SAIC or Shanghai Automotive-owned MG, the iconic British sportscar brand, is headed to India somewhere around the middle of next year. The brand’s first product will be an SUV roughly the size of a Hyundai Tucson, and MG is working at a frantic pace to get the car ready. However, to tell us what to expect, and to give us a feel of just how capable cars from the brand are today, MG has provided us with a preview of its recently launched SUV, the HS. And what I can tell you straight up is that it easily exceeded most of my expectations.
There may be some preconceived notions of the quality to be expected from MG, but first impressions are of a car built to near-European standards. The surfacing and detail on the exterior are impressive, and the levels of fit and finish, in general, are so good that you’ll find it hard to fault. Even the difficult-to-execute chrome work seen up front and the body cladding are done nicely.
Lots of bits seem to come from Volkswagen.
The design of the car is a bit of a mix, with bits from Mazda, Porsche and even Hyundai thrown in. It looks fussy in some places too: cue the area that surrounds the fog lights; but overall, even the design works surprisingly well. I think the silhouette is sporty and neat, and the rear works well too.
I’m even more impressed when I open the door and step into the cabin. The red leather won’t be to everyone’s taste, but quality levels on the inside make me go ‘Nice!’ In fact, the high-quality steering wheel (with its flat-bottom rim), the power window switches, and the buttons along the gear selector – all these seem to be taken from the Volkswagen parts bin – a company that SAIC shares a very successful partnership with. Even more impressive is the fact that there are almost no poorly built parts here. Yes, some bits stand out as built-to-cost in an otherwise high-quality cabin. But overall, it has completely reset my expectations. Even the rear seat is very comfortable, and because this car is built on a long wheelbase, there’s plenty of legroom in the back, too.
Quality levels, fit and finish are impressive – even the chrome work is done well.
We even managed a short drive around SAIC’s proving grounds, and here too, it was the supple ride comfort that got my attention first. Now normally this is something that’s difficult to judge on a test track, but here we had broken sections of tarmac, large expansion joints and even potholes – all put in to simulate some of China’s not-so-well-built roads; perfect for judging how the car will ride back home. The HS, on its long travel suspension, put up a truly impressive performance, with only a hint of firmness filtering through.
I wasn’t as impressed with the automatic gearbox, however. It seemed slow at times, even for regular driving, it slurs a bit, and while the shifts are smooth, it seems to lack urgency. The 2.0-litre, direct-injection turbo-petrol engine has a strong mid-range, and this makes driving it in a relaxed manner quite agreeable. But the turbo seems to come in quite suddenly at medium speeds and once past 3,500rpm.
Some of MG’s own designs add a good touch too.
First impressions are difficult to forget – especially if they are this strong – and if MG’s SUV for India is built and engineered to similar standards and comes with the added advantage of Fiat’s 2.0-litre diesel engine under the hood, MG, I think, has a good shot at success. Also something you can be sure of: the price will be very competitive. Interesting times lie ahead.