MG appears to be on a roll in Australia. It put a line through 2020 reporting 15,253 cars sold – a massive 83.2 per cent up on 2019.
This year has started no differently. January saw 2408 MG reportedly sold, some 162 per cent up when compared to the same time last year.
When the success is picked apart, a continual stream of improved product, new dealerships, and affordable prices are all factors at play.
The end of last year saw another milestone for the brand, as it launched its first alternative energy vehicle – the fully-electric MG ZS EV. Its rhetoric appeared promising, as the brand set out to democratise electric vehicles in Australia.
It's fair to say it scored a goal, by introducing Australia's cheapest electric vehicle, and a good one at that. We were promised more at that time – and in just under four months – CarAdvice finds itself behind the wheel of Australia's cheapest plug-in hybrid SUV.
The car in question is the 2021 MG HS Plug-in Hybrid. Given MG's range has been tickled for 2021, it's worth recapping to see where it sits within the line-up.
The MG HS is the brand's medium SUV offering and comes in various flavours. The first was a simple, four variant range: Core, Vibe, Excite, and Essence. All were front-wheel drive, using the same 1.5-litre engine.
Next to follow were a pair of all-wheel-drive versions. Based on the higher Excite and Essence grades, both feature a more powerful 2.0-litre engine. Details on this recently released offering can be found here.
The newest addition is what we're driving today – a sole, flagship plug-in hybrid variant, that's based off the top-spec Essence trim level. In total, there's seven versions of MG HS on offer in Australia.
More broadly, the HS range sits above the ZS, ZST and ZS EV models – which are all the same small SUV, just cut slightly differently.
The MG HS Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle currently priced from $46,990 drive away, some $3000 more than the fully-electric MG ZS EV. I say currently, because the HS PHEV's promotional price offer is set 'to remain for the foreseeable future'.
Whilst MG would not officially provide a date of its lapsing, we expect the offer to remain for around 6 to 12 months. Once the deal goes, pricing will build from a $45,990 manufacturer list price, plus on-road costs. Depending on where you live, that will see it become a give-or-take $50K proposition on the road.
|2021 MG HS Plug-in Hybrid|
|Engine||1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol/electric motor|
|Power and torque||119kW (petrol), 90kW (electric), 189kW/370Nm (combined)|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic (petrol engine), 4-speed e-automatic (electric motor)|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||1.7L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||451L/1275L|
|ANCAP safety rating||TBC|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Toyota RAV4 hybrid|
|Price as tested (drive away)||$46,990 drive away|
As per the smaller MG ZS EV, the HS Plug-in Hybrid misses out on the brand's seven-year warranty, instead receiving coverage that spans five years and unlimited kilometres. When asked why, the brand stated it has different strategies for each offering. Battery warranty covers eight years or 160,000km, whichever comes first. Degradation becomes warrantable once its maximum capacity falls below 70 per cent.
With the boring stuff outlined, let's discuss the running gear. The internal combustion engine is the same 119kW, 1.5-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder as found in the regular, front-wheel drive MG HS.
It's supported by a 90kW electric motor, which bolsters outputs to 189kW/370Nm. Interestingly, there's a six-speed gearbox hanging off the engine, and a four-speed "electronic drive unit" – codeword for e-gearbox – multiplying juice from the electric motor.
In tandem, they make for a '10-speed' transmission, that feeds the front-wheels only. A 16.6kWh battery pack is placed under the rear section of the car, and on-board charging flows at a rate of 3.7kWh.
Some simple math deduces that when fed from a $1500 MG Australia wall box, full capacity is reached after approximately 4.5 hours. Charging via the supplied, 240-volt device and regular power outlet takes around seven to eight hours.
Given the slow rate of charging, and that top-ups will most likely occur overnight, the wall box's value feels questionable. Most should be able to get by without it.
MG state 52km of EV only range, or alternatively, an official claimed fuel figure of 1.7/100km in combined use driving, or 5.8L/100 in strictly urban use.
Plug-in hybrids are often laden with myriad drive modes and regenerative braking options, making ideal operation strategy tricky to locate. What's refreshing about the MG HS PHEV is that there's two, very simple settings.
On start, it defaults to auto hybrid mode, which targets optimum range and fuel economy by using both the petrol engine and electric motor together. There's no other configuration in this mode, and regenerative braking is always on.
The system recuperates quite heavily, as you're able to operate the car in slower to stop-start traffic using only one pedal. The amount of deceleration is easy to manage, and you quickly become accustomed to lifting earlier instead of using the brake pedal.
In fact, it becomes fun game-ifying how much recuperation you score, as the digital instrument cluster relays such information. Using the brakes doesn't necessarily provide more regeneration, as my silly antics proved.
Performance on offer is decent, as nearly all electrically-assisted vehicles are. A quick jab of the throttle manifests torque instantly, which you feel physically. With the hammer down, the MG HS will get from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.9 seconds.
Whilst timing was not conducted, the official figure feels about right. In-gear acceleration is good too but feels different to what's usual. Transitions between electric take-offs and combined hybrid drive are seamless and reminiscent of what you find in other alternatives.
What is noticeable however is a sensation between each of the internal combustion engine's gear changes, as the electric motor continues to provide drive. During those movements, there's a small feeling of torque delay, as the petrol engine's oomph is faded in and out between each ratio change. It's reminiscent of the waft you get from Constantly Variable Transmissions, albeit dialled-up and more potent.
It'll surprise your passengers, as it offers a slice of instant power delivery - the type that's become synonymous with electric vehicles. Pushed back in the seat, sort of deal.
The only other drive mode is pure EV. Here, you try your best to achieve the 52km official electric range. As the test route was short, and my aim more aligned to outright fuel consumption, I spent limited time in this mode.
However, I was able to deduce a handful of observations. From crawling speeds to 80km/h, there's a satisfactory amount of propulsion. From 80km/h onward, the performance is reflective of the electric motor's diminutive figures. From 100km/h onward, it borders sluggishness.
If you're planning on chasing a 52km EV-only commute through a 110km/h zone, you may end up using the internal combustion engine instead. The rate of battery depletion appeared much greater at speed too, so I'd hazard that the claimed range falls significantly in this environment.
The only way to be sure however is via more in-depth testing, which CarAdvice plans to conduct as soon as one rolls into the garage. Over the quick launch drive, fuel economy around town kicked off in the fours, and rose to 7L/100km territory after highway driving.
It's worth noting that the suggested drive consisted heavily of higher speed zones, where these sorts of cars don't always perform optimally. Again, we plan to conduct more thorough testing in due course.
In terms of ride quality, it's pleasantly on the softer side. Over the prescribed roads it felt comfortable, and easily passed over road imperfections without jittering or corruption. Steering is on the heavier side, but as per the regular HS range it remains direct and natural.
Given plug-in hybrids can operate silently, road noise and cabin rattles can become magnified. I noticed nothing intrusive during the drive, nor a single rattle from the cabin. If there's a mark of quality in assembly and construction, surely that's one.
Along those lines, cabin quality and design is shared with that of the regular HS range. Being built from a top spec model, it gets some fancy items: sports leather seats with Alcantara accenting, a full-length opening sunroof, ambient lighting, 12.3-inch digital display, and 10.1-inch centre infotainment screen.
The instrument display is clear and legible and has various display options. The centre screen manages all vehicle systems, which frustratingly includes air conditioning controls.
I prefer dedicated buttons over a touch-screen operation any day of the week. Still, Apple CarPlay connectivity worked fine, and there are some shortcut buttons located underneath for those who enjoy a touch of tactility.
MG's suite of advanced driver assist systems are all standard, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, a 3D parking camera, and the like. Rest assured there's nothing the local subsidiary has left out.
In the second row, cabin proportions are decent. Behind my own driving position, I was presented with 6cm of legroom, decent foot room, and stacks of headroom, despite there being a sunroof. The rear seat is a bit flat feeling however and lacks thigh support. Other touchpoints include two USB ports, a pair of air vents, and a fold-down centre armrest with two cup holders, and a fancy, flocked storage area.
The cargo area is accessed by an electric tailgate and offers 451L of storage with all seats up. For comparison's sake, a Toyota RAV4 hybrid offers 542L, and a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 463L. Whilst not the best, there's a fair amount of room offered.
The area itself is decently wide, so strollers and the like will slot-up nicely against the seat back. With the second row down, there's 1275L to play with. Under the boot floor you'll find the vehicle's battery, an area to house charging apparatus and a tyre repair kit – no spare wheel in sight.
A short drive has certainly whetted the appetite for what a low-cost plug-in hybrid has to offer. We're interested in exploring the technology more, most importantly to see whether the brand's claims fall in line with expectations.
What's undeniable is the value equation offered. A dual-energy car, complete with two motors and electric infrastructure, that's been packaged in Australia's favourite body type, for under $50K driveway.
It's incredibly well equipped too, with every safety acronym, a decent array of luxury features, and smart styling that'll continue to draw crowds to showrooms.
As we've seen in Australia however, plug-ins have failed to cut through to consumers like electric cars. It's a possibility that they've been too confusing thus far, and had their benefits convoluted in various claims, instead of one, single minded upside.
Maybe if MG gets communication and the dealership experience right, its 2021 MG HS Plug-in Hybrid could represent a turning point for the genre, mainstream or not?
The market will tell.