MG or Morris Garages has been a 90 year institution, but its days of producing iconic two-seat roadsters are now long gone. Over the years MG experienced any number of owners, but its fate was sealed early last decade when MG Rover Group was placed into receivership. A Chinese outfit picked up the scraps and eventually the iconic nameplate became wholly owned by SAIC, an enormous automotive company determined to take on the world. EFTM’s Chris Bowen recently travelled to the Australian Automotive Research Centre (AARC) to put the mid-sized MG GS SUV through a gruelling drive program.

The Range.

The first ever SUV from MG Motors is available in a fairly comprehensive four model line-up. The base model is the GS Vivid, available as a 6-speed manual, matched to a 1.5-litre petrol direct injection turbo engine. For $23,990 you do get reverse parking sensors, Bluetooth, 17” alloy wheels, electric park brake, auto headlights and 60:40 folding rear seats.

$25,990 gets you into the MG GS Core. The transmission is now a 7-speed dual clutch affair with other niceties over the Vivid including autohold function, a rear view camera, climate control including rear air vent, Arkamys 3D six speaker sound system, leather multifunction steering wheel and cooled storage box.

Second from the top of the MG GS range sits the $27,990 Soul variant. Bigger, more attractive 18-inch alloy wheels look the goods and the interior scores leather seats, an 8-inch colour touch screen, satellite navigation, front fog lights and rain sensing wipers.

The MG GS Essence X is the range topper at $34,990. The highlight is a 2.0-litre petrol direct engine that produces what on paper is very impressive, 162kw / 350Nm. It’s driven interestingly by one less cog making do with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with All-Wheel-Drive.  Xenon headlamps, active rollover protection, hill decent control and a sunroof complete the picture.

But How Does It Drive?

I’ll be honest, most cars built in China and shipped to our shores have been very poor at best. Great Wall and Haval are a case in point. They usually promise the world but deliver an atlas, Australians don’t need to cop underdone shabby efforts with so much diversity to choose from.

MG Motor thankfully has delivered the best Chinese-made car to date, not that I’ll let them completely off the hook. But the car itself is a relatively polished effort and there is that all important perception of quality that may catch the eye of the odd left-of-field type buyer.

The car itself is inoffensive to look at and basically fits the generic mould shape all SUV’s seem to follow these days. The cabin seems well put together and after a solid thrashing around a rally inspired dirt track, it also lacks any creaks or tell tail signs of poor construction although the dash is covered in almost dual-cab style hard plastic.

Now to the drive, we were allowed some fleeting moments in the car across three scenarios. There was a wet and dry skidpan and slalom course, off-road track and high speed oval circuit around the AARC 1000 hectare site. So plenty of fun on offer, but perhaps a little bizarre for testing a mid-sized SUV.

The skidpan showed the GS has a number of dynamic shortcomings, I took the AWD model for a run and was surprised by the amount of body roll, tendency for understeer and in general a feeling that the whole suspension was underdone. Ironically on the high speed loop the car drove with a solid flat stance but was a little too stiff for my liking. There’s an unnerving amount of road and tyre noise that floods into the cabin, maintaining a conversation with back seat occupants at 110km/h would require raised voices. Incidentally, sitting in the back is a harsh experience, especially on B grade roads. At least you score an air vent, rare for this class.

It was a real hoot to take the front-wheel-drive models onto dirt, what this did prove is the sheer intelligence of the ESP traction control system. It actually allowed for a little bit of fun before reigning things in, but it’s not often you get to drive like a madman and actually feel just how vital these systems are.

The two engine options, 1.5-litre 119kW / 250Nm and 2.0-litre 162kW / 350Nm both try their best bit I feel are let down but sluggish transmissions. There was no manual option available for the drive day which was unfortunate because that may well be the best option for the 1.5-litre. Both engines love to rev their heads off but are really let down but significant turbo lag and clumsy gear changes that make it a very harsh, almost asthmatic experience.

In The Long Run.

There are a number of things to consider when buying a car from a fringe manufacturers. Despite their confidence in offering a six year unlimited kilometre warranty, will they be around to honour that in the years ahead. At this stage they have plans for just three dealerships, one in Sydney, Kingscliff on the NSW / QLD boarder and Brisbane. Fuel economy is potentially another issue, the 1.5-litre uses 7.4L/100km while the 2.0-litre sucks down 9.6-litre. You can take it as a given both figures in the real world will be higher.

In Conclusion

If MG could refine the driveline and perhaps invest in some local suspension tuning, the GS would otherwise be a perfectly acceptable offering. At present its key competitors are way out in front, and deep down I’m sure the Chinese owners know this. But look at how far South Korean cars have come, I have no doubt cars like the MG GS will one day be a far more accomplished vehicle.