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Petrol electric combo needs more polish

Plug-in hybrids give owners the ability to handle their daily commute on pure electric power but add the road trip potential of a petrol vehicle.

We test out one of the newest and cheapest examples on the market. Here are five things you need to know about the MG HS PHEV.

1. VALUE IS A STRONG POINT

Back in the day, MG made British sports cars, but since its rebirth it’s making a name for itself as a maker of well-equipped and good value hatchbacks and SUVs.

The MG HS PHEV arrived earlier this year as Australia’s most affordable plug-in hybrid vehicle thanks to a special launch offer. Now priced from $47,990 drive-away, the MG is narrowly undercut by Hyundai’s Ionic plug-in, but still impresses with a 7-year warranty and loads of equipment as standard.

You get a smart-looking digital dash, 10.1-inch central touchscreen with smartphone mirroring, panoramic sunroof, a brilliant 360-degree camera and a comprehensive safety suite along with features such as LED headlights and climate control.

2. IT’S NOT THE AVERAGE HYBRID

Priced $9000 upstream of an equivalent petrol MG HS, the PHEV’s drawcard is a sophisticated hybrid engine and transmission.

A turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine capable of making 119kW and 250Nm combines with a 90kW/230Nm electric motor, a 10-speed auto and a 16.6kWh battery.

That’s a much larger battery than you’ll find in a regular hybrid. It allows the MG to drive for more than 50 kilometres on electric power alone, or work in tandem with the combustion engine to slash petrol consumption.

3. BUT IT’S EASY TO USE

Rivals such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV use variable hybrid management modes and selectable brake regeneration to get the most out of their machine. The MG is much simpler to use, with just two settings – an automatic hybrid mode and a pure electric function.

You can plug it into a household power point to slowly charge the big batter, use a wall box to top it up over the course of five hours or use a public fast-charging station.

As with any PHEV, the HS promises the best of both worlds – an emissions-free commute and the convenience of a petrol tank for longer journeys. If you run out of charge, you can still drive it on petrol power alone.

4. SOME PROMISES ARE HARD TO KEEP

MG claims a fuel consumption figure of 1.7 litres per 100 kilometres – roughly a quarter of what a small hatchback might use. But that number comes from a standard test cycle and doesn’t tell the full story. While you might use zero fuel on a low-speed suburban school run, a long highway driving will return consumption closer to 7L/100km.

MG also says the HS has a combined power output of 198kW and the ability to reach

100km/h in just 6.9 seconds. Both numbers seem optimistic. The HS feels brisk without offering the thrust you might expect from similarly-powered Subaru WRX.

5. THERE”S ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

The MG creates a good first impression, with Mazda-lookalike styling and a smart cabin with plenty of space and features. There are gripes, though, including jerky brake energy harvesting, sluggish responses from its transmission and soft suspension that delivers a comfy ride but less than perfect control through corners. The central touchscreen menu is also a little clunky and you can’t adjust the airconditioning while on a phone call.

On the whole, it’s an impressive car, albeit with a few rough edges.

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