With Apple reportedly sniffing around McLaren, the automotive world is unarguably fluid and hard to keep track of these days. At least the MG brand, currently under the wings of Chinese car giant SAIC, has plumped for the right body style for its latest offering, the GS. With the Bentayga and F-Pace British duo satiating the super-rich, and Kia and Hyundai having moved to the centre-ground, MG’s decision to bring the GS to the UK is spot on, having sold over 43,000 of them in China.
Aesthetically speaking, a bold, cheery and somewhat goofy face, chunky if ordinary side profile and an awkwardly-styled rear still certainly leave the GS looking more attractive and desirable than the segment’s cheapest comparable rival, the Dacia Duster. Although the fruits of Anthony Williams-Kenny’s Midlands design team’s efforts could never be described as beautiful, MG’s debut SUV, like its other closest contender, the Suzuki Vitara, offers something slightly different to the now rather monotonous Renault Kadjar, Nissan Qashqai et al and looks particularly smart in Jet Black as tested, or in silver. Daytime LEDs, rugged running boards and actually rather sexy 18” alloys finish the package off nicely. The GS is aimed at families and it’ll certainly look at home on the Jones families’ driveways up and down the country.
Just as exploring the exterior reveals a few question marks over quality, such as inconsistent panel gaps, wandering too far from the beaten track when it comes to the GS’ cabin throws up some undeniably nasty surfaces and controls made of plastic that I wouldn’t want to bet will be able to stand up to the aeons of time and the rigours of family life. The overall interior layout and ambience are excellent, though, with a large touchscreen, sensibly sized and positioned buttons and switches, plenty of space for front and rear passengers and, trim level dependent, a list of gadgets and mod cons enough to impress anyone. Excite trim, retailing from an eye-catching £17,495, comes with DAB, Bluetooth, MirrorLink (for Apple and Android connectivity), parking sensors and reversing camera. Even the incredibly-priced Explore model that kicks the range off at a mere £14,995 comes with cruise control, automatic headlights and air conditioning, so is a far cry from a Tupperware lunchbox on wheels. The £19,495 test car’s Exclusive trim specification includes electric front seats, iGo navigation and cream leather upholstery, which actually conveys a plush vibe. Storage capacity is more than satisfactory, the lipless 483-litre boot is a decent size for families with children who no longer get chauffeured around in prams and buggies, and the back seats fold flat to provide a very useful 1,336 litres of space for trips to the furniture store, local tip and holidays.
SAIC’s decision to sell the UK GS with a petrol engine only may seem suicidal in a society where MPG swims around many families’ minds and diesel engines are the preferred choice. Bear in mind the recent diesel emissions scandal, though, along with the realisation that diesel engines are more polluting and spit their dummies out if used mainly for tootling around town thanks to DPF woes, and the strategy may turn out to be inspired. SAIC aren’t idiots, enjoying partnerships with General Motors (Vauxhall) and VW. Getting the petrol message across to Joe and Joanne Public will be a challenge, though, and will obviously dent the GS’ appeal to business fleets, which are still mainly governed by CO2 emissions and hence favour diesel.
The MG GS’ 1.5-litre petrol engine is turbocharged, produces a healthy peak of 164bhp along with class-leading torque of 250Nm, and has been proven in China, so is no guinea pig or hand-me-down. It’s remarkably quiet and refined when first fired up, crawling through urban traffic and cruising on A-roads, but the engine’s rev-happy nature combined with long gear ratios and MG’s determination to remain a sporty proposition mean that the GS can be quite noisy and tiring to drive spiritedly, or when overtaking. The 6-speed manual gearbox can feel notchy at times but is on the whole fairly pleasant to operate, and a 7-speed DCT ‘automatic’ transmission is available as an alternative. Wind, tyre and road noise only become more apparent at motorway speeds, where the MG nevertheless remains composed, the high-up driving position adding to the feeling of safety and control. On 18” wheels in particular, the suspension makes a meal of potholes and rough surfaces, though, crashing through them with an unpleasant thud. In a nod to MG’s heritage, the GS’ steering setup provides more feel than some of its rivals and Britain’s newest SUV is able to corner in a surprisingly agile manner, resulting in a car that’s unexpectedly engaging to drive. After around 300 miles of mixed driving, an average of 42.3mpg isn’t to be sniffed at compared to the official 46.3mpg figure.
Fewer than 1,000 GS SUVs are expected to find homes in the UK and the lack of a diesel engine is undoubtedly bound to deter some potential converts, so the latest car to sport the MG badge is likely to remain a relatively rare sight on our roads. With characterful, bold styling, a spacious and comfortable if admittedly cheaply-built interior, generous levels of equipment levels for its bargain price tag and a surprisingly entertaining engine and gearbox combination, the GS is far from a damp squib and makes a lot of sense for families, young couples or singletons in pursuit of value.
Okay, I admit I was a little peeved when Kraft started meddling with another British institution, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, but I really am quite taken with the Chinese-built MG GS.
Exterior photography © Richard Gabb