Review: First MG SUV keeps the legendary marque alive

Turn the key and the screen lights up with the legend MG Since 1924. What started out in Abingdon as an offshoot of Morris Garages has had a proud life. If it was a human it would be in its nineties.

The petrol turbo engine of the MG GS pulls well, with a claimed 0-60mph time of 9.6 seconds and a maximum of 118mph

Unlike a nonagenarian, car companies rarely die – and if they do they can have an after-life, a second chance. MG finally was abandoned when its British owners went bust in 2005. It was resuscitated by the Chinese. They phased out the capable TF sports car and gave us the MG6 saloon and the MG3 hatchback, each made in China and assembled in the English Midlands at Longbridge. The MG6, an OK car for the price, went circuit racing and in 2014 won the British championship, driven by Jason Plato and Sam Tordoff. The MG3 is popular in Cuba.

Now there is a new MG, the marque’s first SUV or cross-over. The Chinese-built GS was unveiled last year in Shanghai and is now on sale, attracting interest from other motorists – who have been underwhelmed by the MG6 and MG3.

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The GS was designed by Anthony Williams-Kenny, a graduate in automotive design from Coventry University, previously with Mitsubishi Europe and now design director for MG’s parent company. He and the team have given us a good-looking, cheaper alternative to cars like the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Tiguan, Renault Kadjar, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson et al.

Its rivals on price are the shorter SsangYong Tivoli and the Dacia Duster. Prices start at £14,995 and come with the assurance of a five-year warranty or 80,000-mile warranty and a higher riding position.

The only engine offered in Britain is a turbocharged direct injection 1.5 petrol with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed twin clutch automatic gearbox. It delivers 164bhp and 184 lb ft of torque. At the moment neither the available 2-litre petrol engine nor all-wheel-drive is offered.

Incentives, including £1,500 to £2,000 against your banger, shoved MG sales ahead by 15.4 per cent in the first seven months to 2,201 – so it’s still a rarity in many places.

The big surprise is no diesel version at launch, something SUV owners (and business users) like. However, the petrol engine is less expensive and cleaner. The models are called Explore, Excite, Exclusive and Exclusive DCT – bringing the automatic gears and taking the price to £20,095.

On paper the GS looks economical, reaching a combined figure of 46mpg and 139g of CO2 with manual gears, 141g with the DCT gears – only offered as the Exclusive DCT. This was my test car, the pinnacle of GS-ism, though I’d have preferred to try the Excite (from £17,495) which has smaller wheels. Even the entry-level Explore is well-specced, with 17-inch alloys, stop-start ignition, hill-holder, automatic lights, adjustable rear seats, air con, cruise control and a trip computer. Excite’s extras include digital audio, rear parking sensors and camera, “mirror link” which puts your smart phone on the car’s system.

Move to the Exclusive (£19,495) and get gloss black 18-inch alloys, navigation, xenon lamps, leather seats with power adjustment, Bluetooth, auto wipers, “lazy” locking, side steps. Standard colours are white or black.

So, I turned the key and set off. The response of the automatic gearbox was dull. The ride was bouncy over undulations and harsh over bumps. In bends it rolls. Somewhere there were vibrations. I wrote in my notes: “Joggly, joggly, joggly.” Not very imaginative I agree. On bends the firmness creates jitters over broken surfaces.

“At its best when stationary,” I decided. Then one day, it suddenly felt better. I suppose I’d tuned in to its deficiencies and almost edited them out. Very odd.

Also odd is being able to remove the ignition key without the gearshift being in Park. This also means that the transmission is not “locked” and the car can run away unless you set the electric parking brake.

The cabin is certainly roomy, favouring rear leg space over luggage space behind. In the Exclusive the expanses of crackle finish hard plastic door and fascia cladding are offset by more expanses of shiny black plastic. Instrumentation is clear. The navigation is slow to load but routes accurately with a sonorous male voice like the chaps who read audio thrillers.

The petrol turbo engine pulls well, with a claimed 0-60mph time of 9.6 seconds and a maximum of 118mph. Unfortunately, I did not achieve the mooted 46mpg. In fact the trip-meter usually showed 34 mpg, whether on my “commuter” run or a hillier route from valley to valley. Shorter trips returned a few mpg less.

Verdict: Will appeal for its smart looks and value for money. So-so suspension does not give confidence or comfort. Thirsty.