First drive: 2020 MG HS launch review

Moving Well | Dave Morley | Posted on 20 March 2020

Dave Morley takes the new MG HS for a first drive review.

Now part of the Chinese-owned giant SAIC Motor, the MG brand has had an on-again-off-again relationship with Australia. But this car, the HS, replaces the previous but similar GS and represents the future direction for MG Motor. A conventional mid-sized SUV, the HS is, according to MG Motor Australia, all about value for money and arrives to market with an impressive safety package and excellent warranty.

Red MG HS parked in front of valley with hot air balloons

What do you get for the price?

The MG HS range is available in two trim levels now (with more to follow, including a plug-in hybrid variant) and kicks off with the entry-level Vibe model at $30,990 driveaway. The flagship model for now is the Excite which costs $33,990 driveaway.

The HS is destined to do battle with the likes of the Nissan X-Trail and Kia Sportage, both now established models, so the pricing will need to remain sharp for the MG. But the MG does have plenty of kit for the asking price, including a safety package that is about the best in the business at this end of the market. For instance, MG says the HS is the only car in its class that offers traffic-jam assist (essentially a low-speed version of adaptive cruise control that brakes and accelerates for you in heavy traffic).

All HSs feature a 10.1-inch infotainment screen, keyless entry, start and windows-up, air-vents and two USBs in the rear seat and daytime running lights. The more expensive Excite features 18-inch alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, a ‘Super-Sport’ drive mode, navigation, LED headlights, dual-zone climate-control and an electric tailgate. The other big selling point will be the MG’s seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with the option of fixed-price servicing.

(More: Australia's best cars for 2019 revealed)

How safe is it?

The HS achieved a five-star ANCAP crash-safety rating, largely because of its factory safety package dubbed MG Pilot. The entire Pilot package includes autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, three levels of lane-keeping assistance, traffic-jam assist, intelligent cruise assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning, door-open warning, active headlight dipping, speed assist with traffic-sign recognition and forward-collision warning (which can also detect pedestrians up to 64kmh).

A network of radar sensors and cameras around the car provide the real-time information for these systems. The car even has semi-autonomous driving at speeds below 60kmh where it can follow the car in front around an obstacle it can’t ‘see’.

What’s it like inside?

The very large info screen dominates the interior to an extent, while the instruments are a combination of analogue and animated displays. One jarring note is the tachometer which sweeps anti-clockwise as revs rise. Beyond that, the news is good and there are clear design elements that remind us of the best of European designs (Porsche, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz). The fit and finish seems good and the touch points feel quite high-end.

What’s under the bonnet?

The HS uses a four-cylinder engine with a turbocharger to boost its 1.5 litres to a 125kW maximum output and 250Nm of torque which is par for the course in this class of SUV. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is the only one offered and the HS is front-wheel drive. There’s no diesel option nor a manual transmission.

Close up of MG HS air vent
Close up of MG HS steering wheel

Is it efficient?

The HS achieves a combined official fuel-consumption figure of 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres which is middle ground for its category. That equates to 170 grams/kg of carbon dioxide. It’s worth noting that the HS requires the more expensive 95 RON unleaded as a minimum. (More: 20 clever car hacks to help you save money)

How does it drive?

On-road dynamics are not the MG’s highlight, it should be said. It’s competent, but a little unsatisfying in some regards. That starts with the suspension which is initially a little firm, yet still allows for some body roll in corners. Bigger bumps make it buck and lurch, and the steering is devoid of any real feel or feedback.

The engine is fine up to about 4000rpm, at which point it starts to get noisy and feels strained and coarse. The dual-clutch transmission, too, is disappointing, with no clarity to the shifts and a long delay between pulling the downshift paddle and having the gearbox respond.

Should I buy one?

If you think the MG badge infers any sportiness, think again. MG knows as much and is targeting the HS at double-income couples, younger families, and anyone who can smell a bargain. But the HS is only a value proposition if you place standard equipment over the driving experience.