Medium-sized SUVs are the family cars of choice these days, and Australian punters have yet another option to consider with MG’s new 2021 MG HS Core specification.
This model slots in at the bottom of the HS range, with a drive-away price of $29,990. This drive-away price undercuts a lot of the key competition, and further cements MG’s position as a good value offering in the SUV landscape.
This is two-grand less than the Vibe specification, and a little more than 10-grand less than the range-topping Essence X.
More broadly, this base specification will line up against the entry-level likes of Mitsubishi’s Outlander ES ($29,990), Toyota’s RAV4 GX ($37,070), Nissan’s X-Trail ($30,665), Subaru’s Forester 2.5i ($35,190) and Kia’s Sportage S ($29,490).
It's worth noting that these numbers are mostly before on-road costs are incurred and with a cheaper manual transmission. The HS is priced drive-away, with an automatic gearbox the standard offering.
|2021 MG HS Core|
|Engine||1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power and torque||119kW @ 5600rpm, 250Nm @ 1700–4400rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dry dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||7.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.5L/100km|
|Boot size, seats up/down||463L/1287L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star (October 2019)|
|Warranty (years/km)||Seven years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sportage, Nissan X-Trail|
|Price as tested (drive-away)||$29,990|
So, the HS Core remains good value. In fact, considering it has the same body, powertrain, safety and infotainment as other HS models, it could be the best value proposition of the range.
Along with a recent five-star ANCAP safety rating, the MG HS Core keeps the raft of active safety technology: autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, speed-limit assist, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring.
Even in Core specification, the interior of the HS is one of its real strengths. It feels modern and fresh, with plenty of contemporary and complementary design elements going on.
The 10.1-inch infotainment display carries over from the rest of the range, and it forms the central point of an otherwise handsome interior design. Along with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto worked well for me during the testing period, and meant I spent little time using the infotainment’s native operating system – which isn’t the best. But it’s a moot point, because you almost never need to use it if your phone is linked up all of the time.
Ergonomically, the HS is also strong. Longer highway stints were dispatched easily, without much noise from the powertrain or road coming into the cabin. Cloth seat trimming sets the Core apart most markedly from more expensive variants, but they’re plenty comfortable and functional enough for day-to-day living.
The ride is also comfortable and commendable, and suits the needs of the end user nicely. Handling performance is behind the more established leaders in this regard, but isn’t as important a consideration as general ride comfort.
What are also more important are second-row space and comfort, which are further strong suits of the HS. The constant litmus test for me at the moment involves a forward-facing and rearward-facing baby seat, both of which went in easily and with enough room.
Leg room and head room are both in enough supply for adults, which can’t be said for all SUVs. However, no power outlets or air vents for rearward passengers doesn’t suit the brief of an SUV. If you want these features, you’ll need to spend up on a more expensive variant.
In fact, only one USB outlet and one 12V socket in the Core variant seems like the bare minimum these days, and might not cut the mustard for some buyers.
The boot, measuring in at 463L – to the height of the cargo blind – is a good size, and opens up to 1287L when you drop the 60/40-split second row.
There is a space-saving spare wheel tucked under the boot, but there is room for a full-sized spare underneath if you wanted one. There's also plenty of additional storage space here if you're undertaking a big road trip.
A 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine develops 119kW at 5600rpm, but the 250Nm at 1700–4400rpm is more important for general town driving.
With a claimed fuel consumption of 7.6 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, we averaged 8.4L/100km on our test drives, which included a fairly even mix of town and highway driving. Also worth noting is that the HS needs more expensive 95RON fuel to stay as happy as possible.
And most of the time, there is enough grunt on offer to get you moving as you slice through traffic or across intersections. Being turbocharged, the engine benefits from having a handy push of midrange torque available, instead of needing its neck wringed at high revs.
There isn’t much power beyond this, however, especially when the car is laden with humans and gear. So, situations like highway overtaking and long, steep hill climbs should be approached with a little forethought.
That power can come on tap haphazardly at times around town, seemingly surging between episodes of low and high torque delivery. The wide range of torque availability suggests that it’s perhaps not the engine’s fault, but the gearbox losing composure at times and not being in the right gear.
Part of the issue here also comes from throttle calibration, which has an aggressive tune. Small prods on the accelerator pedal yield big results, which can make smooth progress tricky. While it might make the HS feel initially responsive off the line, additional pressure on the throttle pedal doesn’t yield much more motivation.
That gearbox, by the way, is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Power goes exclusively to the front wheels despite the prominent transmission tunnel in the second row. All-wheel drive is available in other HS variants, with a larger 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
We did experience some disconcerting noises from the transmission in our HS at times during low-speed negotiations. It was in both drive and reverse, with gears chattering noisily as we went on and off the throttle. The only other time I have heard this kind of driveline chatter is in manual-geared four-wheel drives in low-range, as you come on and off the clutch on low-speed and technical challenges.
Measuring in at 4574mm long and 1876mm wide, the HS measures in at slightly shorter and wider than most of the key competition. The wheelbase – 2720mm – is also longer than most. And that no doubt helps with the spacious second row.
Sneaking in under $30,000 is no mean feat, especially when you remember this already has an automatic transmission. Like other models in MG’s portfolio, the most fierce and pointed of competition will come from Mitsubishi’s range of SUVs. In particular, the Outlander in base ES specification, with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and manual transmission, is priced closely.
However, the fact that the HS has a great crash safety rating (five stars in 2019), plenty of active safety technology and a seven-year warranty means MG is forcing its way onto the consideration list of many Australian buyers.
And while it’s not a perfect SUV, the 2021 MG HS Core does have plenty to like. It's spacious inside with a comfortable and modern interior design. And the way it drives and rides around town is mostly commendable.
What you lose in Core specification doesn't hurt as much as you might think, especially considering the big infotainment display and active safety technology carry over from more expensive variants.
Room for improvement for the HS exists in the finer details, and is most noticeable in the powertrain tuning and calibration. Dual-clutch gearboxes are difficult to get perfect, and this example needs more work yet to be comparable to a torque-converter gearbox.