The 2020 MG HS Excite is now a very interesting proposition in a crowded medium-SUV segment. As we found at launch, it’s an SUV that is built to a quality beyond what the price might indicate, and since then we’ve been looking forward to spending some time with it in the CarAdvice garage.
Our test this time is of the Excite specification grade specifically, whereas at launch we drove both the Vibe and Excite. The easy to understand range is value-packed and full of standard equipment, too, meaning buyers get plenty of value regardless of whether their budget stretches to the more expensive variant we’re testing here or not.
You can read our pricing and specification breakdown (along with news of a new Essence flagship), but this Excite model here is priced at $34,790 drive-away. Compare that to the segment favourites, and you can understand why people are starting to ask about MG. You need to stretch a hell of a lot further to get this much equipment in one of the established players.
For MG, then, there’s a lot riding on the shoulders of this SUV – it’s the best vehicle the brand has offered, and it’s competing in Australia’s most popular segment outside of dual-cabs.
In other words, this is the real family market in Australia, and now more than ever buyers are watching the bottom line like hawks. All being equal, you’d expect the HS to continue MG’s impressive recent march into our market.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that buyers aren’t already looking at the brand either. Our email inboxes are regularly pinging with questions relating to MG, and more specifically the HS, and so are the various segments we cover on radio around Australia.
Out there in the real world, where people are watching their budgets and trying to buy as smart as possible, the HS is resonating. That regard will only continue to grow if MG delivers a compelling product, because word of mouth is arguably the most effective form of marketing for any product.
Standard equipment is extensive, but noteworthy inclusions are the 2019 five-star ANCAP rating, MG Pilot driver-assistance suite (standard on both grades), a 10.1-inch infotainment screen, a digital driver display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Our Excite tester also gets 18-inch wheels against 17 inches for the Vibe and proprietary satellite navigation. Further Excite additions include paddle shifters, ambient lighting, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning and an electric tailgate.
I wrote at launch that I thought the styling was on the money for this segment, and the HS neither offends nor blends too far into the background. That’s a little harder to judge on a launch drive, though, when you’re looking at 20 of them in a carpark and not out on the road with other vehicles.
On the road now, though, out amongst traffic, plenty of people notice the HS and it cuts a pretty stylish figure. This is all subjective, of course, and some of you won’t agree with me, but plenty of people think the segment favourites are pretty bland, too, so that’s all a matter of personal taste. More than once, stopped at lights or at the petrol station, people asked what it was, or knew what it was and wanted to know a bit more about it.
The styling is certainly tied together nicely. Some vehicles don’t have fluidity from front to rear, but MG's designers have done a tasteful job of delivering a complete design brief. Interestingly, I don’t think the base Vibe looks underdone either. Yes, the larger 18-inch wheels our tester has are attractive, but the Vibe still looks solid proportionately.
The cabin is the area that I think is going to most impress buyers at this price point. It feels well designed, well put together, and well insulated. Close the door and there’s a refined feel to the controls and the seats, and there’s nothing that feels like it can’t take the fight up to the more established players in this segment. It’s quiet, too, with road noise only entering the cabin at 100km/h on prolonged coarse-chip sections. Par for the course in this segment, in other words.
On test, we liked the standard satellite navigation, which might not be the most up to date graphically, but it is sharp and quick to load up and respond to inputs. That broad 10.1-inch centre display is up there with the biggest in the segment and it's clear, too. In fact, the colour display is so bright, it takes a bit of getting used to initially, more so the fact that the menus are all in colour as well.
The system worked reliably with Bluetooth connected, but most of you will opt for a cabled smartphone link. I spent plenty of time using Apple CarPlay for my week behind the wheel and it was faultless. Apps like Spotify, Waze and general smartphone mapping were all easy to use, and the voice-control functions were also quick and accurate. Strangely, despite a well laid out interior, it doesn't have a logical place for large smartphones.
There’s enough room in the second row for adults, as well as a luggage area with 463L of capacity that makes sense in this segment, too. Some of the more popular variants aren’t well catered for in terms of luggage space, but the HS has enough room for family use.
Interior gripes are very few, with the only real issue – noticed by more than one CarAdvice road tester – being the positioning of the interior rear-view mirror. It's set quite low on the screen to accommodate the forward-facing technology that is mounted high up on the screen. As such, it's not in the best position to use or to see around when you're cornering. It's minor, but it is worth mentioning. Oh, and the electric tailgate glitched out a few times, but that could just be a one-off thing with our test vehicle.
Looking back on my launch review, I was impressed with the way the HS handled typical Australian roads. There’s no doubt the 1.5-litre engine is as small as you’d want to get in this segment, especially if you’re loading up with five adults and heading off on a long road trip. However, around town, and for the majority of driving scenarios most owners will put the HS through, the 1.5-litre does a decent job.
The engine makes 119kW at 5600rpm and 250Nm at 4400rpm, and is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
If you’re especially perceptive, you’ll notice that the engine needs to work hard to deliver its best, as evidenced by the 5600rpm peak power mark. While the class has its share of low-effort turbo engines that produce peak torque just off idle, you need to adjust your driving style a little to remind yourself that punchy petrol engines still have their place.
I reckon the DCT is quite competent, too. It’s not perfect and can sometimes be caught in the wrong gear, perhaps in an attempt to make the most of the power and torque delivery of the engine. When that does happen, though, it shifts quickly and smoothly, and allows you to roll on comfortably. I also think the more time you spend with the HS, the less noticeable this small niggle becomes, which means you’ll quickly work out ways to drive around it. The average driver, and therefore buyer in this segment, is quite possibly unlikely to even notice it.
There is also a slight hint of lag off the mark, which requires you to hit the accelerator pedal a little harder than you initially think, but the four-cylinder then revs cleanly out to redline. You’ll only need to nail the throttle like that if you want to really crank off the mark, though, so most of the time it won’t be an issue. In Sports mode – selectable via the red button on the steering wheel – it even sounds sporty, with a raspy note from the exhaust pipe accompanying the rising revs.
On that, um, note, the Sport button is proudly mounted on the steering wheel. To be honest, the first time you get into the HS, you might think it’s the start button, but you will certainly know where to go to opt for Super Sport mode. While it provides a sharper driving experience, I don’t think it’s something that the HS needs or that most buyers will use that often. Still, it’s there if you want it. Super Sport also changes the feel through the steering wheel.
MG claims a combined fuel-use figure of 7.3L/100km, and that isn’t as optimistic as we thought it might be either. Work the engine hard for prolonged periods on twisty roads and you’ll use 9.2L/100km. Trundle around town, though, and that figure drops into the 7.9–8.4L/100km region quickly. After a decent test loop comprising town and highway, our average was just 7.6L/100km.
Handling is less of an issue in this segment, but ride isn’t. Comfort and bump absorption are imperative for mine, especially given how often you’ll be negotiating poor road surfaces. The MG does a solid job of absorbing everything that is thrown at it, too. If you drive it like anything other than a sports car, it’s comfortable and competent – just about perfect for a medium SUV, then.
The other factor that is a talking point for the HS is the MG Pilot suite of safety assistance systems. Perhaps more than any other standard feature, this is the one that really sets the standard for the MG’s value equation.
MG Pilot has all the electronic assistance you’d expect – autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, intelligent cruise assist, intelligent speed assist, intelligent headlight control, front-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
When we next get an HS into the garage, and we’re able to drive more extensively than we can now, we’ll take a closer look at these features. In short, though, the ones we have experienced work, and work well. Lane-keep assist is a little enthusiastic, but it is sharp and quick to notify you if it thinks you’re wafting out of your lane. It actually makes you indicate a bit earlier – because the HS then knows it’s intentional – which isn’t a bad thing either.
I tested the adaptive cruise control on my short highway run, and it also works well. It’s a feature that I was sceptical of when it started to become commonplace in the industry, but it’s one I use more and more often. When you’re stuck on a mind-numbing stretch of the Hume, worried about hidden speed traps, and other drivers simply cannot seem to sit on 110km/h, for example.
The cruise-control switches are mounted on a stalk that sits behind the wheel, and while there’s no doubt that steering-wheel-mounted controls would be easier to work with, you pretty quickly work out what does what and how you activate the system.
MG has shown that it is possible to build a solid, quality medium SUV with all the best in current safety gear and for a very reasonable price. The only real area it can’t match the established competition is the sense of ease a 2.0-litre engine would bring to the party. Still, those established manufacturers would be wise to look over their shoulders. The MG brand is well and truly on its way.