under electric power alone, so ask yourself how important it is for you to use your hybrid SUV in EV mode and burn no petrol for daily commuting or running around. The potential energy savings are not huge unless you have solar; what opting for plug-in power does provide is a zero-Nox clear conscience for your urban running, and the benefit of exclusive access to the more quiet, responsive electric side of the powertrain. On this latter criteria, the MG performs well. It ‘idles’ in complete silence, is always alert to the throttle around town and accelerates swiftly, with only a subdued whine and the sound of the 18-inch Michelins disturbing the otherwise tranquil cabin.
However, its hybrid system is not especially sophisticated. There are just two modes: EV, which locks out the
petrol engine, or the default hybrid mode, which uses a mix of petrol and battery power depending on a bunch of parameters including throttle position, road speed and gradient. It lacks a ‘recharge’ mode on the move to boost battery power for later EV-only running, instead relying on coasting re-gen to replenish the battery after its plug-in charge is depleted. Re-gen ability seems limited; our ‘flat’ battery didn’t regain charge over the final 80km. There’s also an odd hesitation when booting it from around 70km/h, as if the powertrain needs a moment’s thinking time.
Our test drive was 140km; the first 40km on battery power alone, the remainder in hybrid mode. Total fuel consumption was 6.7L/100km, so not amazing but that did take in some hard driving. Expect to use mid-to-high 8s when driving with a depleted battery.
As for the chassis tune and dynamics, the HS is acceptable for the undemanding driver; firm around town and a little restless, yet not crashy nor uncomfortable. But start to lean on it a bit in and it’s quickly apparent the compression and rebound rates are a bit of a MAFS marriage rather than harmonious bliss. B-road lumps and dips reveal a lack of cohesion that puts the HS well short of the supple but controlled Subaru Forester or Toyota’s RAV4. The steering is quick enough at 2.7 turns lock to lock, but brings an artificial weighting as lock is wound on. Personal preference, but I’d rather an overall lighter, more linear tune.
Inside, it’s all very conventional and dummy-proof. Surfacing and materials are mostly decent, let down only by plasticky switchgear. The driver’s 12.3-inch digital instrument display can be configured to provide various info pages, while the 10.1-inch touchscreen for media, HVAC and vehicle settings is logical, if a bit laggy. A massive glass roof with retractable blind opens the entire cabin to the sky.
The leather and microsuede-trimmed seats are deeply sculpted, but lack under-thigh support for tall frames. In the back, the lowish seat base will see adults with knees bent but with adequate legroom. Kids are fine, and they’ll be happy with the two USB ports and a fold-down cupholder section also housing a lidded cubby large enough to hold a phone or a few snack bars. Luggage capacity is 451 litres, accessed by a powered tailgate, expanding to 1275L with the rear seats folded.
Broader take-out for the HS PHEV is that this is an honest, uncomplicated hybrid that gets enough of the basics right to give environmentally aware buyers what they want: easy overnight recharging from a domestic outlet, enough range for typical daily duties and economical longer-haul running with zero range anxiety.
Is it priced keenly enough to tempt the masses away from more mainstream, lowconsumption alternatives like the RAV4 hybrid? That’s the contentious bit.