The MG HS is a new entrant that changes the budget car landscape in Singapore, and changes it for the better…
SINGAPORE — No one wants to pay big money for a car if they can help it, yet no one wants their car to feel low-cost. The MG HS was tailor made for just this market, which surely includes every sensible person in Singapore.
So it’s worth starting the money part up front: the MG costs S$99,888 with Certificate of Entitlement. That buys you a medium Sport Utility Vehicle, roughly the size of Toyota’s RAV4, with a 1.5-litre turbo engine and a seven-speed twin-clutch auto, along with a surprising number of bells and whistles. A lot of car, in other words.
But does the MG have anything to recommend it besides a low price? Read on to find out.
OK, so what’s the catch?
There’s no catch. You get five seats, five doors and a pleasant-looking SUV with obvious styling influences — the front end is Mazda-ish and there’s a vague hint of Mercedes to the rear.
Some people will recognise the MG badge and some won’t have a clue, but in all honesty there’s little link to the brand’s low-cost British roadster past. MG still has a design studio and engineering centre in the UK, but is now controlled by SAIC Motor, a Chinese giant that put nearly 7 million cars together last year. More than, say, Ford and Subaru combined.
Ah, so it’s a Chinese car!
Pretty much. But not like any other Chinese car we’ve driven. The HS (and another MG, the electric ZS) is good enough to make anyone realise that somewhere along the way, cars from China have gone from being comedic to cheap to competitive.
Judging from the HS, it’s scary how quickly the Chinese have caught up. If you build or sell French cars right now, you should be terrified.
The quality of the interior is, frankly, astonishing.
There are soft, high grade plastics all over the cabin, and some areas leave you scratching your head at how this is possible at this price — check out the rear armrest and its cupholders, for instance. There are German premium cars that feel much cheaper in the same spot.
Between the front seats you get cupholders with a sliding cover, which is the kind of thing that makes a VW feel slightly posh.
The front seats themselves are fairly striking, racing car-like items. They’re decently comfy to sit in for long stretches and the upholstery feels robust.
Then there’s the design of the cabin itself, which is a vague mash-up of Mercedes and VW (the air-con vents and steering wheel buttons, respectively), with a BMW-style gearlever thrown into the mix. Much of China itself is still in the third world, but some of its carmakers have joined the first.
But a good car is more than a nice cabin
True. And here the MG borrows from Sweden. In addition to six airbags, there’s a raft of active safety features like rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitors and so on.
Check out the way the trip computer runs through a diagnostic of each one when you start the way, the way a Volvo does.
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Indeed, it’s all very contemporary in the MG. Notice the instruments are a mix of analogue and digital, with a rev counter that spins the wrong way (no shame in that, because BMWs also have wrong-way tachometer needles now).
Then there’s the freestanding 10.1-inch touchscreen. It’s a high quality monitor with an interface that’s easy to operate, but most of the time you’ll use the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto function for your entertainment or navigation needs.
There’s a row of neat plastichrome switches (again, vaguely Mercedes-like) but if anything, too many of the climate controls are buried in a touchscreen menu. Who wants to bet against the possibility that within another model generation you’ll be able to set the air-con in your MG by voice command?
What’s it like on the move?
The first impression is that it’s a quiet car. In fact it’s hushed enough to let a speeding fine sneak up on you.
It’s very clear that MG realised that the nicest cabin in the world doesn’t mean a thing if everything rattles and the wind whooshes around the car when you’re moving. That being so, the HS cruises with an admirable level of noise suppression in place.
The suspension is on the firm side of things, but no more so than in the average SUV. If you want a calmer ride consider the MG ZS EV, which is surprisingly magic carpet-like.
But is it good to drive?
In the chassis department the MG HS is all about competence and security, so even though you won’t find it particularly engaging, you won’t find it cumbersome or difficult to manoeuvre, either. It’s not particularly sharp, but it never feels like a clumsy car.
As for the engine, it’s straight out of the small turbo four-cylinder mould, in the sense that it sounds generic and pulls energetically. There’s 160 horsepower on offer, and generally speaking if you’re getting more than 1hp per S$1,000 in Singapore, you’re doing well.
Interestingly, if you peek under the bonnet one of the first things you see (on the bulkhead) is an engine computer from Bosch, a German supplier.
The gearbox is less accomplished. The MG has different driving modes but the transmission feels as if it wants to show the world how sporty it is, so it sometimes engages the clutch abruptly and makes the HS surge into motion. That feels like a kink to be ironed out rather than a flaw, and shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Mind you, if you’re part of the Action Man crowd there’s a Super Sport button to make the HS instantly more lively. Interestingly enough you have to engage it before you can use the gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel.
Yet, you’re never going to mistake the HS for a sports car. At heart, this is a family car.
How good is it at that?
Very. The boot isn’t enormous at 463 litres, but you can fold the rear seats down to create 1,287 litres of room. Perhaps more important, there’s an ample amount of space in the rear.
The floor back there is flat, and there are two USB charging ports along with a pair of air-con vents. The HS also comes with a panoramic glass roof, which does plenty to give the cabin a sense of space.
Another thing that’s nice to have is the powered tailgate, which joins a host of other modcons: rain sensing wipers, auto headlamps, keyless entry and engine starting, and dual-zone climate control. All in all it’s a spacious, comfortable and well-equipped car.
But what about the emotional, feel-good factor that everyone wants?
There’s an MG badge, which carries some heritage with it, of course. But that works both ways, since some people will inevitably associate MGs with roadsters and Britishness. But MG is undoubtedly better off in Chinese hands. I mean, look where being self-run led the entire British car industry.
In any case, you could spend a bit more and go with a more recognisable nameplate and still end up with an inferior car (Mitsubishi Outlander, we’re looking at you). How feel-good is that, really?
Looking at the big picture, cars like this embody China’s ambition as much as Geely’s takeover of Volvo Cars does. Already, half the things in your house are from the Middle Kingdom, and maybe it’s a matter of sooner-or-later before the same is true of our roads. If they’re like the MG HS, it’s going to be sooner.
|MG HS 1.5 Turbo
|Engine 1,490cc, in-line four, turbocharged|
|Power 160hp at 5,600rpm|
|Torque 250Nm from 1,700-4,400rpm|
|Gearbox 7-speed twin-clutch automatic|
|0-100km/h 9.9 seconds|
|Top Speed 190km/h|
|Fuel Efficiency 6.8L/100km|
|Agent Eurokars EV|
|Price S$99,888 with COE|
The MG HS is remarkably complete for the money. It’s one Chinese car that buyers don’t have to fear, but competitors do.