What is it?
MG was once known for producing pert two-seaters with sports-car pretensions.
Sadly, like many British brands, they folded. Unlike many, the name has been resurrected and is now owned by a Chinese automotive conglomerate.
The current MG range is purely SUV and of these the HS is the largest model available. Essence is top of the range and displays where the brand sits in a couple of key areas.
What’s it cost?
There’s three grades. The entry Vibe at $30,990, Excite at $34,990, and Essence at $38,990. These are driveaway prices, with premium paint a $700 option.
The price is a good starting point for the Essence. It’s well equipped, with both front seats power adjustable.
LED mood lighting offers 64 hues to choose from, via a 10.1 inch touchscreen that displays three sub-screens as default — audio, nav, and climate control.
It’s super clear too, with the 360 degree camera views that look sharp.
But, disappointingly, DAB is not available. Another disappointment, a small one though, is that although the top of the screen shows the current climate control status — tapping on this does not open the controls.
The centre console has a metallic finish and opening the centre storage bin reveals a sliding cover for a small drink cooler.
There’s also a pair of USB ports for the rear seats and a pair up front.
The roof has a full glass insert, the tailgate is powered, and the cargo floor is level with the load lip.
That’s a bit disappointing as it’s quite high and means items could fall straight to the ground.
It’s roomy enough to comfortably fit four, and the highish roof line gives the cabin feeling of spaciousness.
Outside, the MG Essence is quite stylish.
The body has subtle curves over each wheel arch that evoke Mitsubishi’s Outlander.
Wheels and tyres are appropriately sized at 235/50/18s, with Michelin supplying the grippy Premacy 3ST rubber.
The HS range had a mild facelift recently and the front now has a more integrated look with Euro-style indicators, a pair of driving lights in their own stylish enclosures lower in the bumper, and a cool looking mesh grille.
The rear lights flow easily from the flared rear fenders into the tailgate.
What’s it go like?
There are two areas of “concern”.
It’s a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine with a dual-clutch auto.
On paper,at least, 119kW and 250Nm reads as decent enough for the engine’s size.
But the DCT is the weak link here, as is the 4400 revs that those peak torqus appears at.
There is the typical lag between going to Drive from Park, and coupled with the turbo’s lag, it makes moving away from intersections an interesting experience.
However, this is forgiven, as it’s a sweet-shifting DCT when the engine is up and spinning.
Rolling acceleration isn’t fantastic, as expected. It’s more of a linear build up, rather than a launch.
If you’re chasing a launch experience, that comes from flooring the throttle and waiting for the turbo rush to arrive.
The other part of the Essence that needs to be refined is the suspension tune.
It’s way too hard when it needs to be soft, compliant and supple, and they’re there when more tautness would be better.
The usual small ruts and bumps are genuine teeth rattlers at low speeds, and on the highway the car is prone to roll and wallow when more body control is required.
In contrast, steering feel and brake control are of a high level, bar a sense of the tyres scrubbing, or rolling under the rim itself, in some cornering situations.
Economy isn’t horrible but could be better from the 55-litre tank.
We finished on 8.6L/100km. MG quotes 7.3L/100km for the combined and a rather high 9.2L/100km for the urban cycle.
Get out onto the highway and that drops, says MG, to 6.2L/100km.
There is a button on the steering wheel marked Super Sport which changes the mapping of the engine and DCT.
It feels as if it’s quicker and snappier, but it also exacerbates the trickiness of the DCT from a standing start.
Safety features are good but the Lane Keep Assist system, and Lane Centre Assist functions effectively failed.
They can be deactivated, but there appeared to be a conflict between the systems, making it show as on — yet the feature wasn’t.
What we like?
- Pricing is competitive
- Cabin is a good place to be
- A well featured and presented car
What we don’t like?
- Torque and DCT hobble the drive
- Suspension is arse about making the ride not entirely comfortable at either end
- Integration of functions in the touchscreen needs work
- No DAB an oversight
The bottom line?
The Chinese-owned brand is well on its way to providing very good vehicles with very good value.
In essence — no pun intended by that — the HS Essence is very close to being a very good driver’s car.
It’s comfy, roomy, looks nice, but the suspension and drivetrain hiccups affect the package from a driver’s point of view.
CHECKOUT: MG marque throws switch on first EV
MG HS Essennce, priced from $38,990 driveaway
Looks - 8/10
Performance - 6/10
Safety - 8/10
Thirst - 6.5/10
Practicality - 7.5/10
Comfort - 8/10
Tech - 7/10
Value - 7/10