By JPM Sandie
SAIC’s attempts to re-establish the MG brand in the UK have had more false starts than a sports day at a special school and late 2017 will see yet another attempt in the new XS B-Segment Crossover recently unveiled in China. I actually think this has the potential (and I’ll be using that word a lot) to make a bigger impact. As a note, the moniker for the UK market version has yet to be decided and likely won’t be XS, but we will use this name for convenience.
The first thing that strikes you – or maybe doesn’t strike you – is the styling. It’s actually relatively handsome by the standards of a small SUV.
However, the longer you look at it the more you start to recognise a Mazda-esque front, a Nissan Qashqai like side profile and a rear end reminiscent of the Renault Kadjar (- or even Hyundai overtones -Ed).
In a country that still offers carbon copies like the Landwind X7 and the Zotye SR9 perhaps the surprise is that MG were as original as they were. Maybe designers for minor Chinese brands lack the confidence to design something fully original and develop a cohesive brand identity?
So it’s a decent looking car but not a hugely original design or something that screams MG to you. It bears little resemblance to the rest of the present MG lineup with its siblings lacking the large grille. The GS has been facelifted for the Chinese market recently – since the XS was unveiled – but that has now gone in another different direction. Not great for a brand that is struggling to develop a strong identity.
Moving inside, the design is far more cohesive than what we’ve seen in the 3, 6 and GS. Gone are awkward and unattractive details like dials or screens that are in cut-outs that are too big or the wrong shape.
I’m not convinced about the hoods around the instrument binnacles but there’s less wrong at first glance than with previous SAIC MG interiors. Depending on your point of view the coloured seat inserts are either a tasteful homage to the early MG Z cars or, perhaps more likely, a sheer coincidence. Chinese specification cars are also available with a large panoramic sunroof stretching 0.83 cubic metres
Other improvements can be found under the bonnet. The Chinese market XS come with a choice of two engines. A basic 1.5 petrol – similar to the one fitted to the MG3 – is the entry point to the range. By now this is putting out 120BHP (against 105BHP in the 3) and 150NM of torque. This engine has already proved somewhat lacking in service in the MG3 feeling weaker than the figures suggest.
Also available is a 1.0 3 cylinder Turbo engine with 125BHP and 170NM of torque. This is the engine fitted to many of the test mules being spotted by the eagle eyed on Britain’s roads so is almost certainly one we will get. In China it will be available with a six speed manual gearbox or a Dual Clutch auto and will, confusingly, be badged “16T”.
The 1.0 SGE (Small Gasoline Engine) is shared with General Motors and already sees service in Vauxhall’s Adam, Corsa and Astra. It has been very well received due to its strong levels of refinement for a triple and more than respectable economy and emissions figures. A world away from the old-fashioned “VTI-Tech” unit in the 3 then.
So based on a study of the images and technical specifications it’s a case of so far so good. It seems that the XS may address some of the largest criticisms of previous MG products, but will it succeed on the UK car market?
Amongst previous MG products, we have seen a massive flop in the MG6 (poor engine range, poor marketing and targeted a declining sector), a qualified success in the MG3 (well priced but an underwhelming engine and a strong feeling it could do better with stronger promotion) and the still very discrete GS which has only made just over 500 registration in 6 months on sale. The GS has been undermined by a
limited engine range (petrol only in the strongly diesel dominated mid-sized crossover market) and a baffling advertising campaign.
The XS won’t suffer as badly here as whilst the lack of a diesel may prevent the GS from being anything other than a niche offering, buyers of small crossovers are far happier to buy
an efficient petrol engine like the 1.0 Turbo is far nearer the sector bullseye than the engine of any previous MG offering.
After the MG6 and GS that aimed at the periphery of sectors MG dealers will no doubt be glad of another core vehicle that can be a decent seller (at least by the standards they have come to expect). MG have ambitious plans to be selling 20,000 cars in Britain by five years time and one would expect this to be driven almost entirely by the XS and MG3. Market analysts have pinpointed B-segment crossovers as the fastest growing segment on the British new car market and MG will be joining the party only moderately late, unlike with the GS where they were about as timely as they were with last year’s accounts.
However, there are two things that need to be right before the XS can help towards MG’s ambitious targets, excel for the long suffering dealer network and tempt new traders into filling open points.
First key consideration is price. MG got things spectacularly right with the MG3 where the entire model range came in beneath a headline figure of £10,000.
The XS needs to have a price range that is similarly compelling in comparison to key competitors. Even at list price, the MG3 is a genuinely cheap car whilst the 6 and GS have been priced at points where a smaller or less well specified car from a rival has appeared a more compelling option.
SsangYong’s Tivoli, which will be one of the main competitors for the XS, comes in at £12,950. A well-specified Dacia Duster with a Turbo Petrol engine is yours for around the same. The XS cannot seriously expect to succeed if it is significantly more expensive than either of these competitors.
There simply isn’t the room to as the sector leading Nissan Juke costs from £14,320 and the popular Renault Captur starts at just under £15,000.
The other thing that must be right for the XS to perform well is the marketing. This has been a failing for MGUK thus far with
their marketing either being non existent or downright strange. It will require more than an advert that tells you more about a pizza with an underwhelming topping than the car. We’re not holding our breath on that one and it would be typical for the British marketing team to shoot themselves in the foot where the Chinese engineers and planners may have finally given them something with the attributes to succeed.
And there’s the rub. The current management of MG UK have proven themselves to be nothing better than an absolute shower. Incapable of organizing a session in a brewery and lacking the marketing skills to promote even the most successful of hot cake concerns they provide a dense, self congratulating elephant in the room. The only things they have succeeded at is making themselves a joke in the industry, motoring press and trade whilst somehow alienating some of the most dedicated fanboy customers through a combination of dreadful customer care and general incompetence. The XS has the potential to succeed but unless something radical changes with the company or someone stumbles upon a clue in one of the buildings St. Modwen are about to pull down it will be a struggle.
Whatever happens Macdroitwich will continue to follow the “XS” story up to and following its launch.