The MG GS is practical, affordable and decent to drive overall, but a 1.5-litre petrol engine is the only powertrain option.
Historically MG is synonymous with small British sports cars, so it may be strange to people that today MG offers either a supermini, the MG 3, or the MG GS SUV. And although assembled in Britain, MGs are manufactured in China – by SAIC, the country’s largest vehicle producer. So, as a result of this background, an MG may not be the obvious SUV to buy, but should you consider it?
The MG GS’s exterior styling isn’t likely to offend people, although it’s lacking in any real design character, and visually, for an SUV, our test car had relatively small (17-inch) wheels compared to many competitors. It doesn’t really look like an off-roader, but that’s probably appropriate, as this is a front-wheel drive machine that’s very much intended to stay on the tarmac.
The interior is functional, and there’s some areas of shiny black plastic surfaces, although overall it’s very dark and full of lots of cheap-looking plastics, such as on the lower parts of the dashboard and on the inside of the doors, resulting in a fairly basic feel overall inside.
The one engine available is a 1.5-litre turbo petrol, with, in the case of our test car, a 6-speed manual gearbox.
There are actually two exhaust pipes at the rear of the car, but these are features that you can’t see unless you crawl underneath the vehicle.
Many people may venture into the MG GS driving experience with fairly low expectations, but actually, overall it’s a decent car to drive. The engine is reasonably responsive, offering sufficient levels of performance – and it’s also quiet at most times. The gearbox works well, and the clutch likewise, although the clutch did feel slightly worn on our test car; previous media road tests may be responsible for this. The brake pedal pressure is on the sharp side, and it’s difficult to get smooth engine responses through the accelerator if manoeuvring at very low speeds.
The steering and handling both help to add some fun to the MG GS driving experience, but the biggest issue is the ride quality. Suspension tuning is an ongoing challenge for cars in this class. To get a comfortable ride you need soft damping, but that can result in too much body roll in corners for SUVs due to the high centre of gravity compared to a saloon or hatchback. Therefore many SUVs have a firm ride, which helps to prevent excessive roll in corners, but this means that the ride isn’t comfortable on poor road surfaces. Which is exactly what you end up with in the MG GS. The suspension is crashy on roads with potholes, and the car doesn’t like speed bumps.
One other issue that we experienced was an item of interior trim becoming detached, suggesting that build quality isn’t what it should be.
The official combined NEDC economy figure for the MG GS is 46.3mpg, equating to 139 g/km CO2. This isn’t great to start with, but after a week of mixed driving, our average real-world economy figure was 28.8mpg, which is disappointing, and one of the lowest of all cars that we’ve tested. Some people might say that it’s good that the MG GS doesn’t have a diesel engine, but the poor real-life fuel economy is a result of the MG GS being an SUV with a petrol engine.
The MG GS has three trim levels: Explore (from £15,095), Excite (as tested, £17,595) and Exclusive (from £19,595). There’s also the option of a 7-speed DCT transmission on the Exclusive model. Our Excite press car had most equipment that you would want, such as reversing camera, but no satnav, and you need to opt for Exclusive trim to get the larger 18-inch wheels (which look better proportioned but which are likely to make the ride even worse).
The main selling point for the MG GS is that it offers a practical family-friendly SUV body style for a relatively affordable starting price of around £15,000. Expectations may be low for many people with a car from a manufacturer with little brand awareness in its current incarnation, and if so, then expectations could well be exceeded. The MG GS is perfectly pleasant to drive overall, but it certainly doesn’t excel or delight in many areas. And in two areas – ride quality and fuel consumption – it’s disappointing.
But perhaps the key thing for us is that MG has missed an opportunity. MINI has shown that you can bring a classic British brand back from the dead and be successful with a modern interpretation of the original formula – ie. a small car with ‘go-kart handling’. It’s hard to see any emotional connection between the MG GS and an MGB (which wasn’t without its faults, but at least it had some character), whereas we would love to see a modern day MGB – a small, lightweight, efficient, affordable, rear-wheel drive, two-seater sports car – with today’s standards of build quality and reliability. MG says it has a more ambitious vision for the future (the MG E-motion electric supercar concept was unveiled at the 2017 Shanghai Motor Show) – so let’s hope that customers will soon be able to see a brand personality in MGs that has some link to the past.
In the meantime the MG GS feels like it’s trying to emulate a bland Kia or Hyundai rather than an MG; it’s awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 6 out of 10 – its scoring not helped by the fact that one of the prime things that we rate in a car is efficiency, and the MG GS doesn’t really deliver in this area. And of course there’s a lot of good competition out there in this sector. We would hope for a much higher rating for the MG E-motion electric supercar…