A new leaf for MG? — The MG HS

The MG HS is the bigger brother to the already popular MG ZS.

The MG HS is the latest offering from the originally British but now Chinese-controlled auto manufacturer. Think not of the classic sports cars that the brand was once famous for. Instead, their latest offerings have been more about value and mass-appeal.

A member of the expansive SAIC Group, MG is fast being positioned as their volume-seller overseas, with a domestic manufacturing plant coming on-line mid-2019 to produce models tweaked specifically for growing demand from India.

Visually similar to the ZS, the HS is noticeably larger but follows the same design.

The MG6 was the first of the new breed to land in Sri Lanka — a sensible four or five-door saloon that handled surprisingly well, but was behind the competition in terms of engine-tech, NVH, and build quality. This was followed-up most recently with the ZS, a small subcompact-SUV that has struck a chord with Sri Lankan buyers due to its relatively low cost and much-loved body style.

The HS looks externally similar to the ZS. Aside from the dimensions, the average onlooker wouldn’t look twice. But it’s bigger than the popular mini-SUV; 260mm longer, with over 100 litres more boot space (without the seats folded).

The interior is influenced heavily by German offerings — You can see the influence of BMW, Audi and Mercedes in the overall design.

It’s the interior which leaves the biggest impression. Off the bat, it’s a very obvious mishmash of elements “borrowed” from the “big three” German auto brands. The rotary vents are fashioned after those found in the latest Mercedes’, the centre console echoes the design of the BMW 7-Series, and the steering wheel — with its red “super sport” button — is very clearly inspired by the Audi R8.

But despite this apparent plagiarism, The HS’ interior has a pleasingly premium feel to it. The switchgear is damped. You get a full-length openable sunroof. The steering wheel is wrapped in perforated leather. Andthere are vents, USB charge ports and reclining seats for rear-seat passengers. Overall, the materials used are discernibly better than their previous efforts – the piano black finishes, padded plastic, and brushed metal all combine to offer an atmosphere better than most offerings in this price bracket.

The instrument cluster combines an LCD screen and analogue dials, with attractive graphics and fluid animations.

The HS doesn’t want for toys either. On the safety front, it comes with six airbags and the usual gamut of stability programmes and braking assistances. It features further active safety, such as pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, seatbelt notification for all five seats, traffic-sign recognition and cross-traffic alert when reversing. Driver aids extend to radar cruise control (rare in this segment and price point), parking sensors and reverse camera, tyre-pressure monitoring with temperature readout, hill-start assist and an auto-holding electric park brake.

It’s not all perfect. The red stitching on the dash is skewwhiff in places. The seats  although sculpted, electric, leather and heated  lack sufficient adjustability for my liking. And the 8” infotainment screen is placed a bit too far out of reach for comfort. The entertainment system features wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but functionality for the most basic operations isn’t as polished as you’d hope; there are no buttons to adjust fan speed, so it has to be adjusted after pulling up a screen. Other sub-menus have no obvious back button, so you’re forced to select home each time.

The boot area of the HS is notably large and accessed by an electrically-operated tailgate.

The biggest gripe I had with the HS was its gearbox. It uses a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission which, on the face of it, should be a major plus point — DCT’s are known for their seamless shifts, pre-emptively selecting the next gear to ensure progress is swift. But for whatever reason, the HS’ DCT system is clumsy and ham-fisted through the gears. Low, city-dwelling speeds are the HS’ particular Achilles heel, as the jerks and lag between changes are unavoidable. It’s a problem not confined to MG — the Hyundai Venue which uses a similar box exhibits the same. Ponderously, MG’s cheaper offering, the ZS, uses a traditional torque-converter automatic from Japanese manufacturer Aisin and is much better for it.

LED headlights are standard for the model offered in Sri Lanka; just one of the many options that impress.

But overall, the HS represents a massive leap up the food chainfor the Chinese manufacturer. Whilst it may not be the last word in dynamic driving, those buying a small-to-medium-sized SUV aren’t likely to be too concerned about handling. For the price, LKR7.8mn, the equipment it offers is best-in-class. A five-year warranty sweetens the deal. Overall, the HS makes you realise that this could be the tipping point where MG starts to climb the ladder that the Koreans (such as Hyundai and Kia) did a decade ago. If history has shown us anything, it’s that the blending of value and quality is one that eventually proves to be irresistible to the buying public.

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“Super Sport” button changes engine and gearbox mapping, but even when activated the HS is hardly fast nor involving.

Engine: 1.5 litre 4cyl turbocharged petrol, 160bhp, 250NM
Gearbox: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Performance: 0-100kmph 9.9secs, 190kmph
Price: LKR7.8mn
*Prices are accurate for model and trim specified at the time of publishing

Sam D. Smith in an automotive editor and journalist with a life-long passion for all things car. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers (UK) and nominee for the Sir William Lyons Award for automotive journalism.

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