MG HS 2021 essence

2021 MG HS Essence X AWD review

Does a new 2.0-litre turbo engine and all-wheel drive give the MG HS the mechanical support it should have had at launch? Trent finds out!
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Anyone thinking that MG is going to slow down with its aggressive push into the Australian market, need only look at the recent bolstering of the HS range to clarify that no such thing looks like occurring. A closer look here at the 2021 MG HS Essence X, then, adds AWD to an already popular medium SUV.

Almost more than any other single brand, we’re getting asked constantly about MG vehicles when people are making their purchasing decisions. The price is part of the attraction, but so is the warranty and the standard feature list. It’s those three factors that buyers most refer to.

Now, with the Excite X and Essence X available with AWD, and priced from $37,990, there’s going to be even more buyer focus on the MG that slots neatly into one of the most popular segments in Australia. Dominated by the RAV4, CX-5 and Tucson, there’s never been more desire for medium SUVs than right now.

Excite X is the most affordable AWD HS, starting from that aforementioned $37,990 price, while the Essence X as tested here starts from $42,990. At the time of testing those prices are drive-away, too, sharpening the value proposition even more. There’s absolutely no doubt that money talks with a big-ticket item like a vehicle, and Australians pride themselves on being savvy buyers. It’s one of the reasons MG has risen as sharply as a brand as it has.

Underneath the HS Essence X, there’s a new 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that makes a respectable 168kW and 360Nm, and with the AWD models based on what are effectively the top two HS models, you get tried and tested value for money. These two models also come not long after MG announced a plug-in hybrid version of the HS as well; a range that now offers something for seemingly everybody.

2021 MG HS Essence X AWD
Engine2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power and torque168kW @ 5300rpm, 360Nm @ 4000rpm
TransmissionSeven-speed dry dual-clutch automatic
Drive typeAll-wheel drive
Kerb weight1700kg
Fuel consumption (claimed)9.5L/100km
Fuel use on test10.1L/100km
Boot size, seats up/down463L/1287L
ANCAP safety ratingFive-star (October 2019)
Warranty (years/km)Seven years/unlimited kilometres
Main competitorsMitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sportage, Nissan X-Trail
Price as tested (drive-away)$42,990 (Drive-away at time of testing.)

Mated to the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot, there’s a six-speed dual-clutch automatic and an on-demand all-wheel-drive system. Fuel use on the combined cycle is an ADR-claimed 9.5L/100km. On test, we used an indicated 10.1L/100km, which isn’t as frugal as the best in the segment, but not hideously over the ADR claim either. Heavy traffic will see that number rise, but a prolonged freeway run will see it drop easily into single figures.

Our pricing and specification guide runs through the details, with standard kit well catered to. Essence X gets electrically adjustable sports seats trimmed in a mix of leather and Alcantara. The seats have red highlight stitching, and there’s a panoramic sunroof and a 360-degree camera.

As expected, the model we’re testing has the full MG Pilot suite of safety tech, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, speed sign detection, rear cross-traffic alert, semi-autonomous traffic jam assist and auto high-beam control.

Our test HS gets attractive 18-inch alloy wheels, Michelin tyres, LED headlights and DRLs, and LED tail-lights with sequential indicators. Five colours are available across the range, and you can see that the styling is as sharp as anything else the MG is competing with in this segment. It’s an attractive SUV in a busy segment, and while plenty of buyers aren’t shopping in this segment on style, those that are will appreciate the design cues on offer.

The 10.1-inch infotainment screen is a whopper and it’s clear too. It’s loaded up with proprietary satellite navigation and has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. On test, we found both Apple and Android systems to work well when connected. Apple CarPlay dropped out a couple of times for us and required a disconnect/reconnect operation to get set up again. That issue didn’t happen during a call or when using an application, rather when we’d get into the HS and start up for the first time.

When connected, the system worked well and was clear during phone calls. We reckon some of the menu functionality within the infotainment system is needlessly complex and could be simplified to make general operation easier. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it would make the first-time user more familiar, faster.

The system is also sometimes slow to respond to commands, and as if it’s taking a second to think about what you’re asking it to do. Crucial elements like the graphics, screen resolution and image quality are all solid, though.

The cabin itself is quite a premium execution. Everything is neatly arranged, easy to understand, well laid out and comprehensive. We really like the feeling of space inside the cabin, and that goes for either front- or second-row passengers. The seats are excellent - sports buckets in the front as mentioned above – and they are comfortable over long distances too. We’re starting to see more and more MGs out in regional areas, and if you do head off on longer trips regularly, the HS will do that job in comfort.

That sense of space absolutely carries through to the second row, where there’s room for two adults in the outboard positions, excellent visibility across both of those seats, and useful storage too. The luggage area is likewise well catered to and suits the family buyer nicely.

The on-road ride is a neat compromise between being tautly tied down but also comfortable. In other words, the HS can absorb the usual rutted urban fare, but it does so with composure and comfort. If you do point it at a corner, it doesn’t trip over itself either, so the balance is right about where the average urban buyer would expect it to be. It’s not a sports SUV, mind you, but in my opinion it doesn’t need to be either.

We thought the steering was well executed too, light at parking speed, firm enough at highway speed, and direct. The engine is punchy, with the 2.0-litre generating enough urge from a standstill or to roll-on overtake from 80km/h up to 110km/h as you enter a freeway. In fact, the engine feels a little more powerful than the numbers indicate on paper.

We like the addition of AWD, but the DCT needs some refining. It’s the only element of the driveline that lets the side down. Some work on the tune, shift points, take-up and general operation at lower city speeds would see the DCT match the quality of the rest of the driveline, and indeed the HS as a whole.

The transmission doesn’t do anything dangerous or silly, it’s just a bit too jerky in on/off throttle traffic, doesn’t engage snappily enough when you’re making a three-point turn, for example, and it’s just not as smooth at low speed as it could be. It’s a measure of the improving quality of the MG platform that the DCT jars against the rest of the driveline.

The MG HS Essence X is covered by MG’s excellent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and gets a five-star ANCAP rating from 2019.

Looking back on our previous testing of the HS, it’s interesting to note that we suggested it needed more engine that could get the job done in a more spritely fashion and without seeming to work too hard. That’s exactly what the addition of the boosted 2.0-litre has done. It’s now got the chops to get up and moving as rapidly as we’d expect it to without raising a sweat.

Small updates to the DCT would make a very good SUV even better, and improve upon what is a hard to ignore value proposition. MG continues to make waves in our market, and there’s no doubt the new driveline is a step forward from the 1.5-litre engine we had tested previously.

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