2023 MG5 Essence review

2023 MG5 Essence

Bruce Newton

Posted November 22, 2023


The budget-friendly MG5 is an attractive option for Australian families looking for a small sedan, but comes with limited safety equipment.

The 2023 MG5 is a four-door compact sedan about the same size as a Toyota Corolla with reasonable equipment, reasonable driving manners and a sharp price. However, MG has chopped some expensive safety equipment and some other items out of the MG5 to hit its target price.

That will compromise the MG5 too much for some car buyers, but others might still be impressed after taking a closer look and a drive.

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MG5 pricing and models

MG was a British maker of sports cars. Now it’s a Chinese maker of all sorts of budget-friendly vehicles, including the MG5 four-door sedan, as well as the MG ZS EV.

There are two versions of the MG5 sold in Australia. The $24,990 Vibe – the most affordable sedan on sale in Australia today - and the $28,990 Essence we’re testing here.

Those prices are drive-away, making them rare sub-$30,000 new-car options in Australia today (when on-road costs are included).

The two MG5s are separated by mechanicals and equipment.

The MG5 Vibe comes with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a CVT transmission. The MG5 Essence has a more a powerful 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine (more details below) mated with a seven-speed automatic.

As is normal for small cars of this ilk, they are both front-wheel drive.

Things the MG5 Essence adds compared to the Vibe includes a sunroof, six-speaker audio (MG5 Vibe gets four speakers and none in the rear), six-way driver’s seat power adjustment with manual lumbar, a synthetic leather-trimmed dimpled steering wheel, and 17-inch (versus 16-inch) alloy wheels.

Gear they share includes a digital instrument panel, a 10-inch infotainment touch screen, cabled Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connection, three USB-A ports, air-conditioning, keyless entry, push button start, an electric park brake, and synthetic leather seat trim that’s very vinyl. Both cars come with a space saver spare tyre.

They also have a long seven year/unlimited km warranty and short 10,000km/12 month service intervals. The MG5 Essence’s first five services cost $1,831.

 

2023 MG5 Essence

The 2023 MG5 Essence is one of the cheaper sedans on the market in Australia. Image: Supplied


 

MG5 safety equipment

Safety equipment is where the MG5 has caused some controversy, because it launched in Australia without some of the latest driver assist systems.

Those missing features include lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, driver attention monitoring, and traffic sign recognition. The cruise control system is non-adaptive, which means it won’t autonomously slow to the pace of cars ahead, or stop and go. It also runs away badly downhill.

MG Australia says it chose to omit all this gear to keep the price more affordable. The missing key driver assist systems and the lack of a centre-front airbag means there is no chance the MG5 will get the maximum ANCAP five star rating, even if it aces the actual crash tests.

All that doesn’t mean the MG5 Essence is bereft of safety equipment. It comes with front, front-side and curtain airbags, autonomous emergency braking, a 360 degree camera, tyre pressure monitoring, LED headlights, and rear parking sensors. There are no front parking sensors.

There are outboard ISOFIX mounts in the outer rear seats, and three top tethers for child seats.

 

The 2023 MG5 Essence controls most features through its infotainment display. Image: Supplied
The interior features synthetic leather and red stitching. Image: Supplied

MG5 interiors and design

The key attribute the MG5 Essence offers inside is a significant amount of space. At more than 4.6m long, it can fit reasonably tall adults comfortably in the front or rear seat.

The rear seat passengers get a bench reclined at a relaxed angle, excellent kneeroom, and decent headroom. Curiously, there is just one adjustable air-con vent and one USB-A port. There are also three adjustable headrests, door bins and seat back pockets..

However, there is no fold down armrest or cupholders.

The boot is quite generous at 401 litres, but has no hooks, bins or other added features. There is no split-fold, so the rear seatback folds down in one piece to increase stowage space (MG does not claim an actual figure).

A large mountain bike fitted comfortably, as long as the front wheel was removed.

Up-front, the driver’s ability to get comfortable is compromised by the lack of steering wheel reach (in-out) adjustment. The front seats are quite flat, but still comfy.

There’s some annoyances when it comes to interacting with the MG5's infotainment screen, especially because it’s the only way to adjust the air-conditioning temperature and fan speed. They are controlled by digital sliders that didn’t always react to touch. Physical buttons and dials are much more efficient and easier to use.

Audio volume was controlled via physical buttons on either the dash or the steering wheel.

Most surfaces are hard to the touch, reinforcing the pricing. A multi-angled plastic panel in front of the passenger on the dashboard looked nice, but proved distracting in the way it reflected light. A flat surface would be more sensible.

MG5 power and efficiency

The MG5 Essence is powered by a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine that produces 119kW at 5600rpm and 250Nm at 3000-4000rpm.

Those numbers are significantly above the MG5 Vibe, and competitive in the small sedan class.

The engine drives the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that offers manual changing by flappy paddles on the steering wheel. The ‘sport’ drive mode has to be engaged for that function to work.

In these days of spiralling petrol prices, the MG5’s claimed fuel consumption of 5.9L/100km is pretty appealing. We managed an average of 6.6L/100km.

 

The 2023 MG5 Essence has a spacious interior. Image: Supplied
The 2023 MG5 sedan has a generous boot at 401 litres. Image: Supplied
The MG5 is Australia's cheapest sedan. Image: Supplied

MG5 performance and handling

As poor as the absence of items like lane keeping is for an ANCAP result and overall safety, the lack of technology and systems allows the MG5 mechanical package to do its driving job with less interference for the driver.

Well-tuned driver assist systems are a safety boon, but poorly-tuned systems, such as those often found in MGs and other Chinese cars, are annoying and intrusive.

So, their absence allows the MG5 to steer and handles cohesively. There’s no over-reactive swerves away from lines (real or imagined) and very little binging or bonging to grate on nerves.

The MG5 Essence deals comfortably with rough roads. It has a simple suspension, but it only starts to get unruly when the surface gets really rough. Apart from some coarse chip bitumen tyre roar, road noise is well dealt with.

The MG5 Essence also retains its composure when cornering. That’s aided by light steering that is accurate enough to make wheeling through an urban streetscapes, or along country roads, a pleasant experience.

There are only mild reminders this is a front-wheel drive, with some steering wheel tug and some wheelspin on wet corners.

The engine works well with its transmission to accelerate the MG5 Essence, with enough vigour to be competitive in traffic or cruising on the open road.

There can be a little laggy hesitation from start-off, but the drivetrain quickly sorts itself out, and it never sounds or feels like its losing its composure.

It’s a level of driving cohesion that impresses and surprises. The same can be said of the MG5 Essence overall. Yes, there are negatives, but with the aid of a value price, it surpasses expectations.

 


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The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s)issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.


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