Back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, people could purchase a home and a car on a modest salary. These days, folks with median wages are borrowing heavily to see their children off to school. And now with the price rise due to problems of production and logistics, even the once-affordable Japanese brands seem expensive for the working class and young career starters. A new breed of Chinese vehicles, however, is changing the game. One such company is MG. The once-British brand, now wholly owned by SAIC, is rolling out paisa vasool (worth-your-money)vehicles like the MG 6 sedan, which we drove earlier.
We also got a taste of their compact crossover, the MG RX-5 recently. With a price of Dh89,900 for the top-spec luxury model, it seems to offer more than what’s expected. But what’s the catch… or is it the perfect match for your needs and budget? Let’s explore!
Released in 2016, the first gen RX-5, arguably, looks fresh. Yet, MG thought it was time for an overhaul and so we now have an all-new generation for 2023. The new model comes in 3 trims that showcase 22 design, 8 performance and 25 configuration upgrades over the old car.
The new shape carries forward the conventional compact crossover silhouette, but adopts cutting-edge style that makes you go, “Hey wait, how much does it cost again?” That eye-catching appeal is endowed mostly by a frontal design that includes a sculpted bonnet, a wide 3D geometric grille (one whose outline reminds one of the Lexus’ spindle grille), and powerful full crystal LED headlamps with sparkly C-shaped DRLs. I’m not so sure about the overly optimistic ‘P E R F O R M A N C E’ lettering etched onto the front skirt or the faux air intakes, though. Moving on, it comes with 19-inch wheels with a spoke design that wouldn’t look out of place on a Ferrari. And they’re wrapped in high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres — something unheard of in this segment. The rear design isn’t too different from its predecessor even with the new luminaires, but remains clean and elegantly executed. Lastly, it borrows faux rectangular exhaust tips and a very sporty “Twin-Aero” rear spoiler for that luxury vehicle touch.
Going by style alone, I would assume that most, me included, wouldn’t mind showing off that MG badge (seen on the front grille) in front of my home or on the roads — it’s that chic!
Not only is the wrapping great, the gift inside is worth it too. Underneath the metal skin is a tasteful interior that hasn’t been cheapened out with overly quirky cues or manufacturing defects common in low-end commuters. And it comes with a host of features that you’d only see on a luxury vehicle that is two or three times its price. How about a BMW-styled toggling shift lever or a sporty 3-spoke steering wheel that is a delight to grip and comes wrapped in a mix of smooth and perforated leather? Behind the wheel sits a large 12.3-inch instrument cluster that can be customised. And next to it is an even larger, almost giant hi-tech 14.1” HD vertical touchscreen that would put most German, American, and Japanese vehicles to shame. And there is plenty more — like the lovely leatherbound seats with panels pulled together with blue contrast stitching. Some of that makes it to the door as padding. Even the plastics appear to be of readily acceptable quality with several trimmings of brushed aluminum to substantiate that premium appeal. If anything, I didn’t like the large bezel on the infotainment screen; it takes away from the visual and the response of the adjacent slider controls is average at best.
Space is usually a concern in compacts, but once I climbed aboard, the RX-5’s roominess became apparent. The front seats are, expectedly, comfy with 6-way power adjustability (4 for the front passenger) and even the rear cabin can seat two 6-footers with burly shoulders quite easily. Three regular-sized adults can coast in comfort. There is also a giant panoramic sunroof that adds an element of airiness to the cabin, which is yet another feature pilfered from high-end vehicles.
Providing the motivation for the RX-5 is a motor configuration we have seen on so many Chinese vehicles, so much so, I feel as if they are the same engine. Resting on the front axle is a high-pressure direct injection turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-cylinder unit that delivers 171hp and max. twist of 275Nm to the front wheels — a 10 per cent bump over its predecessor. This makes daily driving duties easy — be it in the city or highway. If anything, the power feels more accessible and smoother than that of the turbocharged 2.0-litre on the company’s coveted HS model. Again, like many other Chinese vehicles, this too comes with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which isn’t buttery smooth but operates reasonably well.
Working in tandem, they help the RX-5 deliver zippy performance and commendable fuel economy. It takes 9.4 seconds to get to 100 k/h, but in the real world, it feels a tad quicker. There is some observable turbo lag. It will also better the claimed 6.8 l/100km even without clinical modulation of the throttle. As for lateral dynamics, there is a decent amount of steering feel, but some amount of body rolls is noticed under speedy corners, nothing to take away from its duties as a commuter, though. And where braking is concerned, the grip from the 235-section tyres combines with the disc brakes, helping it reel back high speed with confidence.
So with keyless entry, push-button ignition, cruise control and a rear-view camera — all fitted as standard and a 360-degree parking view camera equipped on the top dog — you get all the conveniences of an effortless start-up, casual cruising and relaxed reversing.
It also gets an electric tailgate with plenty of space in the trunk to throw in camping gear or airport baggage. You can also pull down the split-folding seats for more. There is also a very usable space under the front cabin’s floating centre console, which is good for knick-knacks and things that are not of immediate access, like your keys, handbag, or wallet. MG has also equipped the RX-5 with a wireless charger and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Can’t say that about some luxury cars. Dare I take some names! Convenience-wise, the rear cabin gets 2 USB chargers and air vents. What more can you ask for? Even the front gets 2 USB charging ports, keeping the tech-consuming crowd juiced up. If anything, the quality of the audio system wasn’t a highlight.
As far as safety is concerned, the RX-5 doesn’t fail… at least on paper. The standard Electronic Stability Program manages 8 safety functions, including ABS, EBD, EBA, ARP, CBC HDC, TCS, and BDW. The expansions of these acronyms probably don’t add any value to the regular owner, but you should know that it ticks the necessary boxes to keep your family safe. And that includes 6 airbags too!
First things first, I know MG like to brand themselves as “British-born”, but it’s as British as the contents of the British Museum. It is, in fact, a Chinese brand through and through and proudly so, for several reasons. Chinese vehicles, especially the 2023 MG RX-5, are spunky, usably spacious, zippy and even stylish introductions to an otherwise boring commuter segment. And they achieve what’s asked of them without burning a hole in the working man’s or woman’s pocket. Again, it’s no Toyota or Honda, and I really can’t vouch for its reliability and residual value just about yet, but you just can’t ignore the 6-year/200,000 km warranty, can you?
RX-5 prototypes have been put through 5 million kilometres of road evaluation tests, 500,000 hours of laboratory bench tests, light toggle durability tests incorporating 200,000 repetitions, and intense door testing reps (by opening and closing them 120,000 times).
GOOD - Voguish exterior and interior; surprisingly spacious; luxury features; price
BAD - Questionable residual value & reliability; some turbo lag; other Chinese players.
EDITOR’S RATING- 7.5/10 stars
Body type - 5-seater; 5-door compact crossover SUV
Engine - Front-engine; turbocharged 1.5-litre inline 4-cylinder; front-wheel drive
Transmission - 7-speed DCT (automated manual)
Peak output - 171 bhp @ 5,600 rpm - 275 Nm @ 4,100 rpm
0 to 100km/h - 9.4 seconds (claimed)
Top speed - 190 km/h (drag limited; claimed)
Fuel economy - 6.8 l/100km
Price - Dh89,900
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