Review : MG HS Exclusive

Mike Humble has recently spent a week behind the wheel of the new MG HS. Here’s what the big fella found, and he wasn’t disappointed…

MG Motor UK: it’s been through more brand-image confusion in the past 10 years than Rover did in the previous 20. The storied marque’s models have transitioned from sporting two seaters in the form of the TF LE 500 to the current crop of the MG3, the ZS and the all-new HS. Like it or lump it, this is the new face of MG. Almost overnight back in 2008, the brand went from affordable zest to cut-price bargain basement and, in so doing, switched off many customers like a light.

The company did little to fend off the brickbats and criticisms that the public and media threw about. Those who did know (owing to a spectacular lack of marketing) didn’t want to and one former Sussex-based MG Dealer Principal told me the TF LE 500 was named such because, ‘the number equalled the amount of weeks it took to sell our quota.’

That dealership in question went on to box up its franchise and place it on a slow boat to China, opting to switch to SEAT instead. So, here we are some years after the slow-selling TF and the spectacularly (and often unfairly) ignored MG6 went out of production, sampling the brand’s latest take on the ever-popular SUV. The company now has the ZS, the electric-powered ZS EV and the new HS in its portfolio. Even though the petrol ZS is worthy, it doesn’t set the world on fire. However, the ZS EV and HS really are something different. I found the latter to be a massive and, dare I say it, a pleasant surprise. MG has already dipped its toe into the market with the now discontinued GS, which wasn’t bad for the bucks, but cheap old mediocrity has no place in the market anymore.

First impressions

Good driving position and ergonomics – a lot of detail thought has gone into the HS. Plenty of tech, including virtual instruments and plenty of peripheral safety kit, too. Not a great deal to whinge about – only the infotainment being a bit slow to work is worthy of a mention

We have come along way over recent decades when it comes to motor cars. It isn’t that long ago you could get away with selling any old tat if the price was right – long-gone horrors that include the likes of the FSO 125P, Lada Riva and Skodas with the engine mounted in the wrong place. In automotive terms, it really was a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Customer expectations are so much higher and you simply cannot get away with anything that’s sub-standard.

Nobody makes a truly bad car these days, some are better than others in image or practice of course but, in this world of Internet speed and review sites by the thousand, you are made or broken purely by the number of stars your products get in the eyes of the general public. Just recently I have been ‘self isolating’ in the top-of-the-line MG HS Exclusive. I get to park many cars on our front, some exotica and some hum-drum, the MG has certainly attracted the most recent attention. From the moment I plipped open the doors and peered inside, I knew this was something different.

Not only do the first contact items like the key fob, door handles etc. match the required subconscious feeling of solidity, it smells good, too – no longer does an MG pong like the innards of an old video recorder. There’s a nice smell of leather and carpet to greet you and the doors open and close with a reassuring whump sound you’d experience with something twice its price. Also, you’ll find plenty of soft trim, the front door casing mouldings are replicated in quality and feel in the rear, too – take note Ford and Volkswagen.

What’s it like to drive?

MG HS review - driving

Out on the road it pleases, too. The engine is a known quantity – a 1.5-litre turbo which was jointly developed by SAIC and General Motors, first seen in the MG GS and also used in the Vauxhall Insignia. Silent at idle and refined through most revs, the average motorist will use, it goes a bit Jekyll and Hyde when you really shovel some coal in. Go beyond 4500 rpm, and you’ll actually wince in sympathy as the engine note becomes alarmingly loud and high frequency vibrations can be felt. As stated though, you won’t find the aforementioned an issue if you play the game properly and drive it as a family car should be driven.

On the subject of refinement, tyre noise is well isolated, but wind noise from the huge door mirrors can always be heard at motorway speeds in the background. Okay, so the handling may not set your soul on fire like a Caterham, but for a big lofty ‘bus the body roll is controlled, the steering weights up nicely on tight bends and there’s just enough grip to keep a spirited driver entertained through the the most challenging bends.

My only gripes about the driving experience were that the test car had a mushy-feeling brake pedal which required a bit more of a shove than other class examples and a bit too much free-play on the vertical motion of the slightly cheap feeling gear knob. The engine offers 162bhp and 250nm of torque, pulls pretty well from 1500rpm once the turbo awakes and, higher up the speed range, not once was it necessary to change down from sixth in order to execute an overtake. Over the week, I averaged 43mpg with motorway, commuting and A-road driving scenarios. That’s not shabby.

Ignore the mucky engine, it was lashing down the day before. Engine is a proven 1.5-litre GM/SAIC joint venture with plenty of power and guts. Overall refinement is good and economy is fair but, if you push on really hard, it screams like hell and drinks like a tramp

What’s it like inside?

Seats feature subtle suede inserts and both look and feel great. Initially, they seem to lack cushion padding, but are really comfortable for a long haul. Centre cubby box under the armrest is deep and features air-con, too. Only the cheap gear knob and column stalks let the side down, but general quality is very good indeed – in fact, better than a good number of rivals. A seven-speed dual clutch automatic is also available

The build quality in most areas matches or surpasses all of its direct rivals. From the air vents on the fascia to the damping action of the switches, pretty much everything feels either on a par or way better than other cars of its class. In some areas, the HS is actually bloody impressive – fold down the rear armrest and you find a covered brace of cup holders and storage cubby. Big deal you may think, but the standard of engineering of the alloy effect covers more than stands comparison with those used by Jaguar Land Rover on the Jaguar XF and Range Rover Evoque.

Its flat-bottomed, leather-clad steering wheel has a lovely thick rim which goes nicely with the impressive driving position, though sportier drivers will wish the seat lowered and inch or two more. Only the slightly springy feeling of the column stalks is a notable mark down. Leather-clad and electrically-adjustable seats come as standard on the Exclusive and, while they initially feel a little hard in the pants, they are snug and comfortable for long journeys. The seat heating elements kick in quickly, but there’s no variable setting, nor is there any option on the seat squab angle.

You’ll find plenty of headroom despite the panoramic roof and enough space in the footwell to the left of the clutch pedal. Over your shoulder there is a comfortable bench seat with 60/40 backrest split (but, sadly, with no ski hatch), plenty of legroom and a pair of USB charging points. Other impressive touches include neon mood lighting, a massive illuminated glovebox and a decent level of storage space for your little goods and chattels like cups, coins, keys and chewing gum.

That armrest storage tray and cup holder is stunning. It looks and feels like the kind you would find in a Jaguar F-Pace or Range Rover Evoque. Once again, the quality seems to be there too. Plenty of head, legroom and device charging points. Those seat back pockets look the business we think

Verdict? We rather like it

I really wanted to find something horribly wrong at first. Other reviews are heaping praise, so I was keen to see if my background in vehicle sales, parts and service could make me note items others might fail to spot. There really isn’t much to spoil the picture at all. The HS seems well nailed together, has some impressive shut and finish lines and the paintwork looked very well applied – real showroom appeal. Even the twin exhaust finishers aren’t there to fool you – there really is a tailpipe on each side. To be truthful, the only blots on the copybook were the infotainment, the gear knob and the high beam assist feature that gets in a muddle in roadworks where there are lots of cones and temporary road signs.

All in all, the HS is built to a level that far exceeds all previous MG models and there are little clues that they have used or convincingly copied other parts that SAIC Motor uses on cars built under licence for GM and VW. For example, the LED lights that illuminate the vanity mirrors seem identical to the items you’d find in the current Passat/Arteon ranges, while the steering column adjuster can be found on numerous Vauxhall or Opel-engineered cars. When I spoke to John Newey, the Dealer Principal of Summit Garage in Dudley prior to the press car arriving, he proudly told me, ‘it’s a 50 grand car for half the price.’

Was John stretching the point? Well, after a week behind the wheel, I’m pleased to say he’s not far off the mark. Overall, the HS is well engineered, well equipped, features the modern safety equipment the marque once lacked and, above all, drives rather well. All that concerns me is whether MG can (or more to the point will) grab the nettle firmly and give the dealers full, proper and professional back up to put right the wrongs of some rather poor customer service worries we hear about.

This needs to be addressed with immediate effect as some big dealer groups are cottoning on to MG and adding the franchise to their networks. As the HS gathers momentum and really takes off – as it potentially can and ought to – MG Motor UK risks being embarrassingly caught with its trousers down and that could turn out to be costly. Staying with the car itself though, and avoiding the politics, it’s a very impressive package and a car any potential owner has few, if any, excuses for not buying – or, at least, considering. We wouldn’t be shocked if we hear of it stealing a few conquest sales from bigger rival marques.

It’s all down to you MG!

Model Tested

  • MG HS Exclusive 
  • Manual six-speed gearbox
  • £22,995 (excluding optional paintwork)
  • HS range prices start from £17,995

What We Like

  • Impressive feel and build quality
  • Incredible value for money – in fact, almost mind-blowing
  • Lavish equipment levels
  • Practical thanks to a totally flat floor when you drop the rear seats.
  • Comfort and general refinement
  • By far the best MG yet
  • Seven-year warranty

What We Don’t Like

  • Need to see manufacturer support/care to dealers and customers improve
  • Boot is notably smaller than similarly-sized rivals
  • Not the most competitive PCP deals on offer
  • Infotainment and sat-nav clunky and a bit lethargic to operate
  • Annoyingly loud warning chimes which you cannot switch off or, at least, turn down
  • Engine noise and economy when driven hard
Mike Humble

1 Comment

  1. Things you touch most like the gear lever and stalks feel cheap. Why go to the effort of quality plastics and fittings if you’re going to skimp on the tactile stuff? Laggy infotainment, uncompetitive PCP deals and improvements needed to customer service don’t sound great either.

    I like the idea of cheap, cheerful and practical cars. How does this compare with the latest SsangYong, I wonder?

    I don’t suppose brand snobbery exists at this end of the market, but if it does, I think I’d rather put my coin in the hands of a Dacia dealer.

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