Road test: MG GS - Chinese resurrect Britain
AS WITH many of its British contemporaries, the MG (for Morris Garages) brand, renowned in the mid-20th century for its stylish, sporty roadsters, almost sank without trace when MG Rover went belly-up in 2005.
It was rescued by Chinese buyers and is now part of the largest car manufacturer in the people's republic, the state-owned Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation, or SAIC.
SAIC built 6.5 million vehicles in 2016, so it's probably the biggest car company you've never heard of.
MG Motor, as the brand is now called, is a tiny part of SAIC's portfolio, with only two models to date, the Toyota Yaris-sized MG 3 and Corolla-sized MG 6, and just three dealers in Australia.
The new MG GS compact SUV, launched this week, should significantly lift the brand's profile in this country. Designed and engineered in Britain (in Birmingham), it is built in China.
Drive-away launch pricing kicks off at $22,990 for the Vivid, with 1.5-litre turbo, six-speed manual and front-wheel drive. It gets 17-inch alloys, Bluetooth, reverse parking sensors, automatic headlights and an electric parking brake.
At $25,990, the GS Core adds a seven-speed dual clutch auto, rear camera, hill holder, dual-zone aircon with rear vents, Arkamys audio, leather-wrapped wheel with infotainment controls and a cooled storage box.
The $28,990 Soul gets 18-inch wheels, more supportive front seats, leather upholstery and lumbar adjustment, eight-inch touchscreen, navigation, foglights and auto wipers.
It's then a big jump to the $34,990 GS Essence X, which runs a 2.0-litre turbo, six-speed auto and all-wheel drive. It adds paddle-shifters, auto-levelling headlights, sunroof, hill descent control and extended stability control to include rollover protection.
The sheetmetal is more interesting and attractive than your typical Euro-box SUV.
That trait does not, unfortunately, carry over into the cabin. It's an uninspiring place, with dated, unimaginative design, a wall-to-wall grey palette relieved only by a few swathes of gloss black plastic trim in up-spec models and dull and unresponsive touchscreen infotainment and instrument displays. There's and no voice control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio or driver assist safety tech in any variant.
There's ample space for four, with plenty of driving position adjustability. Front seats are comfortable and supportive and there is reasonable rear legroom, though adults sit slightly knees-up on a low bench.
The 483L of cargo volume is 100L greater than Toyota's C-HR. Fold the seats to yield 1336L - and the extended floor is completely flat.
On the road
In a class where decent performance is difficult to find, the MG's 1.5-litre turbo/seven-speed drivetrain is its biggest attraction.
A smooth, sweet, tractable little engine, with strong outputs (119kW/250Nm), the 1.5 works well with the gearbox, which also delivers more responsive, efficient go-forward than the CVTs and automatics in most rival SUVs.
Premium unleaded is required. Most naturally aspirated rivals run on regular.
Move up to the 2.0-litre Essence X and you get the highest outputs in the class (162kW/350Nm) but on the road it feels as though 40kW or so has gone missing in action.
The larger engine is also a less than happy match with its six-speeder, faltering and lagging occasionally at low revs, buzzing excessively at the top end and generating reverberation in the cabin, amplified on coarse bitumen by tyre roar.
Essence X operates as a front-driver until slip is detected, when up to 50% of drive can be sent to the rear wheels. Drive can be locked in a 50-50 split for low traction surfaces.
Dynamics also favour 1.5-litre models, which enjoy a 182kg-222kg weight advantage over the heavy (1642kg), cumbersome Essence X.
They're firmly suspended and agile, with reasonable balance and sharp, well-weighted steering.
A firm, slightly agitated ride, especially for rear passengers, will become trying on rough roads.
As with any bit player brand, especially one that has come back from the dead, you're taking a leap of faith if you put your money down on an MG GS.
Backed by SAIC, MG should survive but resale values may be weak, reliability is unproven and, in the GS, 21st-century safety and infotainment tech is conspicuously absent.
At these prices, the GS is a tough sell when similar money will put you into a no-risk, blue-chip Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-3 or Suzuki Vitara.
MG GS Core
Price: $25,990 drive-away
Warranty: 6 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: Average $3915 over 9 years/90,000km
Service intervals: 12 months/10,000km
Safety: 4 stars, 6 airbags
Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cyl turbo, 119kW/250Nm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto; FWD
Dimensions: 4500mm (L), 1855mm (W), 1705mm (H), 2650mm (WB)
Weight: From 1460kg