Much has been written about MG Motor’s entry into India, the brand’s insistence on it being a British marquee brand, it’s showcasing of connected technologies built on robust partnerships with technology giants, and its first product – the Hector SUV – being India’s first ‘internet car’. The SUV has now been launched at a starting price of Rs 12.18 lakh. While the brand push has been strong – MG Motor India even roped in English actor Benedict Cumberbatch as its brand ambassador – one can hope the product itself delivers on the promise, in a segment that’s already overcrowded. Let’s explore.
The current market situation for the Indian automotive industry isn’t much to cheer about. While it has remained one of the most promising markets in the world for automakers, recent fall in sales, preparations for BS-VI compliance by April 1, 2020 and the government’s abstruseness with regards to electric mobility, doesn’t quite make for a happy reading. Yet, we have seen two international brands enter the market – Kia Motors India and MG Motor India. Despite the prevailing market sentiments, both these brands have been able to create quite a buzz in the market, considering the promise and excitement they both bring in.
MG, or Morris Garages, is a 94-year-old British marquee brand that was purchased by Nanjing Automobile Group in 2006. In 2008, Nanjing merged into SAIC. In these past 10+ years, SAIC Motor has literally transformed the company into a modern, technologically-sound, innovative and aspirational brand with successes around the globe. India was the missing piece in SAIC Motor’s growing stature in the world of automobiles. Enter brand MG Motor.
In sync with its British connection, the manufacturer also decided to name its first product ‘Hector’, after the legendary British biplane – the Royal Hector biplane that was used by the Royal Air Force in the 1930s. The company said the name Hector draws inspiration from the noble qualities of the warrior hero of Homer’s Iliad – Prince Hector of Troy.
Clearly, from a product perspective, the company needed to ensure it delivered on the strong heritage of the MG brand, yet offer consumers everything that would make it an ideal choice.
At an overall length of 4,655 mm and a wheelbase of 2,750 mm, the MG Hector is one of the largest in its segment. More often than not, consumers in the market looking to buy an SUV, prefers a large, bold and aggressively designed product. The Hector gets a high-standing hood and a large front grille with a pretty big MG insignia bolted to its centre. While we thought the insignia could be smaller, consumers might just like it the way it is. There’s ample amount of chrome splashed all across the front as well – another feature increasingly preferred by Indian consumers.
The headlights on the Hector has been split to accommodate horizontal daytime running lights (DRLs) positioned in line with the top of the grille, while the headlamps and fog lamps, sit right below them. The top two variants of the Hector get an all-LED treatment, both in the front and rear. The side, which sports a strong shoulder line and roof rails with blacked-out pillars, gel well with the Hector’s overall profile. The tyres look slightly undersized, but isn’t too much of an eyesore considering the overall dimensions of the Hector. Above all, the one element that can’t miss one’s attention is the fairly large badge that reads ‘Internet Inside’ just below the A-pillar to re-emphasise the Hector’s positioning as India’s first internet car. The rear features wraparound LED tail lights that run across the boot, with a large horizontal reflector and dynamic indicators. There is a large brushed aluminium finished skid plate as well to complete the rear look.
For a detailed understanding of the Hector’s connectivity options and platform, please refer to our report in the May 2019 edition.
The company is offering the Hector with three powertrain options – a 2 l diesel unit sourced from FCA that delivers peak power of 170 ps at 3,750 rpm and 350 Nm of torque in the range of 1,750-2,500 rpm. This engine is being offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, which combined to deliver an ICAT approved fuel efficiency figure of 17.41 km/l.
The 1.5 l turbocharged intercooled petrol engine comes in two options – a regular petrol delivering 143 ps of power at 5,000 rpm and 250 Nm of torque between 1,600-3,600 rpm and a 48 V mild-hybrid system fitted with an integrated belt starter generator. This system provides up to 20 Nm of torque to fill in gaps in the power band, claim officials. The mild hybrid system also features lithium-ion batteries that store energy generated during braking and coasting.
While the hybrid comes with a six-speed manual transmission (MT), the regular petrol gets a seven-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) as well. From a fuel efficiency perspective, the regular petrol MT is rated at 14.16 km/l, while the DCT variant delivers 13.96 km/l. The hybrid petrol variant claims an efficiency of 15.81 km/l.
The engines offered currently aren’t compliant to the upcoming BS VI emission norms, but come December 2019, the company will start rolling out engines that comply with the stringent emission norms. For now, the powertrain line-up is pretty impressive. Even when one considers the impact on cost post the rollout of BS VI norms – especially with diesel vehicles – the 48 V mild-hybrid can be a good alternative to diesel.
The one option that is clearly missing in the Hector’s line-up is an automatic transmission on diesel, understandably why. It did not make business sense for the company to introduce an automatic transmission on the diesel considering the emission norms switchover scheduled in less than 10 months from now. Its introduction will depend on the movement of the market and the way consumer’s preference evolves post April 1, 2020. As a matter of fact, the demand for petrol – even in the high-end SUV segment – is gaining considerably compared to diesel.
Within petrol, turbocharged gasoline direct injection (T-GDI) is gaining good customer acceptance in recent times. Turbo GDIs are the next phase of evolution of petrol engines, and manufacturers across the globe are realising its true potential as a good alternative to diesel engines. In the BS VI scenario, diesel vehicles would become considerably expensive, since the engines need to feature expensive technologies such as diesel particulate filters (DPF), selective catalytic reduction (SCR) or lean NOx trap (LNT), among others, especially in the BS VI RDE phase in 2023. By that timeframe, the turbo GDIs should become a big part of any OEM’s normal automotive portfolio.
We were quite impressed with the two variants that we drove during our drive around Coimbatore. Both the petrol hybrid as well as the diesel offer good driveability. On the petrol hybrid specifically, the torque seemed adequate and the engine develops speed nicely. The six-speed MT has fairly long throws, but the overall gearbox operation felt good. The manual transmission paired with the diesel engine, however, felt notchy but it no way affected the transmission of power. Having said that, there’s some bit of body roll on Hector and we would have loved some more steering feel.
It must be said that MG Motor India has put together an impressive SUV that is well-packaged in terms of features and options. Its success in the market will not just depend on how the company is able to price it, but also on how it backs up the products with the right quality of aftersales and service. The initial excitement in the market must be encouraging for the company, but to ensure the excitement continues, the company has to ensure the product ages well.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay