MG GS: First impressions

Following hot on the heels of the surprisingly British Nissan Qashqai, I’m testing the British/Chinese MG GS this week. Now, I’ve only covered about 55 miles in it so far, so these are very much my first impressions. Firstly, it’s a rather different spec to the Qashqai, being  the range-topping Exclusive model, with DCT (dual clutch transmission), which is, in effect, an automatic, and a petrol engine.

It’s still a 1.5-litre engine like the Nissan, but a rather sweeter sounding petrol, with a turbocharger for extra giggle factor. Quite substantial giggle factor, as it produces over 160bhp. It also has 188lb/ft of torque, all the way from 1600rpm to 4300. That’s even more astonishing than the power output. It is the only engine though. There’s no diesel option in the UK, and no four-wheel drive option either – not a problem for most people, but you can’t back up those adventurous looks with actual adventure. What’s that? It’s going to snow later this week? Ah…

2016 MG GS

Is the range-topping MG GS worth a look?

The retail price, as tested, is a meaty £22,430, with the spec including heated leather seats with electric adjustment, 18″ alloys (in black – horrible), a fancy computer thing with bluetooth, sat nav, DAB radio and lots of other settings I’ll never explore, remote central locking, electric windows all-round and very bright headlamps. £250 gets you some black trim outside. I’ve not entirely worked out which bits yet, or whether they’re worth paying to have in black.

The MG GS is very, er, SUV-shaped

The MG GS is very, er, SUV-shaped

This much I gleaned from the press pack, before heading straight out for a drive. After all, that’s kind-of the important bit. Annoyingly, there is an electronic handbrake, but it works very well with a two-pedal driving experience to be fair. There’s a steep hill at the end of my driveway, which is where I first discovered that this was not a conventional automatic. In one of those, you have a torque converter and a fairly consistent application of said torque at low speeds. A DCT is an automatic manual, with computer controlled clutches and two rows of gears, with each bank also having its own clutch. If you know Volkswagen’s DSG system, then it’s like that.

1.5-litre, turbo petrol produces an impressive 160bhp, linked to DCT gearbox.

1.5-litre, turbo petrol produces an impressive 160bhp, linked to DCT gearbox.

That means you can feel the clutch biting, then releasing, much as you would yourself at low speeds to avoid a stall. The hill-hold stopped the car rolling back, and I smoothly pulled away, with my sensitive ears only just noticing the immediate change to second (of seven) gear, and pretty much missing the slushy move to third. In fact, by the time we reached 30mph, I had no idea what gear we were in. Nor did I much care. Sure, this wasn’t electric motor smooth, but I was pretty impressed.

60mph was reached pretty briskly without fuss (just under ten seconds from the official figures), with the engine settling to a smidge under 2000rpm in whichever gear it was – presumably seventh. The ride was comfortable, notably without the jiggle I’d noticed on the same section in the Qashqai. This seems slightly at odds with findings by other reviewers in this very same car. I’ll reserve final judgement until I’ve driven it on poor, city streets.

Similarly, I can’t really review it at motorway speeds yet. That’s coming later this week with a quick 600-mile roadtrip.

I can tell you that the handling seems pleasant, though with notable bodyroll if you quickly change direction. Grip levels are good though, with the steering having a very nice weight to it from the off. It’s an electric-hydraulic system. I like that, because hydraulic PAS tends to give a less numb feel than a full electric system. EDIT – I was quite wrong. It IS an electric power steering set up, but one that is weighted much more sweetly than the Nissan, even if you put the Qashqai’s steering in Sport mode.

I can also tell you that the wipers are excellent, even if there is no Auto function. There is a variable intermittent option, and the rear wiper reassuringly wipes three times before going intermittent – heritage is maintained.

Drive the GS for longer and the quirks of this type of transmission become apparent. Sometimes, when you’ve slowed down and hit the pedal, there’s a pause – almost as if the cars wonders what gear to be in. On occasion, this causes you to react by pressing harder, at which point it suddenly makes a decision, drops several cogs and opens the throttle, sending you hurtling down the road like a teenage lad in a Corsa who has spotted a lady and has found his hormones destroying his ability to use pedals. It’s really quite anti-social. The only difference is that, unlike most Corsas, this thing really can pick up its skirts and fly. It’s definitely amusingly brisk.

It’s far more relaxing not to drive like that though. Most of the time, it’s very happy to keep the revs down and ride that fat wall of torque, which makes it very relaxing. At manoeuvring speeds, then yes, it can feel a bit strange, as the clutch cuts in and out. Reach a standstill and the stop/start kicks in – it restarts as soon as you lift off the brake pedal.

Sadly, one bad thing I did notice at these slower speeds was the sound of a very tired bearing. It reminded me of the failed auxiliary belt tensioner on my ZX. I turned the air con off, and the noise stopped. That’ll be the culprit then. Oddly, I could not discern the noise outside the car, only inside it. How strange.

I found the GS very comfortable, with lots of legroom front and rear, though the rear bench is a touch low for me. The controls have a nice feel, though there’s no getting away from the acres of cheap plastic that litter the dash. It does not feel like a premium product, though nor does it feel horribly cheap – just not as pleasant as some rivals.

The boot seems a little small, though the high boot lip leads straight to a flat floor – a false one with a spacesaver spare stashed beneath it. There’s an annoying lack of lashing points – this would have been no good at all for collecting a 2CV engine. The rear parcel shelf is a bit awkward too, with a dangly bit between the main shelf and the rear seats, with clips running to the head restraints. This flappy bit is necessary because you can alter the rake of the rear seat back. Also annoying is that you need to press parts of BOTH head restraint holders to get the restraint fully lowered.

That’ll do for now though. Stay tuned for further findings and don’t worry, the 2CV Project will be back soon.

What do you reckon?

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