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    MG HS 2021 review: Essence AWD

    The Essence is the top-of-the-range MG HS

    So, you’re looking at the fancy version of the MG HS for your family? The Essence, it’s called.

    The MG brochure says the Essence “is everything you desire in a future classic." Okay, I wouldn’t go that far, but is it everything you desire in a family car?

    That’s what this review is all about. See, I have a family, and I tested the MG HS Essence, and this is what I found out about this Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 rival.

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    What does it look like?

    The MG HS is a good-looking SUV, there’s no doubting that.

    Sure, I mistook somebody’s Mazda CX-5 for it at a petrol station – they’re that similar looking in places, especially the grille – but the MG is still stylish in its own right. It’s a cute, sporty, and modern-looking mid-sized SUV.

    The MG HS is a good-looking SUV. The MG HS is a good-looking SUV.

    The Essence is the top-of-the-range HS and it’s pretty much identical to the rest of the line-up, except it has a panoramic sunroof and leather seats.

    The cabin is a plush-looking place, and the Essence adds the leather upholstery and front sports seats with integrated headrests.

    Some materials feel good, such as the trim on the doors, but in other places there’s a cheapness, particularly the flimsy switches for audio volume and fan speed, which lack a quality feel.

    My own family spent a week pulling and prodding at the HS’s innards, but I’d be interested to see how well the materials withstand constant family torture over years. 

    How does it drive?

    The HS Essence has the more powerful of the two engines you can get, a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder making 168kW/360Nm.

    The difference in get-up-and-go between the two engines is along the lines of decaf and proper coffee, the 2.0-litre being almost overly energetic and eager to leap away when asked to move.

    The HS Essence has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine. The HS Essence has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine.

    That’s not necessarily a good thing. I’ve tested the less powerful 1.5-litre engine and while it’s not a race car, I found it easier to drive.

    The jumpiness of the 2.0-litre, combined with a less than smooth six-speed dual-clutch transmission, and patchy ride means the MG HS driving experience is well below that of a Toyota RAV4 or Mazda CX-5.

    My family has been a ride comfort ‘test team’ for almost a decade in cars I’ve reviewed, and this one didn’t get the thumbs up.

    How spacious is it?

    Room for people and cargo space in the MG HS is better than a lot of other mid-sized SUVs, and that comes down to length (a bit longer than many at 4574mm end-to-end) and interior packaging.

    The front seats look amazing, but they were a bit snug. The front seats look amazing, but they were a bit snug.

    The door pockets are large, there’s a storage area in the fold-down rear centre armrest along with two cupholders, map flaps in the seat backs and plenty of nooks up front such as the centre console box, two cupholders and a hidey hole in front of the shifter.

    The cargo capacity of the boot is 463 litres with five seats in place and 1287 litres with the second row folded. That’s about 20 litres more than the CX-5’s luggage space.

    Legroom and headroom in the second row is excellent. Legroom and headroom in the second row is excellent.

    Those front seats look amazing, but they were a bit too snug for me. Sure, I’m tall at 191cm (6'3") but I’m not as enormous as those seats made me feel.

    Legroom in the second row is excellent and so is headroom back there.

    For my small family of three there's more than enough room for my son in his car seat, my wife in front of him and our gear in the boot.

    The cargo capacity of the boot is 463 litres with five seats in place. The cargo capacity of the boot is 463 litres with five seats in place.

    Two kids might be pushing the limits of the boot (I mean for their stuff, not them) and if you have three children my advice is to move up to a seven-seater SUV such as a Hyundai Santa Fe.

    How easy is it to use every day?

    A proximity key, push-button start, and power tailgate are small things but they make a big difference to a parent when you don’t have to reach into your pocket or bag for the key to open the car. The HS Essence has all of these convenience features, so a big thumbs up there.

    There’s a storage area in the fold-down rear centre armrest with two cupholders. There’s a storage area in the fold-down rear centre armrest with two cupholders.

    There’s a 360-degree view camera display which makes seeing around the car easier when reversing, and while there are rear parking sensors there aren’t front ones.

    There could be more features such as wireless phone charging, but there are USB ports everywhere.

    The front seats feel too high, even on their lowest setting and the rear vision mirror obstructs vision. Visibility elsewhere is good.

    There are USB ports everywhere in the HS. There are USB ports everywhere in the HS.

    My family found the car easy to use – the height of the vehicle off the ground is low enough for my six-year old to climb in and out without difficulty and the window sills are low enough for him to see out when in his car seat.

     

    How safe is it?

    The MG HS has the same advanced safety tech across the range.

    That means you don’t have to step up to this Essence for any safety equipment, it’s all on the entry-grade.

    This includes an AEB system that can detect cyclists and pedestrians (at up to 64km/h) and vehicles (at up to 150km/h), along with lane-keeping assistance, traffic jam assistance, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.

    There's a space saver spare wheel under the boot floor. There's a space saver spare wheel under the boot floor.

    The one safety item the Essence has that the other grades don’t is the 360-degree camera view.

    The MG HS scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating under 2019 testing rules.

    Installing a child seat in the HS is easy and I ferried around my six-year old for the week I had the Essence. There are two ISOFIX points and three top tether anchor points across that second row.

    A space saver spare wheel is under the boot floor.

    What’s the tech like?

    Some of tech looks better than it works. The 10.1-inch screen is huge compared to displays in most rivals, but systems such as the sat nav are quite slow to respond and that becomes frustrating.

    For a top-grade car, it would be good to see tech features such as wireless charging, a head-up display, and a fully digital instrument cluster, as you’ll find in some of the MG's competitors. But alas, not here. Still there are four USB ports for charging.

    The 10.1-inch screen is huge compared to displays in most rivals. The 10.1-inch screen is huge compared to displays in most rivals.

    How much does it cost to own?

    I tested the all-wheel drive version of the MG HS Essence, which lists for $40,990, $4000 more than the front-wheel drive.

    Unless you’re spending a lot of time on dirt tracks or icy roads the front-wheel drive version is the pick of the two.

    Coming standard is the proximity key, 10.1-inch screen, adaptive cruise control, leather seats, roof rails, leather steering wheel, rear parking sensors, headlights, sat nav, dual-zone climate control, heated and power adjustable front seats, a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, a power tailgate and 18-inch alloys.

    That $41K ask is pretty pricey. Sure, it’s the top-of-the-range MG HS, but much of the standard features are available on the Excite grade in front-wheel drive for $32,990.

    18-inch alloys come standard. 18-inch alloys come standard.

    There’s no family-focused reason for stepping up to the Essence, is what I’m saying.

    Also, did you know you can buy a mid-spec Toyota RAV4 with a hybrid system for $39,915? Promise me you’ll shop around, okay?

    The HS Essence is covered by MG’s seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, a couple of years longer than most carmakers offer in this market.

    Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 10,000km. Here are the costs for the first seven years: 10,000km ($279.04); 20,000km ($382.44), 30,000km ($330.23); 40,000km ($437.54); 50,000km ($279.04); 60,000km ($800.66) and 70,000km ($279.04).

    The annual average servicing cost of $398.28 is expensive compared to the capped prices of some rivals.

    The all-wheel drive version of the MG HS Essence lists for $40,990. The all-wheel drive version of the MG HS Essence lists for $40,990.

    MG says that after a combination of open and urban roads the all-wheel drive Essence with its 2.0-litre engine and six-speed dual clutch should use 9.5L/100km.  

    After a week of mainly city driving I used 13.6L/100km, which is close to the 13.1L/100km MG says you should see after just urban running.

    That’s on the thirsty side compared to most of its rivals, especially the hybrid RAV4.


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    The Wrap

    I’ve been here before a couple of times. You have a pretty tight budget, you’re looking for a family car, but safety is a priority. It’s a matter of finding the safest car you can afford. The MG HS does tick that box.

    But wait. I'd suggest going for the Excite grade of the HS in front-wheel drive which is close to $10K less and comes with almost all the same features.

    Keep in mind that mid-grade established rivals such as the RAV4 hybrid can be bought for less than a list price of $40,000, too?

    That said the MG HS Essence is practical and spacious, fitted with plenty of safety tech, covered by a long warranty and looks great.

    Likes

    Spacious and practical
    Plenty of safety tech
    Good looking

    Dislikes

    Not amazing to drive
    Thirsty all-wheel drive
    Essence is pricey

    Scores

    Richard:

    3.3

    The Kids:

    3.8

    $40,990

    Based on new car retail price

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