China's biggest auto conglomerate, Shanghai's SAIC Motor, is busily spreading into international markets like Australia, and the new MG GS (also called HS) is a vital component of its plan.
It's a conventionally-designed and well-made mid-sized SUV rival to some of the market's heaviest hitters – offerings such as the Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson, to name but a few.
It should arrive on Australian shores from the fourth quarter of 2019 in place of the outgoing GS and sitting above the keenly-priced ZS urban crossover which is racking up a few hundred sales here each month.
SAIC Motor's international division has marked Australia out as a key MG market alongside its spiritual brand home in the UK, setting up an expensive factory-backed distributor reporting directly to HQ.
It's part of a wider SAIC Motor plan to internationalise, since joint-venture (JV) agreements to produce GMs and Volkswagens in China still comprise the lion's share of its staggering seven-million unit annual vehicle production tally.
With this JV model now being scaled back by the central government, SAIC Motor must diversify. Furthermore, with Chinese domestic demand more prone to fluctuation now, going global with MG and LDV gives it extra protection.
The GS/HS's mechanicals stack up pretty well against established contenders. It's 4574mm long on a 2720mm wheelbase, weighs around 1700kg and has a middling 463L boot, with the back seats flat-folding when needed.
Entry grades use a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine with class-competitive 126kW/250Nm, while the higher grades use an in-house 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with 170kW (equal to a Mazda CX-5 turbo) and 360Nm, from 2500rpm.
The force-fed unit uses 8.6 litres of fuel every 100km and is mated to a six-speed wet-dual-clutch automatic.
As with most rivals there are both front-wheel drive (FWD) and on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD) configurations, the latter of which uses a computer program to shuffle engine torque to the rear axle when the front tyres slip.
Front suspension is MacPherson strut, while at the rear is an independent multi-link setup. There's also a motor-driven power steering system, and high-quality Michelin Primacy tyres (235/50 R18) are fitted.
Once upon a time, smaller details like this were not found on many Chinese cars.
The suspension (with Sachs dampers) will be tuned at MG's UK-based spinoff operation, to suit European and Australian tastes. Given the Chinese market usually opts for softly-sprung highway cruisers in the American mould, this is welcome news.
I won't sugarcoat things – my time behind the wheel was limited to a few laps of SAIC Motor's test track, situated within its enormous Anhui-based proving ground, with a suspension engineer for company.
I can say the engine offered ample rolling response and was relatively refined from inside, while the body felt solid and the noise insulation was acceptable over coarse chip surfaces.
The suspension was a little soft and the body control a bit wallow-y, but we'd expect Euro-spec cars to be better at handling lateral forces. We also went over a series of undulations with four big people aboard, and found the suspension coped pretty well, never slamming into the bump stops at full travel or pogo-ing around.
I can talk at more length about the interior though. Our Trophy grade tester is the flagship, and it's really quite nice, with lashings of padded plastics and leather adorning almost every surface, high quality damped switchgear, LED cabin lighting and competitive fit-and-finish.
Other touches like the silver speaker covers on the Bose audio system, one-piece leather/Alcantara seats, knurled buttons, the red driving mode button on the steering wheel (hello Alfa Romeo) and full-length glass sunroof add more 'prestige' to the ambience.
Is it all derivative? Sure, but then again car interiors are becoming increasingly homogenous, and there's as much Audi influence inside the MG as there is Hyundai. About the only obvious flaw was the way the centre console plastics squeaked a little upon knee contact.
The infotainment is also excellent, with a 12-inch digital instrument display akin to Volkswagen's Active Info Display, and a 10.1-inch centre touchscreen with native sat-nav, plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. It also pinches and zooms like a smartphone and showed good processing times.
Chinese-market versions run onboard AI with conversational voice control and a cloud-based vehicle data system powered by Alibaba, though the export potential of this remains one unknown.
The back seats are great, with ample headroom and legroom, seat backs that both recline and fold flat, and rear occupant air vents, damped grab handles, LED reading lights and 2 x rear USB points. There's also a flip-down centre armrest with cupholders and an opening storage cubby integrated.
On the safety front, given the outgoing MG GS has a five-star ANCAP crash rating, we'd expect this one to ace today's more stringent protocols.
Available safety features beyond the six airbags includes adaptive cruise control, lane assist, blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning and a crisp 360-degree camera.
There's also a feature that is designed to chime if you go to open your door into passing traffic/cyclists.
One thing we don't yet known is price. In China the MG GS/HS retails for between 100,000 and 170,000 Renminbi ($21,000 to $35,000 AUD), the latter sum for the flagship Trophy pictured.
For context ¥170,000 is what you pay for an entry grade Toyota RAV4 or Honda HR-V. With this in mind you'd expect the MG to have aggressive local pricing.
The outgoing MG GS retails from $25,490 drive-away, and it would be reasonable for this new one to cost a smidgen more given it's such a demonstrable step up. However, given rivals such as the Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-Trail can be had for under $30k, MG Australia must beware.
One commendable aspect to owning a MG is the customer care, with this 32-dealer network all signed up to a company-backed seven-year/unlimited distance warranty that matches Kia as industry-leader, replete with roadside assist and servicing plans.
Based on spending some time with the model year 2020 MG HS/GS, it's clear that this is one brand from China with all the credentials to make an impact in Australia, like the Korean brands did a generation previously, or the Japanese brands did a generation before that.
We'd just expect that MG is aware how cluttered and competitive the compact SUV market is here, and price/specify its product appropriately.
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