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MG Hector – First Drive

Billed as the ‘internet of cars’, the MG Hector is the latest in the fast-rising breed of ‘connected’ vehicles that promise to blur the line between motor vehicles and artificial intelligence. The new SUV has already garnered enough eyeballs through visual marketing campaigns that feature Benedict Cumberbatch. For those who won’t connect with the Doctor Strange, the typical Brit ambience of the 120 outlets-strong dealership network would convince one of the brand’s British lineage. However, is all of the above enough to help the Hector successfully spearhead its iconic brand’s local operations? Our first drive review should help you find the answer.

Also Read – Three-row MG Hector confirmed to be launched in early 2020

Internet Inside, Bold Outside

While the bold ‘Internet Inside’ badges are quick to catch your attention, what’s even a stronger eye magnet is the SUV’s bold front facade. As seen on the Tata Harrier, and, more recently, on the Hyundai Venue, the MG Hector features a multi-tier lighting setup up front, with hood-level DRLs and low-set main beams. It’s, however, the imposing chrome-laden front grille that defines the visual signature of the fascia. The abundance of shiny trim and the large faux skid plate further ensue flamboyance.

The side profile is characterised by clean surfaces, a large DLO, and floating-effect roof. Furthermore, the squared-off wheel arches and the prominent plastic cladding add elements of ruggedness. That said, the 17-inch machine-cut alloy rims look a tad too tiny and make the MG Hector look slab-sided. At the rear, the C-SUV has previous generation Audi Q5-like tail lights that are connected together with a reflector element. The bold bumper features a faux skid plate built into it. Overall, the Hector guarantees a high road presence, which is the result of its sheer size and a loud front-end. Of course, elements like dynamic turn signals and the rear spoiler help the SUV look all flashy.

Spacious and Tech-laden

Get inside the MG Hector, and you will be quick to spot the 10.4-inch touchscreen infotainment unit staring back at you. The large-size unit offers a gamut of information and controls, ranging from aircon settings and sunroof control to smartphone connectivity and navigation options. While the screen’s interface is sufficiently intuitive, it’s certainly not the most responsive unit we’ve come across. Another highlight of the package is the 360-degree camera display, but it is marred by the slow refresh rate of the screen. Fortunately, MG insists that the infotainment unit would receive regular over-the-air updates, which is something that should take care of all the lag. The iSMART connected apps suite offers several neat features, including geo-fencing, restricting the vehicle’s speed limit, remote ignition, and a lot more. You can even avoid tapping the screen to initiate various functions by using a voice command instead.

The large dimensions of the MG Hector hint at a spacious cabin, and space is precisely what the new SUV delivers in spadefuls. There’s no shortage of real estate, both at the front and the rear. The seats are mostly supportive and offer just the right amount of bolstering. Moreover, the near-600-litre of boot space can help you carry a lot of luggage, while several cubbyholes can be used to stow knick-knacks. Like expected, the Hector is brimming with features, which include rain-sensing wipers, a large panoramic sunroof, cruise control, ambient lighting, electric tailgate et al. Sadly, however, a wireless charging pod is conspicuous by its absence, especially since the Hector is easily the most tech-laden offering in its class.

Furthermore, what left me baffled was MG’s decision to offer a tachometer with an anti-clockwise movement, something which I haven’t experienced on any car in India. So, basically, the speedometer and the tacho have opposite movements, which means it takes more than a passing glance to figure out both the readings simultaneously. Luckily, the 7-inch colour MID offers a neat display and shows a host of information, including battery status (in mild-hybrid configurations), navigation alerts, TPMS, etc. Finally, some of the plastic parts are tacky, and there are some large panel gaps, which is something that sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise well-appointed and sufficiently upmarket cabin.

On the Go

The MG Hector will hit the market with three engine options – 1.5-litre petrol, 1.5-litre petrol hybrid and 2.0-litre diesel. Our pick of the lot is the Fiat-sourced Multijet II oil-burner, which is basically the same unit that propels the Jeep Compass and the Tata Harrier, albeit, in different tunes. For the Hector, the motor comes mated to a 6-speed manual transmission and produces 170 PS at 3,750 rpm and 350 Nm at 2,500 rpm. In spite of the rather high kerb weight of 1,700 kg, the SUV builds speed rapidly and feels sufficiently potent even on the inclines. The only grouse I have is with the overtly sharp clutch, which is something that isn’t found on either the Harrier or the Compass.

The MG Hector petrol I drove was kitted out with a 48V mild-hybrid system. The 1.5L turbocharged petrol engine offers 143 PS at 5,000 rpm and 250 Nm at 3,600 rpm in both petrol and petrol-electric mild-hybrid variants. The motor comes mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. For most parts, the gasoline motor felt only adequately powerful, with the slightly lower kerb weight failing to make up for the 100 Nm of deficiency in the torque output as compared to the diesel-sipping sibling. What I do like, however, is the near-silent cabin and the high refinement. Even the gearshifts are smoother, and the clutch is easier to handle. Finally, the mild-hybrid setup is claimed to offer a 12 per cent increase in the fuel efficiency and an 11 per cent drop in the CO2 emissions as compared to the petrol-only sibling. Please note that the petrol variant is even available with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (only if not choosing the mild-hybrid system), but its unavailability at the media test drive event meant we are yet to sample this option.

The ride-handling package is a mixed bag, really. The Hector is quite softly sprung, which leads to a pretty comfortable ride at low-to-moderate speeds. On the flip side, there is a well-pronounced body roll that is especially evident on a hilly road. To make matters worse, the steering has some vagueness, while the tires often struggle for grip when pushing the vehicle hard into a corner. Also, the Hector crashes over large potholes and speed bumps. The soft suspension also leads to a rather mediocre high-speed stability.

The Chinese Connection

Founded in 1924, the iconic British car marque has passed through the hands of an assortment of owners, including BMW. Currently, MG is owned by Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation (SAIC), the largest Chinese carmaker. In essence, the MG Hector is a repurposed Baojun 530, which is sold elsewhere even as Wuling Almaz and Chevrolet Captiva. While the company hasn’t been too vocal about the Chinese foundations of the SUV, the roots of the new model shouldn’t bother Indian consumers that have long since embraced the influx of various commodities from the neighbouring nation. More than anything else, the 75% localisation should offer at least some reassurance to the prospective buyers.

Should I Buy One?

Prices of the MG Hector are yet to be revealed, but we reckon it would cost between Rs 12-18 lakh (ex-showroom). Once launched, the Baojun 530-based SUV will become the most spacious and tech-laden offering in its class, with features like a large portrait-style touchscreen infotainment unit and a giant-size panoramic sunroof looking all set to catch the fancy of the prospective buyers. It will even become the only model to offer a petrol-mild-hybrid option, while the tried-and-tested oil-burner impresses with its grunty nature.

The handling characteristics and the overall fit and finish, however, lead some more to be desired. The softly-sprung suspension setup is best suited to all those who prioritise comfort over sportiness, while the driving enthusiasts can simply opt for a Jeep Compass. The Hector has its fair share of limitations, but a competitive price tag should make it really hard for the SUV buyers to ignore it.