THREE hours of almost uninterrupted seat time on a skidpan and closed gravel course is the itinerary you’d expect for the launch of a highly strung all-paw turbo weapon, not a UK-designed and developed, Chinese-built SUV wearing a classic British sportscar badge.
But that’s how the local launch program played out for the MG GS.
Despite this being about as far from its likely natural environment as a camel in Sydney Harbour, the launch setting did reveal some home truths about the new GS.
The first is that SAIC Motors, MG’s giant Chinese parent company, has done an impressive job with its new architecture, which underpins the GS. It turns in responsively and handles predictably, particularly in AWD 2.0-litre turbo form. However, the ride is firm, especially in the AWD, and the damping lacks something in nuanced rebound control on undulating roads. The steering’s reassuringly weighty but feedback is minimal, the sound of tyre scrub instead signalling the onset of understeer.
Stability control calibration is polished, the electronic safety net intervening gently. Despite many earnest attempts to unsettle the chassis, it prevented the car from leaving the course.
The GS is available with either a 162kW, 350Nm 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine in the topspec Essence X, or a 119kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbo four co-developed with GM (with family ties to the current Astra) in all other versions.
Both engines are lively, the 2.0-litre boasting a strong mid-range beyond the initial lag, yet they’re both relatively noisy and unrefined. The bigger unit claims 9.6L/100km on the official combined cycle, the 1.5 a more reasonable 7.4L/100km, regardless of transmission.
The base-model Vivid is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, while the Core and Soul have SAIC Motorsourced seven-speed dual-clutch automatics. The AWD Essence X uses a six-speed dual-clutch with a higher torque capacity.
Both dual-clutch transmissions can be jerky at low speed if throttle application isn’t smooth, yet can be slow to select a lower ratio on the move when your right foot calls for acceleration.
The AWD GS usually sends power to the front wheels, but can transfer up to half to the rear axle when slip is detected.
The GS is roomy indoors, falling roughly between a Mazda CX-3 and a CX-5 in size, with decent rear legroom and 60/40 seatbacks that fold completely flat.
The cabin is exclusively hardfinish plastics and the front seat cushions lack support, though the dash layout is intuitive.
All versions come with parking sensors and Bluetooth, with Vivid adding a reversing camera while the Soul gets leather and sat-nav and Essence X a sunroof. But there’s no AEB, and the GS scores four ANCAP stars.
The rather derivative exterior styling depends heavily on the viewing angle, and there are six exterior colour choices.
Every MG GS comes with a generous six-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, six years of roadside assistance, and cappedprice servicing. Paired with pricing of $23,990 for the Vivid, $25,990 for the Core, $27,990 for the Soul, and $34,990 for the Essence X, the GS makes for a competitive proposition. However, MG’s dealer network of just three locations in NSW and Queensland (more are planned) holds it back.
It’s a respectable effort at a sharp price point, but the MG GS is a long way from challenging the best-in-class small/medium SUVs.
Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale MG GS Essence X 1995cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 162kW @ 5000rpm 350Nm @ 2500-4000rpm 6-speed dual-clutch 1642kg 9.9sec (estimated) 9.6L/100km $34,990 Now
Budget feel; ride/handling compromise; jerky dual-clutch autos Eager engines; kit list; cabin and cargo space for the price
In metal-for-the-money terms, the base $24K Vivid offers all the cabin space of a body just 50mm shorter than the Mazda CX-5, for about the price of the CX-3 Maxx. The MG is 225mm longer, with an 80mm-longer wheelbase, than Mazda’s baby SUV. There’s a bit less rear legroom than in the CX-5, but significantly more than in the CX-3, with a wider body and, at 483 litres, a bigger boot than either.
Good-looking body straddling small and medium SUV classes underpinned by sweet-handling jacked-up hatchback platform to deliver value and appeal, but 2.0-litre wants for turbo torque.
More herbs than the Qashqai but not the GS, wrapped in a smaller but well-packaged body that’s less roomy than either rival. Decent steering and handling; perceived cabin quality not a strong suit.