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MG HS Hybrid 2021 review: PHEV

MG's SAIC parent company is serious about electrification, and this PHEV is all the proof you need.

Just a handful of years ago it would have been unthinkable that the re-born MG could break into the top 10 car makers in the Australian market.

In this crucial time of change, however, the brand has not only tossed Japanese rival, Subaru, out of the top 10,  it has also launched Australia’s cheapest mainstream EV, the ZS small SUV, and now the car we’re looking at for this review, the MG HS PHEV.

Can MG prove it’s more than just the best at undercutting established rivals, and build on its success by competing in the arena of electrification? Can it really be a threat to the Mitsubishis and Toyotas of the world with their increasingly popular hybrid tech?

I took an HS plug-in hybrid for a week to find out.

Price and features - Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The MG HS PHEV is now the second most affordable mainstream plug-in hybrid in Australia, wearing an impressive drive-away price of just $46,990, and undercutting its relatively long-running Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV rival (from $47,490 before on-road costs), while  coming in slightly above the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (Elite - $42,410 before on-roads).

Unlike its Hyundai rival , the MG plays in one of Australia’s most hotly contested segments, the mid-size SUV category, where it’s fairly likely to move more units.

MG is now backed by SAIC motor. MG is now backed by SAIC motor.

Those who actually realise the brand is no longer British tend to scoff at the idea that MG is now backed by SAIC motor in its newfound home country of China, but this no longer means cheap and cheerful. In fact, China is now one of the most hotly contested and technologically demanding markets in the world, and its domestic automakers (MG now included) have to move fast to keep up, much faster than the glacial pace that key Japanese rivals have become accustomed to.

Slow and steady might not win this one, though, with the HS PHEV truly  well equipped right out of the starting gate. It’s only available in the lineup’s top Essence trim, sporting 18-inch alloy wheels, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, built-in navigation, a 12.3-inch digital dash, leather-look seat trim, a six-way power adjustable driver’s seat, with a four-way manually adjustable passenger seat, heated front seats, full LED front lighting, dual-zone climate control, cooled centre amrest box, an auto dimming rear vision mirror, as well as keyless entry with push-start ignition.

  • The HS has full LED front lighting. The HS has full LED front lighting.
  • The HS Essence wears 18-inch alloy wheels. The HS Essence wears 18-inch alloy wheels.
  • There's a 12.3-inch digital dash. There's a 12.3-inch digital dash.
  • Rear seat passengers get directional air vents. Rear seat passengers get directional air vents.

Not bad. There are things here which aren’t quite as premium as they appear, however; the “synthetic leather” interior trim is pretty average both in feel and appearance and the built-in satellite navigation is a laggy mess. Still, compromises must be made on such a keenly priced SUV. The HS PHEV also has the brand’s full active-safety suite, which has notably had a software upgrade for this year. We’ll take a closer look later in this review.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

MG has had major success with its contemporary designs, which combine with keen pricing to really catch buyers' attention. It’s easy to see where the brand has sourced its inspiration from. The massive, glitzy, chrome-embossed grille is undeniably reminiscent of the ones that adorn Mazda SUVs, while its side profile is made up of pleasant and inoffensive curvy lines, and the rear is finished with a tidy set of light clusters.

The massive chrome-embossed grille is reminiscent of Mazda's SUVs. The massive chrome-embossed grille is reminiscent of Mazda's SUVs.

On the inside, MG draws from many of its contemporaries, both European and Japanese. There’s a clear Euro influence in the traditional three-spoke sports wheel, centre console, and circular vent designs, perhaps a nod to the marque’s origins, but the interior seems almost cynical, overly deliberate and made to a price strictly defined by the pencil-pushers.

The tablet-style multimedia screen and fully digital dash cluster adds to the interior wow factor. The tablet-style multimedia screen and fully digital dash cluster adds to the interior wow factor.

Still, the abundance of soft-touch surfaces is at least admirable, making the cabin as comfortable as it looks. The tablet-style multimedia screen and fully digital dash cluster adds to the interior wow factor, especially at this price, and the small set of shortcut toggle switches that run under the lower climate vents are a neat touch.

If you don’t look too closely at all the materials, then, the MG HS is a very nice looking SUV, and its success proves the look is right on the money for what mid-size SUV buyers are searching for.

The HS is a very nice looking SUV. The HS is a very nice looking SUV.

Practicality - How practical is the space inside?

There are some odd things about the HS for the driver. For a start, the seating position is ridiculously high, even for an SUV. There’s something a little unnatural about it, although adjustability seems adequate, if a little limited. It provides a commanding view of the road, which is again what many buyers are searching for from vehicles in this segment, but it was hard for me to find a driving position that made this car feel engaging. It feels as though you're sitting on the car, rather than in it.

The seats, which look nice from a distance, are clad in cheap-feeling vinyl. They’re softly padded and comfortable after a whole day behind the wheel, but part of me questions the longevity of the materials. I will give the brand major props for continuing the soft finishes into the door cards and dash-topper, unlike many more affordable Japanese and Korean options.

Cabin storage for front passengers is good, with large door pockets with a bottle holder, large dual bottle holders in the centre console, and a decently sized centre console armrest box. There’s also a flip-open tray in front of the shift lever, which houses the USB port and 12v outlet, and is large enough for the stowage of phones and wallets.

One annoyance here  is the lack of a tactile climate unit. The functions are controlled through a screen in the multimedia unit, complete with the laggy stock software. In fact, software seems to be a problem generally, with a half-second delay present on most multimedia functions, as well as a low frame rate on the digital dash. Apple CarPlay saved me from the worst of it, but when considering  the price of a car,  surely it’s not much of a leap to have hardware capable of supporting such software functions.

The 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The rear seat was truly impressive in terms of the amount of room available. I had leagues of space for my knees behind my own driving position, although  I think this is mainly to do with the angle of the seat backs, which, in their default position, are on a slight recline. 

The rear seats are impressive. The rear seats are impressive.

Rear passengers get a large bottle holder in the doors, dual USB ports, dual adjustable air vents, hard pockets on the backs of the front seats, and a surprisingly elaborate drop-down armrest with a flip-open storage tray and large dual bottle holders. MG seems to have thought of almost everything here, bar a third climate zone. There are also dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat mounting points across the rear row.

Boot space comes in at 451 litres, which is perhaps a little below par for the segment. VW’s Tiguan, for example, has a massive 615-litre space, Honda’s CR-V has 522 litres, Hyundai’s Tucson has 488 litres, and you get the idea.

  • Boot space is rated at 451 litres. Boot space is rated at 451 litres.
  • The three piece CarsGuide suitcase set could comfortably fit in the back. The three piece CarsGuide suitcase set could comfortably fit in the back.

Due to the presence of a large battery pack to facilitate this car’s electric range, there’s also precious little underfloor storage, with a repair kit in lieu of a spare wheel. I will say MG is one of few manufacturers to actually spare a thought for the included household outlet to type 2 charging cable. The box serves as a spool for the cable itself, with a handy clip to keep it tidy once it’s furled up. There’s even a perfect cutaway for it under the boot floor. Neat.

Drivetrain - What are the key stats for the drivetrain?

The HS PHEV has a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces 119kW/250Nm. It trades away the occasionally clunky dual-clutch available in the rest of the range for a 10-speed torque converter automatic to drive the front wheels. This is combined with an electric motor on the front axle, which can make use of a surprisingly punchy 90kW/230Nm on its own.

To power the motor, the HS PHEV has a 16.6kWh battery pack under the floor, which is good for a combined 63km range under electric power alone.

The 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit produces 119kW/250Nm. The 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit produces 119kW/250Nm.

These are impressive figures for a plug-in hybrid, offering a good balance between electric and combustion capabilities. Unlike some PHEVs, though, the HS can either be driven in hybrid or EV mode, with no dedicated combustion mode. Unlike its rivals, there is also no customisability available for the regenerative braking.

Energy consumption - How much does it consume? What’s the range like, and what it’s like to recharge/refuel?

With such impressive figures, the HS has low official/combined consumption numbers. In terms of fuel consumption, the HS’s official number is as low as 1.7L/100km. What this number means in the real world  will depend on how you choose to charge and drive it. 

The 63km electric range is more than enough for daily commutes, and with the motor’s outputs, it’s not sluggish either. While I’d like to see a full combustion mode, the only available EV mode proved to be very good in my time of testing, granting me several trips with no combustion usage at all.

The default hybrid mode is far more conservative when it comes to battery energy consumption, switching on the turbo engine under heavier acceleration, or when driving at medium speeds. I will say it does rely on the electric motor a lot at low speed, which is nice to see.

The HS’s official fuel number is as low as 1.7L/100km. The HS’s official fuel number is as low as 1.7L/100km.

In my week of testing, the HS PHEV produced consumption figures of 3.7L/100km and 10.7kWh/100km. This is  a nice balance between fuel and energy consumption, and it is worth noting I ran the HS out of charge on my final day with it, so if you had the capacity to do your work commute on EV power alone you could probably get this number lower still.

When it comes to charging, the HS PHEV has a European-standard Type 2 port, able to charge on AC only at a max input of 7kW. MG says charging at this speed will give you the full 63km range in around two and a half hours. Expect significantly longer charge times of five hours or more using a 2.3kW wall socket, if this is your only option.

Fuel-wise, the HS requires mid-shelf 95RON unleaded petrol and has a 37-litre tank (down from 55 for the combustion-engined range).

Safety - What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The HS was the first MG to come with the full suite of “MG Pilot” active-safety features in Australia, and all these features are standard on the PHEV.

This includes auto emergency braking (detects pedestrians and cyclists up to 64km/h, detects vehicles up to 150km/h), lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, auto high beams, traffic-sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control.

I am also pleased to report the adaptive cruise control has been toned down a lot since I first drove the HS at its launch. A software update has calmed the lane-tracing features down, so it's a little less swervy and full of beep alerts and a little smoother and unobtrusive.

Six airbags are standard, and the HS has all the expected brake, stability, and traction controls. While the petrol variants of the HS wear maximum five-star ANCAP safety ratings to the 2019 standards, the PHEV came a little later and is as yet unrated.

Ownership - What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Here’s an interesting one. MG’s strictly petrol-powered range is covered by a seven-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty, clearly aimed at replicating the market-breaking success of Kia before it. However, the fully electric models and plug-in hybrid variants like our HS PHEV here are only covered by a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, with battery components covered for eight years and 160,000km. Interesting. The brand justifies this by saying its electric models are “a different business” to its petrol range.

Capped-price servicing is on the way, but had not yet been confirmed by MG at the time of writing.

Driving - What's it like to drive?

The plug-in hybrid came as a major surprise. I expected it to be quite different from its purely petrol counterparts, but I didn’t expect it to be the significant improvement that it is.

The dual-clutch automatic transmissions from the rest of the range,  which are characterised by jerky and awkward low-speed moments,  have been replaced in this case by a 10-speed torque converter automatic mated to a surprisingly powerful electric motor.

This results in smooth acceleration at all speeds, and a transmission  you barely notice at all. There’s no lurching through gears or moments of being caught off-guard, as I assume the electric motor picks up the slack. Apart from some mild vibration and a distant drone, it’s even hard to tell when the engine is switching on when driven in hybrid mode.

It’s a more futuristic, computer-driven experience, and it suits the comfort tune of this SUV’s suspension well. The most impressive way to drive the HS, though, is in full EV mode. Switched on with the simple press of a button on the centre console, it essentially turns the HS into an electric car that has full speed of operation. It’s in this mode where you can fully appreciate how ready for an electrified future this car is.

It’s quiet and smooth at all speeds, and while it's not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination with just 90kW on tap, it’s by far the best way to experience the car as intended around town. 

As  mentioned, the HS’s suspension is much more oriented toward comfort. When you gather more pace, particularly in its hybrid mode, it feels dynamically off the pace in a similar way to the rest of the HS range. I think it’s easy to take for granted the performance pedigree and track-development time invested in by European, Japanese, and Korean brands, which has meant that most SUV options are generally great to drive these days. 

On the other hand, the China-sourced HS is soft and comfortable for low-speed town commutes, but a bit bouncy, with a healthy serving of body-roll in the corners. The spongey suspension tune filters out corrugations and bumps well at city speeds, but struggles with the car’s nearly 1800kg weight over larger potholes, or when under load in corners. There’s also a notable drop in refinement when the 1.5-litre engine cuts in

Aside from these mild ride and handling woes, which are common with the rest of the HS range, the PHEV version has notably improved on the formula across the board, particularly from the car that launched here in February of last year.

The plug-in hybrid HS comes as a surprise. It’s a demonstration of how fast MG’s SAIC parent company is capable of moving, and how ready it is to compete in the impending era of electrification. This car proves how hybrid drivetrains can improve a model, and while some handling and calibration issues persist, it’s hard not to feel like this car is a leap above its petrol counterparts.

I’ll also aim some criticism at the software and some interior materials, but fundamentally this is a compelling hybrid SUV option, which continues to tick a lot of boxes at a price that will encourage further adoption of electrified vehicles in Australia.

$45,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Score

3.8/5
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