I have to admit, I’m not easily impressed by a car’s badge. Just because it wears a blue and white roundel, a three-pointed star, or a leaping cat on the hood does not automatically mean that it'll be great. Neither am I easily impressed by just a vehicle's design. You do not judge a book by its cover, or so the saying goes.
Yet for some reason, after a thorough walkthrough, inspection, and a brief drive, I can say that I am truly impressed with this new model from one of the great British automotive marques: MG. They're easy to spot: you can tell by the letters M and G encased within an octagonal badge.
It's called the HS, and it's a crossover meant to compete in a 5-seater compact crossover category that includes names like Sportage, Tucson, RAV4, CR-V, CX-5, Forester and the like.
Is it a tall order for MG to be truly competitive, or does this crossover have what it takes to elevate the brand to put up one heck of a fight?
Maybe we can start with where it's made: the People's Republic of China.
MG may be a British brand from Birmingham, a place known for a very distinct (and hard to understand) English accent, but the company itself is now owned by China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation or SAIC. Fitting, as they do have a distinct dialect, just like the Brummies.
Many do scoff at the idea of an English car with a Chinese parentage (and manufacturing origin), but we were impressed by the scale of the investment that SAIC made to boost the MG brand. SAIC pumped in money for MG to produce cars of a higher caliber, to provide better value, and to impress onlookers by their designs. A far cry from the still prevalent perception that modern Chinese automobiles are still blatant copies of other brands with anemic engines, poor build quality, and laughable safety.
SAIC, through MG, wanted to prove that such is not the case anymore. Still, when I first saw the new MG HS crossover in the metal on a racing circuit in Shanghai, I was a bit skeptical, to say the least.
Outside, the shape is somewhat familiar, the design is more or less original with bits and pieces inspired by other segment stalwarts. But it’s no copycat, that’s for certain. Based on the X-Motion concept, which is an embodiment of the company’s ‘emotional dynamism’ design philosophy, the front is highlighted by its ‘stellar’ grill. If you stare long enough, it is rather mesmerizing to look at.
The 2.0T Trophy version we saw was fitted with a pair of LED headlamps with DRLs which seem to extend the grill like a pair of illuminated wings. The sides feature shapely wheel arches which give it a wide, athletic and stylish look. The rear is somewhat reminiscent of the second-generation Cayenne for me, although the tail lamps on the HS, look a lot slimmer and sexier.
Open the door and you are welcomed by a rather bold and exciting interior with its black and red colorway. There's a very Italian feel about it which I found amusingly fitting; they do share a love for noodles.
The bucket-type seats are inviting, and somewhat give a feel of sportiness thanks to proper bolstering for spirited drives. Once you set yourself on the driver’s seat, you’ll notice on the lower right portion of the steering wheel, a red ‘Super Sport’ button, giving a feel of Ferraris and Quadrifoglio Alfas. The rear seats look equally exciting and have a comfortable feel. More importantly, the doors close with a reassuring thud; a mark of a properly-built car.
The round air vents on each corner give a nice, retro-modern sports car feel. With China being an electronics giant, the interior gets high-tech features such as a fully digital instrument panel, and an intuitive touchscreen infotainment display. Being a premium variant, it is fitted with Bose speakers all around with Burmester-esque covers.
Under the hood for the Trophy version is the 2.0-liter TGI-Tech inline-4 turbo rated at 220 PS and 350 Nm. It's mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission which we found rather odd, especially since DCTs garnered a reputation for being rougher in city speeds.
Truth be told, our drive was as brief as brief gets. The driving course on the Tian Ma Circuit is rather short and quite controlled in terms of speed. It seems our hosts may have had some experiences with journalists that were still learning to drive.
Still, the MG HS felt able and surprisingly refined. Moreover, the gearbox seemed very responsive to my inputs. Acceleration was good from that 220 PS engine; if I had to guess, MG (through parent SAIC) may have benefitted from some kind of technology transfer because the power and torque figures are identical to the engine in the Golf GTI. SAIC, after all, is a partner of Volkswagen in the PRC.
The MG HS certainly be a good addition to its Philippine market offerings as they aim to accelerate the brand’s presence and hopefully replicate its growth from other markets. Strategy-wise, the HS sits between the smaller GS crossover and the larger ZS. MG Philippines (the same distributors as Chevrolet) has yet to confirm if they will offer the HS for our market, but if they do, we hope they bring in this high spec ‘Trophy’ trim.
The drive may have been quick, but it was telling. We really can't judge this interesting book by its cover, nor can we do so by the prologue of a drive, but we can already surmise that the MG HS has already elevated what a Chinese-made car can be capable, and perhaps do justice to that proud British badge.