Can the SUV segment welcome a newcomer from the Waking Dragon?
The first time I visited China was in 2011, and I was in the robotic business. What I saw was appalling. Plenty of Chinese robotic companies that were making knock-offs of Fanuc and Motoman, two of the largest Japanese robot manufacturers in the automotive industry.
These robots were terrible. And I mean terrible. Where the good ones would split a circle in 4,000 small arcs, the Chinese would do it in 2,000. And the servomotors were so bad, even in testing conditions would display a variation on repetition that would extend to 1cm over 8 hours of operation. To put that in perspective, KUKA robots have a repetition accuracy of less than 0.5mm after 10,000 hours, which is the first service schedule… Thus, since robots are mainly used for welding, a Chinese robot, and a Chinese car by extension, was a more-or-less-around-there affair. And it showed. These cars were mainly sold in the domestic market, were cheap and had the aspiration of using customer’s money to finance the supply chain. Which, to be honest, they have done, and in ways too broad to cover here.
Thus, with the homework done, Chinese company SAIC purchased the rights to MG, a noble name in automotive, to launch their foray into the international automotive sector. And they are doing it in an extremely methodical fashion, with products to satisfy the largest slice of the market: the Mid-size SUV, the small Crossover, and the Utilitarian vehicle. Unassuming, under the radar, and claiming little headlines, we can’t fail to notice large billboards with this revived brand. British DNA, extremely well priced and a rather normal shape. Mix of European and Japanese and Korean features. Hmm…
RX5, RX5, you look so familiar…
The MG RX5 has a distinct Volkswagen Tiguan aesthetic. It’s almost a doppelganger and in dimensions, we have 4.49m long on the German vs. 4.54 in the Chinese. Wheelbase is also very similar, at 2.70m and it also matches on height and width. From every angle, the RX5 is Tiguan-ish. From the front grille with the smiling headlights, to the side windows veering upwards, to the rear wing, to the brake lights.
Given the success of the VW, it seems the MG’s choice is spot-on on what the market is looking for. The RX5 comes in 1.5l and 2l engines and, although with SUV looks, only the top spec get a 4WD transmission, highlighting that the market trend is about height and nothing else.
The interior is spartan. But unlike many other brands that try hard with gimmicks and buttons, the MG just makes sure you have what you need and that it is well done and useful. And to be honest, I am yet to manage a single command on a high-end “Talk to the Car” system so, I truly don’t miss any of those “luxuries”.
Seats are comfortable enough but the range of driving positions never seemed to work for me. Seat was too high, steering wheel too low, pedals to close by, rear-view mirror a bit askew… Never seemed to “click”. That said, the rear seats are ample, and the boot is quite big. At 595 ltr, it is a tad smaller than the Tiguan, but quite bigger than, say, the 3008. Fold the back row and you can reach 1,639 ltr of loading space. By the way, at this price point, you also get an automated boot lid. Cool.
All seems good, what’s the catch?
So, thus far there is fairly little to fail the Chinese car on. But the Achilles heel is about to show up. The drive. Engine power stands at 200HP, which should be enough to move the RX5 with some agility. It doesn’t. It’s sluggish on speed pick-up, alarming on the brakes. Suspension is foggy and steering numb. Now, you cannot expect razor sharp sensations on an SUV, but the European rivals are much better at it.
Also, we detected a bit of panel rattle on bumps and hard turns. This is a sign of a rather “flexible” chassis, which in 2019 is uncalled for. Trying to find why it happens, I ended up locked on the weight. 1592Kg. That, is pretty light…
Tiguan tips the scales at 1,680Kg. Hyundai Tucson evens out at 1,700Kg, and the rest of the 4WD in the segment are about there. Which leads me to believe that, barring lightweight materials, carbon-fiber bonding technologies or light-weight wizardry, the MG must be skimping on steel in the chassis. Making it lighter, making it flimsier, and result in that panel rattle we mentioned. Something’s gotta give…
However, the RX5 is sold for USD 15,510 for the basic 2WD, all the way to 20,860 for the Luxury model with 4WD. And these prices are nigh unbeatable in, not only the segment, but also in the trim level. Overall, the new, Chinese, British Heritage, SAIC Corporation, RX5 is something to look at. It reminds me of Hyundai in 1992, when they started their foray into the international markets. Look at them now. MG is clearly on its way to become a force to reckon.