What is it?
It’s the range-topping version of MG’s debut small SUV, the GS. This £20,995 model combines Exclusive trim - plushest of the three levels available - and an optional, £1500 seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, which is only available in Exclusive models. As with the entire GS line-up, it’s powered by a direct injection, turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine that gets a generous 164bhp and drives the front wheels.
Highlights of Exclusive trim include 18in alloys, sat-nav, heated electrically adjustable front seats, leather upholstery and roof bars. This supplements the likes of automatic air-con, cruise control, reversing sensors and camera, DAB radio, smartphone MirrorLink and Bluetooth, which are from lesser trim levels.
Cheaper versions of the GS - which is priced from just £14,995 - lack sheen, but offer lots of space and decent performance for the money. So how will this new SUV's priciest version fare for a full £6000 more?
What's it like?
Where a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearlever would otherwise be, a chunky, long-throw gear selector gives control of the ‘DCT’ twin-clutch gearbox and is complemented by tiny plastic shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. However, you can only choose ratios yourself with these paddles in Sport mode, which requires you to slide the gear selector horizontally, out of Drive.
Left in Drive, the shifts themselves are smooth enough when trundling about, but kickdown comes reluctantly and not without some ratio-hunting. In Sport, the gearbox mapping is worse still, probing several cogs before settling, which is both disruptive and time-consuming, and brief doses of throttle are met with lurching, prolonged confusion. Take control with the paddles, and the DCT is much more obliging, executing shifts obediently and swiftly, although upshifts in lower gears can be jerky when you're pushing hard.
That's something you might be tempted to do, because the all-aluminium engine has a decent amount of shove on offer above middling revs, with good responsiveness once it’s bubbling. MG claims this variant will hit 62mph in 9.6sec - the same figure given for the manual version, which actually logged an even more impressive 8.9sec 0-60mph time in our road test. Combined fuel economy is claimed to be a middling 45.5mpg, but we only achieved a figure in the mid-thirties on the motorway.
The engine's note is tolerable when moping through town, but it blares loudly at higher revs, and there’s a faint but noticeable and persistent background drone around 70mph in seventh. This is joined by significant motorway tyre noise and a bit of wind roar around the A-pillars.
Anything other than a dead smooth surface sends niggling ripples through the chassis, especially at speed, while sharp bumps resonate with a bit of a bang. Despite this apparent firmness, there’s pronounced roll and dive as the GS’s unusually tall 1665mm height and chunky 1467kg weight take their toll. The steering hasn’t much initial bite but is accurate and gains weight agreeably, while traction is good in most conditions, though understeer comes readily on tight corners.
The GS’s spacious cabin can only be enriched with leather if you choose Exclusive trim. The seats are the same shape as in other variants; while the leather itself feels pretty industrial, it does raise the ambience a bit. That's definitely a good thing, because there’s not a square millimetre of soft-touch plastic on show. Leather flanks the centre console and coats the gear shifter and steering wheel, there are squidgy inserts on the door cards and some gloss black across the fascia, but the prevalence of rigid textured plastic will make those looking to spend over £20,000 on a new car baulk. As would the squeaking instrument cluster in our test car.
It’s easy to find reasonable comfort in GS's medium-high seating position, and while the switchgear is not pretty, it is easy to reach and use. After a slow boot-up, the ‘iGO’ sat-nav works swiftly - even when pinching to zoom - and has decent graphics.
While the rising windowline darkens the rear of the interior, the back seats offer plenty of head room and good leg room for one six-footer sitting behind another, and a near-flat floor leaves good foot space for a middle passenger. The rear seatbacks tilt and also split and fold 60/40, forming a long, flat extended boot space. There’s no lip to the generously sized boot, but the opening is restrictive towards the bottom.
Should I buy one?
At almost £21,000, the GS loses much of its value-centric appeal. Its greatest assets - practicality and performance - are also available in the £14,995 Explore variant, and when it costs much more than that the car’s harsh ride and basic interior quality are harder to swallow.
The automatic gearbox is a hindrance, too - if you’re after a self-shifting, front-drive compact crossover with a petrol engine and sat-nav, the much more frugal Renault Captur 1.2 TCe 120, which is smaller but has sliding rear seats, offers a more rounded package, and will cost you from just £18,075.
MG GS Exclusive DCT
Location Gloucestershire; On sale Now; Price £20,995 Engine 4 cyls, 1490cc, turbo, petrol; Power 164bhp at 5600rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 1600-4300rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1467kg; Top speed 112mph; 0-62mph 9.6sec; Economy 45.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 141g/km, 25%