The 6 is dead – long live the GS. MG has announced the slow-selling 6 is to be dropped from the UK model range, but it’s not all bad news. At the launch event in Oxfordshire we got to sample the much-awaited new crossover from MG Motor UK, the MG GS. Here’s what we discovered…
Well, it’s finally arrived, despite having been on sale in China for the past year: the all-new MG GS. Already, and as expected, it’s caused a great deal of interest here. Our relationship with MG Motor UK hasn’t always been sweetness and light, especially given how the company has handled its marketing of this precious marque in the UK. A glimmer of hope came along with the MG3, thanks to its neat styling, roomy cabin, impressive value for money and smile-inducing chassis. However, small cars generate small profit – and a family-oriented vehicle is where the money lies.
It comes as no real surprise that the company has taken the decision to drop the MG6 from the UK model line up. Sales here in the UK have been pretty disastrous – so it’s out with the old and in with the new. That said, the MG6 has by no means been a waste of time – it gave the company a fresh starting point and rebirth after the deletion of the TF, not to mention a vehicle that proved the merging of UK and Asian SAIC Design Teams could be achieved. The MG3 was received reasonably well, but this all-new crossover offers a style that’s more European than previous SAIC-developed models, and gives MG Motor UK a crack at the busiest market sector.
It has pleasant styling and some thoughtful design cues, with the lion’s share of the work produced at the MG Design Centre, MG Motor UK now has a viable full-sized family car to sell. There are three levels of specification, one power unit and two transmissions:
- Explore: The entry-level model which features air-con, 17in alloys, cruise and comes in at less than £15,000
- Excite: Adds DAB, Bluetooth and parking sensors
- Exclusive: Top of the range model with leather interior, climate and sat-nav for less than £20,000
- Exclusive DCT Auto: Featuring a new electronic dual-clutch seven-speed auto at £20,995
Driveline Technical Overview:
- 1.5-litre all-alloy 16v turbocharged petrol developed in conjunction with General Motors
- Centralised fuel injectors and integrated exhaust manifold
- 164bhp with 184lb ft available from 1600rpm
- Compact and robust three-shaft six-speed manual gearbox
- A seven-speed dual-clutch electronic automatic gearbox with paddle shift capability
We’re given the manual Exclusive variant, which promises to be a popular choice, given it’s below the psychologically-important £20k barrier. We go in with low expectations and, on that basis, come away feeling rather pleased with how the MG GS stacks up. There’s nothing offensive about the styling – in fact, in some areas it looks quite bold. The way the large octagon badge flares into the bonnet pressing is good design and an eye-catching feature, as are the sculpted rear light clusters. All panel gaps are tight and uniform, and the paintwork has a deep lustre to it.
Inside, it feels much better than the MG3 or MG6. Some plastics are hard and scratchy, but this is by no means unique in class. It compares well with the Nissan Qashqai – there are some odds and ends in that car, which are really bitterly cheap in feel. The GS’s seat trim has a much better quality look and feel than older MG Motor UK products, and the bolstering is notably firmer without compromising comfort. Its driving position is pretty much spot on, too – it’s only spoilt by the awkward positioning of the cruise control. It’s controlled by a lever that lives on the column, as opposed to the steering wheel, and that makes it easy to knock when you’re aiming for the indicator stalk.
A chunky steering wheel and a well-damped action to the column stalks are important confidence factor-building first-contact items in a car. So, the GS scores well here. Quality-wise, it’s no better or worse than the bulk of its competitors, but the steering wheel adjustment locking lever feels cheap and nasty – even one or two Engineers reluctantly agreed.
Unlike the MG6, all the buttons and knobs seem to feel consistent to the touch. Nothing feels loose, rattles or squeaks, despite spirited back-lane driving in some awful weather. There’s ample room inside. The split rear seatbacks have an adjustable recline angle, while the bench folds totally flat to give access to extra cargo space.
Engine response won’t exactly set your pulse racing, but equally, it doesn’t feel too flat. So long as you show 1300rpm on the dial, it pulls quite well, and only becomes raucous beyond 5000rpm. Stick between these two points, and the GS remains credibly smooth and refined. Its power unit isn’t dissimilar to the engine in the current Vauxhall Astra, owing to the fact it was developed in conjunction with GM. And as far as fuel consumption matters, the test car gave 33mpg over a 30-mile drive in poor weather which required the air conditioning to be switched on for most of the time – so, it’s not too bad at all really.
Despite what others may say, the gearchange feels direct and has a positive action. Overall, the car is easy and rather pleasant to drive. An Engineer who worked on the GS’s development very proudly told us that the driveline is proven, well developed and robust.
So, the GS seems to be built on a par with the competition. It offers superb value for money, is incredibly well-equipped in top flight spec and generally drives quite well. Dig a little deeper, and it actually has some class-leading attributes. And we don’t just mean in terms of cost. It ticks the boxes in most areas – a fact we’re quietly pleased about.
We’re still unsure about MG Motor UK’s ability to market the car but, if previous lessons have been learned, there should be no reason why it can’t rack up some useful and strong sales figures – especially when compared with what has come before. In short, we reckon the GS has the minerals to survive in the retail world.
Matthew Cheyne and co – your time has come to prove your critics wrong!
The Marketing Strategy: How MG Motor UK plans not to make the same mistake twice
There is to be no diesel engine option, but MG Motor UK states it will keep a close eye on this – and may reconsider if there’s a demand for it. The company is also keen to point out this 1.5-litre turbo will not be going into the MG3 – but, after speaking to an Engineer, we should watch this space for a livelier and more efficient engine in the MG3. The company sees the GS as a retail (as opposed to fleet) car and, although it won’t turn fleet sales away, the company is very conscious that heavy discounting of more than a third of the cost per unit can end up causing heavy depreciation.
We chatted with Sales and Marketing boss Matthew Cheyne, and touched on the failure of MG and Avis with the 6. His response was clear: ‘Why should I order overly large orders from the factory just to slash 40 per cent off the screen price in order to get them noticed.’ He admits that previous management had its sums and predictions wrong with MG6. ‘The MG GS is a different case now, it’s very much a retail orientated car that’s class leading in many areas especially outright value. We won’t be making the same launch prediction errors like previous management did with 6,’ he says.
‘The dealers now have a portfolio of cars to sell with confidence and the GS is very much the right car for current lifestyles – so far, our dealer feedback is incredible,’ Matthew added. Interest from dealers with GS has been so positive, he has taken a decision to order an extra 200 vehicles from the factory for additional launch stock. These numbers and predictions may not seem earth shattering but, coupled with strong interest with MG3, it can only improve the company’s foothold in the UK market.
A TV campaign with three lifestyle-themed commercials is due to air shortly after the EU referendum results, with the adverts set to run in primetime viewing slots. MG Motor UK is also keen to say that some magazine advertising has been secured, and that dealers have been prospecting hard and vigorously to current customers as well as chasing conquest buyers on their databases. Cheyne concluded: ‘Its pricing structure comes in at more than £4000 below its rivals, add into the mix a brand new, MG-backed five-year warranty showing that we mean business and stand by our product – it’s a no-brainer choice for retail customers.’
Another member of the MG management team was keen to point out – off the record – that the company is not looking to chase or threaten the likes of the Ford Kuga or Nissan Qashqai in terms of sales numbers. They stated: ‘We are not geared up for that level of volume business with our present dealer network or our own UK infrastructure, but what we can do is gain a useful and very profitable share of a very lucrative trend in crossover vehicles.
‘Everyone involved feels very proud at what’s been achieved with GS… we so badly needed that shot in the arm and bit of good fortune to boot, everyone has worked above and beyond on this project in Birmingham and China.’