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The MG GS is a small SUV that promises a dynamic driving experience at a very competitive price. We’ve tried it in the UK

What is it?

Yes, we know, another week, another SUV. At least this one could prove a little more interesting, seeing as it’s from one-time sports car manufacturer MG. The Chinese-owned brand promises handling that stays true to the company’s roots, at a price that starts at less than £15,000.

That’s not bad for a Nissan Qashqai-sized SUV that has significantly more punch than rivals. While a diesel (sourced from the MG 6) will fit, at the moment a 1.5-litre petrol engine is the only choice of powerplant. If you want four-wheel drive, you need to look elsewhere.

Still, a turbocharger boosts output to a chunky 164bhp, making it one of the more powerful small SUVs out there at this price point. Add a decent level of standard specification, five-year warranty and a roomy interior and the signs are good.

What's it like?

Initial impressions are good. The GS isn’t a bad-looking thing in the metal to these eyes, especially with the 18in wheels and chrome detailing of our top-spec Exclusive test car. The interior isn’t quite so impressive, though.

There may be piano black trim on the dashboard and lashings of leather, but there’s also scratchy, cheap-feeling plastic as far as the eye can see. Search as we might, we couldn’t see any soft stuff on show. It will probably prove durable enough but is much less appealing than rivals' cabins.

The centre console is also behind the times, with a mess of buttons sitting just below the infotainment screen. While you might get used to their location in time, we found ourselves having to look down far too often to hit the control we needed.

Likewise, the infotainment system looks rather basic and offers less functionality than rival systems. Although you get Mirrorlink connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are notable in their absence. At least the system proves responsive and easy enough to navigate.

The GS does prove spacious for both front and rear passengers. Our only complaint is that the floor feels very high in the back, forcing your knees to sit much higher than you may expect.

The boot isn’t bad either. Not only is it bigger than the Qashqai’s, but it’s nearly as big as you get from a Mazda CX-5 or Kia Sportage, and folding the standard reclining rear seats reveals a load bay that’s virtually flat. It’s a shame, then, that the boot opening narrows around the edges, something that could be troublesome if you’re lugging particularly large bits of flatpack furniture.

So it may not be the most impressive interior in the sector, but what about the driving experience? Well, its ride fits MG's sporty intentions; even on smooth asphalt you feel continual vertical bouncing, while it's even more unsettled on rough roads. 

Despite the firm springing, body roll is only moderately well contained; the Qashqai corners just as flatly yet offers much greater ride comfort. Even so, the GS enters corners keenly and is moderately entertaining on a twisting country road. Pushed hard, the GS remains surprisingly neutral without ever feeling like it’ll wag its tail.

Helping is steering that is well weighted and a gearchange that is slick, if a little long of throw. Sadly, this is spoilt somewhat by an engine that holds on to revs way after you’ve got off the throttle.

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But that’s not the only issue the motor has. Unlike many modern forced-induction petrol engines, there isn’t much punch at all in the lower reaches of the rev range; you really have to work it hard for it to feel anywhere near as potent as the power output suggests.

Should I buy one?

Adding up all the scores on the doors, we find it very hard to recommend the GS in this guise. At nearly £20,000, the interior feels too cheap, it isn’t comfortable enough and it doesn't feel that quick in the real world. Even though you’d miss out on equipment and performance, an entry-level Qashqai is far more appealing.

Even at £15,000, we can’t help but think a Dacia Duster or Ssangyong Tivoli would offer a more practical, comfier and far more frugal alternative. All in all, we're afraid the GS feels like a missed opportunity for MG.

MG GS 1.5 TGI Exclusive

Location Oxfordshire; On sale Now; Price £19,495; Engine 4 cyls, 1490cc, turbo, petrol; Power 164bhp at 5600rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 1600-4300rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1420kg; Top speed 118mph; 0-62mph 9.9sec; Economy 46.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 139g/km, 27%

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Chris C 15 June 2016

MG GS

Have you tested a Chinese market car in the UK, if so how will UK market vehicles (assembled in Thailand?) differ, eg interior and suspension?

It's interesting to compare the power and economy figures with the unturbocharged 1.5 in the MG3. How long will the 1.5 in the GS continue to be available?

Any chance of a back to back test with a Ssangyong Korando to see if it shares any genes from the time SAIC owned Ssangyong?

Any chance of a test of the GS's bigger brother the Roewe RX5 when it is launched in the coming months?

NeufNeuf 15 June 2016

Copy and paste

I've sat in one of these at the pathetic Battersea Motor show in London. What struck was how big it is. It certainly feels wider inside than a Qashqai. But the worst thing for me was also that patch with the myriad buttons on the centre console. Best part was how the Chinese saw Audi add little silver lines between the buttons and they copied that. Little did they realise the Audi silver strips are RAISED specifically so you can find the ridge blind to instinctively know which buttons you are about to press (once you've learnt your way around). With this thing they have the silver lines but you have to look down every single time to see what you're about to press. MG: it pays to find out WHY things are designed a certain way and not just stupidly copy it from a photograph.
androo 15 June 2016

MG...

I think sometimes the problem for this brand is the name. MG has many connotations: Morris Garages, sports cars, vintage, wire wheels and leather etc. But it doesn't have any Chinese SUV connotations at all. So there's no advantage to the name at all and probably a disadvantage who knows what MG was. Youcan't just kidnap a brand and expect it to carry the company despite the product. A SSangYong Tivoli looks like a better bet to me and at least it's honest about its orgins.
Bob Cholmondeley 15 June 2016

Autocar wrote: At least this

Autocar wrote:

At least this one could prove a little more interesting, seeing as it’s from one-time sports car manufacturer MG.

If MG had any link whatsoever, apart from the name, with the company who's name they have bought, then and only then, that comment may make a degree of sense.