LIVING The MG 4—Mulan in its home market—is the most convincing family car the brand has come out with, reports Jack Yan
photographed by the author
Surely we are at the same point in the automotive trend cycle as when Detroit was turning out massive full-size cars in 1973, and small-car sales took off because they were just what people wanted? The SUV has littered our landscape, and we need something to deliver a respite—and if that something is electric, and well priced, then its maker could be on to a world-beater.
Has MG cracked it? This was our most anticipated car of 2023: the MG 4, in Essence 64 kWh (62·1 kWh usable) trim. In fact, we would have had this article out sooner if not for COVID-19 continuing to do its rounds, and while we waited, we began seeing 4s emerge around the streets of Wellington. The public were already embracing it, even ahead of the press. We weren’t alone in anticipating its arrival, the first all-new MG on our shores for some time, and the first non-crossover model since the 3 first débuted in 2014 here.
In China, it’s called the MG Mulan, and when our sister publication Autocade featured it, we were already excited. Even from those initial Chinese photos, we could see this was something special, created with a clean slate. A brand-new MSP modular platform with the batteries at its base, the heaviest components keeping the centre of gravity low. A variety of bodies can go atop MSP, but for now MG has opted to go with a C-segment hatchback, and at NZ$54,990 (the EV rebate takes it down to NZ$47,975, though the new government might choose to make it harder to purchase electric cars). Chief designer Oleg Son had free rein to craft a body that establishes a new design language for MG, free from any constraints that its successful crossovers like the ZS and HS might have imposed.
And what a fresh, attractive job it is, especially in the blue of our test car—and the orange hues we’ve seen are equally eye-catching. There is still a bonnet—we want to feel secure—although it is a short one. Under the bonnet there is access to fluids, fusebox, battery and air filter.
At front, the triangular LEDs and the angular sculpting on the bumper lead one’s eyes to the MG badge in the centre of a grille-less front end. We think it gives the car purpose, and while some might think this introduces complexity, we see it as a pleasant tension that breaks up the surfaces. Side sculpting is restrained, giving character to the shape, and while the photos had suggested the Mulan would be undertyred, it isn’t: 18 inches are more than sufficient to give it a welcome stance, and who needs wheels that are too big and expensive to replace? The alloys look sporting with both silver and black detailing. The double rear spoiler (side by side above the rear window) is a nice touch, as is the lip on the tail that houses its LED brake lights. Happily, the car has wonderful details everywhere, which will delight its Asian buyers, and well balanced proportions, which will find favour with occidentals.
Inside, MG has been equally successful, with a commodious interior. Simplicity rules, with a landscape wide screen in the centre of the dashboard, and a simple 10-inch digital display ahead of the driver. The rotary gearchange rests on a softly shaped, protruding shelf below the central screen, along with the electronic handbrake control and a charging pad for cellphones. It’s tempting for those inclined to nostalgia to link various touches in here to MG and its former sister companies’ British past: the quartic steering wheel, laughed at 50 years ago, now a sign of modernity not just at MG but at many car makers; the use of the Univers typeface on the shelf which BL and Austin Morris employed; a C-pillar shape that, to us, recalls the beloved ADO16 MG 1100 and 1300’s (that black plastic behind the rear window is not a sixth light); and an interior with such comfortable seats we bet you could fold them down as they look bed-like, like with the Austin Maxi in 1969.
The Maxi was heralded for its roominess, and there’s plenty of that here. MG is gunning for the C-segment, and the 4 has the Volkswagen ID.3 firmly in its sights, and the width is a logical 1,836 mm. However, inside the car, it feels even wider than that, probably thanks to its open, minimalist design. That’s a manageable size as we hate to think what piloting the next size up—the 2 m-plus Polestar 4, for instance—will be like around crowded urban streets. The MG’s flat floor helps with interior space, there’s decent headroom front and rear, and the boot is a good size.
Those who do remember the British-made product from decades ago need not worry, as this is a nicely built interior that feels welcoming. There could be a dash more colour and some of the plastics could sound more solid, but we have few complaints and would be more than happy to live with it every day.
Behind the wheel, it becomes an even more convincing package. You sit a little higher than you might initially expect, but that’s not a bad thing. MacPherson struts are up front, with a five-multi-link suspension down the back, to really keep it planted. We welcome the sense of security of rear-wheel drive, and it is perfectly balanced front and rear. You get all the expected mod-cons of a 360-degree camera, emergency braking (it works very well, especially when pulling out of parking spaces), lane keep assist that’s better tuned than the one in the MG ZS, and numerous other active safety features. Power from the battery is a respectable 204 PS, with 250 Nm of torque.
Range is an impressive 435 km on the WLTP cycle, and based on our driving (mixture of motorway and urban) that’s very accurate. Using the economy mode helped extend the range, and it wasn’t one where you felt you were giving up much performance to get some more ks out of the charge. We found the ride on the soft side, though the 4 soaked up the bumps incredibly capably, while handling is neutral, though we suspect the Xpower version is more of the hot hatch that matches the MG heritage.
While our colleagues had reported that the computer interface could be confusing, we found that once you had the car set up the way you wanted, you barely had to refer to anything buried in the menus again—not that there was that much that needed adjustment. Cruise control settings were the one thing that could have been easier to find, but we managed to get all the basics sorted, from regen mode to the adaptive cruise control.
We’d take the 4 over its C-segment rivals, petrol or electric. Against the electric crowd, it beats the Volkswagen on both price and exterior styling; and it’s so far ahead stylistically of most of ICE rivals in the same segment such as the Mazda Axela or Opel Astra. It even beats its own stablemate in China, the MG 6 Mk II. The few people who might still seek a Tesla Model 3 despite the plunging reputation of its antisemitism-inclined CEO should really think again. Unlike the MG crossovers, this one thrusts the brand well into the future, and when you think of MG’s origins, or even past models such as the MGA and the MGB Mk I, this was a company that looked ahead.
A fitting entry, then, as the company heads into its centenary year, with its strongest product since its reinvention in 2010, the year the original MG 6 came out. It is a world-beater in terms of providing a convincing family car that’s good for the environment and doesn’t demand a ridiculous sum, and MG has its logistics worked out well in this market. Those who opt for a 4 will be seen as someone caring for the environment, naturally. Not being an SUV means a smaller frontal area, requiring less energy to move forward. But they will also be seen as individualistic and forward-thinking, going for a car that marks a brand’s second renaissance. MG has finally broken free of its past and we cannot wait for its even more news-making follow-up, the most anticipated sports car of 2024, the Cyberster, which has only just gone on sale in China. This is going to be one heck of a centenary. •
Jack Yan is founder and publisher of Lucire.
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