Car review: MG GS

MG GS Saudi

When it comes to inexpensive (new) cars, there’s always a catch. Yes, you get something with four wheels and an engine that can take you from A to B, but, often, that’s about all you get. Comfort, refinement, technology, fuel efficiency, resale value? Traditionally, all of that stuff goes straight out of the window when you opt for a really low-priced car. Which is why most people tend to go for ‘safer’ choices from brands they already know and trust – even if it means shelling out more cash.

But every now and then, a new model comes along that can change your perception of inexpensive cars entirely. In this case, it’s the MG GS, the first SUV to be built by the classic British marque, and after spending a week with it as a daily driver, I can’t, for the life of me, find the catch.

First, a bit of background. To Brits, the MG brand is well-known, but it’s not as famous as some of Britain’s other exports. It was set up in 1924 as an offshoot of W.R. Morris, and while it saw some success, the marque struggled to survive on its own. As a result, over the course of its lifetime, it was passed between various bigger brands in the British automotive sector. Nevertheless, MG made a name for itself with its good-looking sports cars, of which it sold plenty through the 1960s and 1970s.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and MG had been merged with Rover to create the now-defunct MG Rover group. Aside from one two-seater sports car, the MGs of that time were sportier versions of Rover’s cars. With the collapse of Rover, however, MG went, too.

In 2005, the MG brand was purchased by China-based Ninjing Automobile Group, which itself merged into Chinese car giant SAIC in 2008. It’s taken a few years, but since then, SAIC has unveiled three new MG cars, the latest of which is the MG GS you see here. The ones that are sold in Britain are part-assembled in China and then finished off in the UK. The ones we get here in the Gulf, however, are purely Chinese.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that MG, a traditional British marque, now sells China-made cars. Here in the Gulf, the low end of the car market has been flooded with basic offerings from Chinese brands eager to fill the space left behind by the likes of Hyundai and Kia – who have moved upmarket. MG, however, sits at the top of the Chinese crop, so, despite the cars being noticeably less expensive than their Korean competitors, they’re supposed to be comparable.

And so we move to the GS, a small SUV designed to compete with the likes of the Toyota RAV4, the Nissan Qashqai and the Hyundai Tucson. The thing is, for the top-of-the-range versions of those cars, you’re looking at around AED 90,000 (give or take). The top-of-the-range MG GS, in comparison, is AED 75,000. And from the looks alone, you’d think it’d be worth considering.

Okay, you might think, it’s significantly less expensive because it must be significantly worse, right? Well, here’s the thing, the MG GS isn’t a bad car. In fact, it’s a very good car that’s capable of holding its own against its more expensive rivals.

Indeed, the range starts at AED 60,000, with a mid-level option available for AED 69,000. Every car in the range comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which chucks out 220 bhp and 350 Nm of torque. That engine is mated to a 6-speed TST automatic gearbox that comes with, if you opt for the top-end AWD LUX version, paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

So, from the off, it’s clear that the GS is no slouch – even by normal sedan standards, let alone SUV standards. It’ll do the 0-100 km/h dash in 8.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 208 km/h. In the real world, that means quick performance off the line at roundabouts and a car that’ll effortlessly pick up to match highway speeds when you’re merging onto a faster road. True to MG’s heritage, the GS is suitably rapid – it’s not hot hatch or supercar fast, but it’ll leave, say, a Mitsubishi Pajero, in its dust.

On the AWD LUX version we have on test, you also get ‘real-time’ all-wheel-drive. Essentially it’s a four-wheel-drive system that allows power to be sent to any wheel that’s slipping. This sort of tech has been standard for years on more expensive cars, and it’s a good compromise between fuel-efficiency and solid performance. There are also plenty of other 4WD options, such as a hill-descent mode and locking differentials, which makes all four wheels go round at the same rate to help you unstick yourself from any tricky off-road situations.

I’m not going to say that the GS will be a stunner in the desert (though I didn’t try), but the mere presence of these off-road gadgets suggests that the GS may be more comfortable off-road than your average soft-roader. Certainly, in conjunction with the car’s good ground clearance, the toys will allow you to manage a rough track or a tough muddy spot.

Anyway, as is the case with most small SUVS, GS buyers are unlikely to spend much time off-road. That’s okay, though, because the car behaves very nicely on the road. We’ve already gone into the more-than-adequate performance, but on top that, the GS has handling dynamics that put many smaller and nimbler cars to shame. Head into a corner too quickly, and the four-wheel-drive system will ensure that the car sticks to its line. The grip is fantastic for a car of this size, but what really impresses is the lack of body roll. You really don’t notice the change of direction much at all from inside the cabin – speaking to a really rather well-sorted chassis. Another indicator that the GS deserves to wear the MG badge.

There is a sport mode, but to be honest, the button to switch it on is best left alone. Most cars in this price bracket require you to turn on the sport mode to get maximum power (which you often want, because cars in this price bracket tend to be slow). In the GS, though, all the power is available regardless of the mode you’re in. All the sports mode does is sharpen the throttle response, beef up the suspension, make the steering heavier and the ride firmer. It’s unnecessary in a car of this type. The car goes and handles just fine in normal mode, and sports mode just makes it more difficult to drive.

It’s the same story with the gearbox, which, on this model, offers a manual mode in which you can shift gears using the paddles behind the steering wheel. Again, though, it’s unnecessary. The automatic gearbox is beautifully smooth when you’re driving at normal speeds, and it’s all too happy to kick down a gear when you put your foot down. In manual mode, you might be tempted to hold on to gears longer before shifting up, but, truth be told, the engine doesn’t appreciate this much – it whines and wobbles on the upshifts, giving a sense that you’re pushing too hard. Leave it in automatic (as most people will), and you won’t notice a thing.

Indeed, despite the sporty qualities that the GS eschews, it’s far better when you treat it as a normal family wagon, a relaxing barge in which to drift about town. The ride is supremely supple, and the cabin is pin-drop quiet. And speaking of the cabin, the interior quality, for a car of this price, is nothing short of stellar. Opt for cream-coloured leather seats and you’ll note how beautifully the look goes with the piano-black dashboard. Yeah, most of the switches and buttons are plastic, but the plastics are sturdy and high-quality. You wouldn’t complain if your AED 120,000 car felt like this inside.

It’s roomy, too. The centre armrest is wide and comfortable; the passenger seat is reasonably far from the driver’s seat; and the back seats will host a 6-and-a-half-foot man comfortably (believe me, we tested this). And on this model, the back seats fold flat so that the already generous boot can swallow a huge amount of stuff.

You also get loads of equipment if you opt for the top-end model. The driver’s seat can be electronically adjusted six ways; there are automatic Xenon headlights with level adjustment and washers; and you get keyless entry and go. There’s an electric sunroof, arctic-cold climate control, and a reasonably good infotainment system on the centre console. You can take phone calls and play music over Bluetooth, and while some of the functions on the infotainment system are a little Windows XP, it’s all there – even down to the (really rather good) reversing camera.

So, to recap, the MG GS looks good, drives well, and has decent off-road credentials. It’s comfortable, is packed full of tech, and is as practical as a car in this class can be.

So what’s the catch? Well, after a week of testing the GS, I couldn’t find it. Honestly, if you’re looking for a small SUV, try this car – you’d be surprised at just how capable it is.

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