Can it really be four years since I last drove an MG?
It was the compact ZS SUV and being quite new back then, there was quite a bit of interest in the car.
In fact, the brand as a whole still generates plenty of attention, even though the vast majority of people have never had anything to do with the famous Brit nameplate.
The name and assets of the MG Rover Group were purchased by the Chinese after the British company went into receivership way back in 2005.
Once renowned for its two-seat open-topped sports cars, it’s now owned by the huge state-owned SAIC Group and produces two SUVs and a cheapo hatch — the HS, ZS and MG3.
Much of the current interest stems from the fact the two SUVs are offered with electrified powertrains: HS is a plug-in hybrid while the ZS is available as a fully electric model.
What’s it cost?
We’re looking at the confusingly named MG HS +EV.
Once known as the HS PHEV (it is after all a plug-in hybrid), it comes in Excite and Essence grades, priced at $48,690 and $51,690 driveaway.
There’s just three colours from which to choose: red, white or silver, all of them metallics.
The styling is generic and the five-seat wagon could easily be mistaken for any one of the many medium-sized SUVs that have flooded the Australian market.
The price is not that much less than mainstream offerings from the Japanese, principally Toyota’s best-selling RAV4 Hybrid, which although it is not a plug-in obviously fits the bill for most people.
A top of range, two-wheel drive RAV4 2.5-litre Cruiser Hybrid is $45,750 plus on roads.
There’s also the Subaru Forester S Hybrid, which will cost you $49,340 or the Ford Ford Escape ST-Line PHEV $54,440.
For many, that will be the end of the story, but there’s much to like about the MG HS +EV.
Our test car was the entry level Excite.
Standard kit includes artificial leather, leather trimmed steering wheel, two-zone climate air, keyless entry and push button start, heated front seats and six-way power adjust driver’s seat (passenger seat manual adjust) and angle adjustment for the rear seats.
There’s also 17-inch alloys, a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster, LED daylight driving lights, auto lights and wipers and auto dimming rear view mirror and cooled console box.
The infotainment system consists of a 10.1-inch touchscreen six-speaker ‘3D surround’ audio, with Bluetooth, built-in navigation, AM/FM radio (no DAB+), Apple CarPlay or Android Auto plus a 12v power socket and four USB and ports — two at the front and two at the rear.
The +EV is yet to receive a crash rating. Standard safety includes six airbags, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
Also standard is the MG Pilot package that adds automatic emergency braking (pedestrians up to 64km/h and vehicles to 150km/h), adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, traffic jam assist, intelligent cruise assist, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, intelligent headlight control and speed assistance system.
For another $3000 the Essence adds 18 inch alloys, panoramic sunroof and two-tone leather insert sports seats at front.
There’s also four-way power adjustment for the front passenger seat, a 360-degree camera, LED headlights, LED ambient lighting, fog lights, heated door mirrors and a power operated tailgate.
Sounds like $3000 well spent.
Service intervals are a short 10,000km or 12 months and MG HS +EV comes with a 7-year unlimited kilometre warranty as well as a 7-year battery warranty and 7 years of roadside assistance.
What’s it go like?
Power comes from a 1.5-litre four cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine, together with a 16.6kWh battery pack and 90kW electric motor that deliver an impressive combined output of 189kW and 370Nm.
It is mated to a 10-speed EDU II automatic gearbox, which consists of six-speed auto for the internal combustion engine and four-speed electronic drive unit, with drive to the front wheels.
There’s no facility to change gears manually, nor are any drive modes offered apart from EV mode.
You can plug it in and charge the battery or drive it as a self-charging hybrid like a Prius.
The latter mode uses energy recovered from braking to partially recharge the battery pack as you go.
It takes premium 95 unleaded and charging with a standard powerpoint takes about seven hours using a standard 10A power point.
The difference is that with a fully charged battery you can drive up to 63km under electric power alone, perhaps enough to get you to and from work.
Two fuel consumption figures are provided:
a combined figure of 1.7L/100km using a combination of petrol and electric power
and a claimed figure 5.8L/100km for the petrol engine alone
Like most plug-in hybrids it seems like a lot of hoo-haa for an extremely limited electric range, which in hindsight might explain why Toyota baulked at offering the plug-in version of its Prius.
The only way you can achieve the claimed 1.7/l100km is to stop the car every 100km and fully recharge the battery before heading off again.
Not really doable, hah?
HS +EV is a good size, with large comfortable seats, plenty of rear legroom and air vents for back seat passengers.
The boot is shallow but offers a reasonable 451 litres rear seats up and 1275 litres with the seat backs folded.
The Type 2 charge cable is stored under the boot floor where it doesn’t get in the way, but also leaves no room for a spare wheel (a reinflation kit is provided).
With 189kW of power and instant torque from the electric motor, the HS +EV gets moving fairly briskly.
The front wheels have a tendency to spin and the dash from 0-100km/h takes a rapid 6.9 seconds.
Taking a softly, softly approach, the electric motor doesn’t kick until about 30km/h.
Hitting the accelerator hard,however, sees the car surge off the mark, that is after a full second of thought.
But the speed drops back twice significantly with transmission changes before it reaches 110km/h and beyond.
Ride quality is generally good but can be brittle at times, and the front wheels broke traction at least twice when it encountered irregularities in the road.
In fact the front hopped a full foot right when we encountered a bump mid-corner at speed.
But most drivers are unlikely to drive the car in such a fashion.
The cabin is bright and airy but could do with some shading across the top of the windscreen to keep out the hot afternoon sun.
Turn the aircon down and the fan up, and it lacks the icy blast you’d get from a Toyota.
There’s also a big blind spot created by the combination of the rear vision mirror and sensing unit above, preventing a clear line of sight through corners.
For the most part, however, it’s a comfortable, easy car to drive that doesn’t use much fuel, even if you opt not to charge the battery.
We were getting 6.4L/100km after about 300km.
The steering is okay but doesn’t provide a lot of feedback and the same can be said of the brakes which could do with more feel.
Brake energy regeneration occurs when you lift off the accelerator. While the level of drag cannot be adjusted, it feels about right.
The big touchscreen looks impressive and offers one of the better rear view cameras we have seen, and while it offers CarPlay and Android Auto (both wired), you won’t find DAB digital radio.
One side of the digital instrument cluster is devoted to the petrol engine, while the other keeps you up to date on the battery level as well as how much assistance the electric motor is providing — with three figures for consumption across the bottom.
Digital speed and the level of power are displayed in a really ugly, squared off font.
Another interesting feature is the Speed Assist System which is supposed to restrict the speed of the car to the current speed limit.
Nice idea, but it couldn’t be activated.
On a final note we were surprised when, forgetting whether we had locked the car, we pushed the lock button again.
As a result the horn started to sound — threatening to rouse the neighbours at midnight.
What we like?
Easy to drive
Good fuel economy
Nice bright touchscreen
What we don’t like?
Weak air conditioning
No DAB digital radio
Difficult to use menu system
No wireless phone charging
No spare tyre
The bottom line?
Plug-in hybrids are a great idea on paper, but the reality is that few drivers go to the trouble of plugging in and charging their vehicle.
In fact, there have been reports of company vehicles being returned with the charging cable untouched (I kid you not).
But manufacturers like plug-ins because their ultra-low fuel consumption figures reduce their carbon footprint and help to meet strict European emissions laws.
With this in mind, you might want to weigh up the extra cost of a plug-in versus self-charging hybrid, or even a fully electric vehicle.
While the MG HS +EV isn’t a bad car, it’s not a perfect one either — nor does it offer significant savings over more established brands.