Lucire
The global fashion magazine April 15, 2024 
Dandi March sculpture
The MG 4: no danger to anyone except its competition

Ace of base

Living
Forget all that you know about entry-level models: the MG 4 Excite 51 is a complete car and a more-than-competitive entry in the C-segment EV stakes, writes Jack Yan
Photographed by the author

 

 

MG 4 MG 4 MG 4 MG 4 MG 4
 

There’s something particularly honest and refreshing about base models. In the closing decades of the previous century, the small, steel wheels and the lack of adornment were attractive in their own way. Here is the design held up to be judged fairly, with no addenda to clutter your view. As a piece of design, does it work?

Many cars succeeded on this count. The Renault Mégane I coupé looked fine in RN or RT trim. The original Austin Mini Metro, which was a wonderful, modernist piece of design—as was the Renault 5 almost a decade before. Stateside, the 1970½ Ford Falcon showed the purity of the Torino and Fairlane styling for 1970, and it was good.

Base models in 2024, however, aren’t always so basic. In fact, you’d have to be an MG 4 expert to distinguish the different types, and thanks to their increasing presence on New Zealand roads, you begin to get quite good at it.

Last year, Lucire featured the 4—Mulan on its home market—in Essence 64 kWh trim. But for a saving of NZ$8,000, you can get into MG 4-land with the Excite 51 kWh model, priced at NZ$46,990. Outwardly, you aren’t punished for watching the dollars, since the 51’s design holds up beautifully, its alloys and details equally attractive compared with its more expensive, longer-range sister. You still get the seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and a separate warranty of the same duration covers the battery.

Inside, it’s still very well equipped, and it’s only when you begin fishing for the details that you notice where Essence has the extras. You make do without the smart, twin-aero rear spoiler, front seat warmers, 360-degree camera, and, in our test car last year, the sunroof. Out goes voice control and the premium audio, but the basic audio is more than serviceable. It may only have 17-inch wheels instead of 18, but anything above 15 looks sizeable these days. (It does not look, contrary to one publication’s opinion, undertyred.) The alloy wheel pattern might even be more attractive to some eyes, and while the sunroof was a novelty, we barely used it. We did miss the 360-degree camera, but the Excite does have a reversing camera and the beeps from the parking radar. For most purposes, we were also fine without the in-built sat-nav since, for those who have it, the Excite has (cabled) Android Auto and Apple Carplay. The active safety features in the MG Pilot system are mostly there—you get nine instead of fourteen—but they still include lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking. You miss out on the blind-spot warning, but if you have your mirrors out as far as we habitually do, that feature always seemed redundant since there are no blind spots on the side. (Indeed, why do people insist on being able to see the tail end of their car in the mirror? You should know where it is.) You have the same accompaniment of airbags, so safety-wise, you’re looked after.

The seats feel similarly firm, the two screens are the same size (7 in in front of the driver, 10·25 in in the centre), and our test car had an identical blue colour to the previous one. Also importantly, you didn’t feel like you were driving a base model, since the Excite 51 handles the same, and the power was nearly on par: it’s slower than the Essence 64 to 100 km/h by half a second. You can tow 500 kg if need be.

You feel very secure, especially as the MSP platform demands that you step quite far to get in to the car; presumably the sills are wide to protect the batteries.

You feel special on the roads, knowing that you’ve opted for a new-generation, 2020s shape, giving casual waves at other MG 4 drivers, regardless of whether they have an Excite, Essence, of Xpower. There is nothing old-hat about the Oleg Son-helmed design: you are comfortably in a 2020s design, more in vogue than a Tesla Model 3, a shape that’s already seven years old, and more in vogue than a Volkswagen ID.3, which dates from 2019.

And the 350 km range on the WLTP cycle—which you can spot if you choose driving in eco mode—was actually more than enough. In fact, it was more encouraging.

Let me explain: when the 64 kWh models say they have 435 km range (the 77 kWh Long Range model gives 530 km), you feel as though your home charging, through a standard 10 A plug, never really gets to 100 per cent overnight. The capacity is that big. And if you’re somehow socialized into thinking a full “tank” gives you security, you somehow feel you could have done better. You could have charged it for a little longer to nudge it up another per cent.

With this battery pack, we saw 100 per cent, a lot, and that was comforting. There’s no logic to this whatsoever: you know the range is less, but you feel more secure. And then you come home and charge it again, knowing that your efforts will be rewarded with a 100 per cent mark the next morning. And even if you neglected to charge one night, it wasn’t the end of the world. The battery never got under 70 per cent during our extended test. Similarly, we were never out of juice in the first EV we tested, the BMW i3, with its 220 km range. The cabin, despite its four-light design—that blacked-out C-pillar is deceptive as it’s not a window—remains light and airy, even without the sunroof, and the 4 is blissfully good to drive. In fact, we were astonished at how good it is.

What we didn’t do on the briefer test last year was take the 4 around some of Tawa’s trickiest B-roads, down Takapu Road to the west of Belmont Regional Park, ending by Transmission Gully. This time, we did, and we were positively surprised.

We thought MG’s claim about the non-cooking, non-Xpower 4s being ‘hot hatches’ was marketing hyperbole. Here was, we said, a convincing and thoroughly well made C-segment hatchback, and how manœuvrable it was around the city. It was well planted, thanks to the five-link suspension down the back. Takapu Road revealed something different: the old, sporting MG soul.

It handles. The weight of the steering wheel can be adjusted on all models, and I had a heavier setting selected both on the 64 and the 51. These windy B-roads will trip up anything that isn’t geared to a spirited drive, and the 4 held its own, testament to how good the MSP platform’s components are. The batteries in the floor helped with a low centre of gravity. We drove briskly, feeling totally confident and secure, also knowing that the braking performance is excellent. Having rear-wheel drive was a comfort. The steering is responsive and direct, and you then realize that MG’s engineers have delivered that holy grail of ride, comfort and handling, more so than in any car that has worn the octagon badge. As C-segment hatchbacks go, it’s very rewarding. The last RWD car in this segment we tested was the old BMW 1-series, and how welcome it is to have the power going to the back wheels again.

When a campervan came the other way on a one-lane-wide stretch, and we had to reverse, thank goodness that wasn’t difficult, either: who needs to see 360 degrees on a screen? The rear camera plus the physical view are more than adequate.

In 2023, we said this was a world-beater. Since we said that, the 4 has picked up a Car of the Year gong here in New Zealand from our colleagues. The 51 kWh model shows that the talent is equally there with the base model, a car that’s really not that basic. •

 

 

 

Jack Yan is founder and publisher of Lucire.

 

 

 

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