The MG Astor in action at the Buddh International Circuit
The MG Astor in action at the Buddh International CircuitShot by Rohit G Mane

MG Astor First Drive Review: Creta, Seltos, Kushaq, Taigun rival driven

MG Motor India’s mid-size SUV marks their big push towards volumes

The mid-size SUV segment is on fire, and everybody is after the Hyundai Creta’s head. The MG Astor is the latest entrant, following up on the Kia Seltos, Skoda Kushaq and Volkswagen Taigun and like the Skoda-VW cousins, this too has only petrol engines. The ace up its sleeve though are the premium interiors, loaded feature list, Level 2 Autonomous ADAS features and an expected super-aggressive pricing. We tested it at the Buddh International Circuit and then on the peripheral roads to see if MG’s latest can cut it in this super-heated segment.

Driving the MG Astor

Since we are on the BIC it’s only natural that we start off with how the MG Astor drives, specifically the handling. Now we have past experience of the Astor, this after all is the ZS EV with the electric powertrain now replaced with combustion engines. In fact, and strangely, the Astor also retains a ZS badge on the tailgate, one of 11 badges on the exterior which we will come to later.

It’s worth bearing in mind here that the Astor / ZS is a proper MG, not a car from SAIC’s vast portfolio that has been rebadged an MG for India. The ZS is sold in the UK, Europe, New Zealand and other developed markets and the platform boasts of a maturity and dynamic sophistication to meet the standards of more demanding markets.

The Astor is of course much lighter than the ZS EV and it makes a wholly positive impact on the dynamics. Exit the pits, swing right and then the long left for the first set of corners and the Astor holds its line with tenacity. The race track is hardly the home for a mid-size SUV and I accordingly temper the speed and aggression with which I throw the Astor into corners. What I do is switch off traction and stability control to explore the on-limit handling of the Astor and it is pleasantly competent. The front end is responsive, the initial bite is good, cornering grip with the 215-section 17-inch Continental UltraContact tyres is tenacious, and the steering isn’t overly light either. In fact there’s three steps to the power assist, from a very light Urban mode to a heavier Dynamic which I prefer for all conditions.

The tyres do squeal rather vocally and there is of course body roll, but this is a mid-size SUV that has to work well on our bombed out city roads. And with that in reference the roll isn’t alarming or disconcerting. In fact it can carry good speeds through corners, through the parabola the digital speedo read a little over 120kmph.

Real world driving performance of the MG Astor

The Astor feels lighter and more nimble than the ZS EV
The Astor feels lighter and more nimble than the ZS EVShot by Rohit G Mane

Of course you are not that interested in the MG Astor’s lap times. To find out how it drives in the real world we head out to the peripheral roads of the BIC complex and the first thing I notice is the good ride quality. The soft suspension setup that led to noticeable body roll on the track pays dividends when going over bad road patches and speed breakers, the MG Astor soaking things up with ease. The suspension damping is also well sorted and it does not crash into potholes or speed breakers, this is a European sophistication that’s clearly evident here.

Performance of the MG Astor

The MG Astor will be available with two petrol engines and no diesels. The 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder will drive volumes courtesy its pricing and makes 108bhp and 144Nm of torque. There’s an option of a CVT automatic on this engine.

What we are testing is the 1.4-litre turbo-petrol 3-cylinder that makes 138bhp and 220Nm of torque. And this engine is exclusively available with a 6-speed torque converter automatic, no manual on this motor.

We slapped on our VBOX testing gear on the Astor to performance test it and we got a 0-100kmph time of 10.76 seconds. This is nearly on par with the class benchmarks, benchmarks set with DCT gearboxes and that is commendable. The quarter mile takes 17.12 seconds clocking 133.8kmph.

Out on the peripheral roads the 1.4 turbo motors makes for quick and effortless progress. There’s a nice step up in power at 2800rpm when the turbo comes properly on boost and that gives the Astor a sense of urgency and enthusiasm that I like. That said the gearbox is not that quick to respond, making me call upon the Sport mode on the gearbox quite often. There aren’t any steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters or a Sport mode for the engine.

Braking of the MG Astor

The rear is a flattering angle on the Astor
The rear is a flattering angle on the AstorShot by Rohit G Mane

Unlike its rivals the MG Astor gets disc brakes on all four wheels which is a commendable commitment towards safety. We seized the opportunity offered by the track to do a couple of brake tests and the Astor took 40.76 meters to stop from 100kmph, taking 2.9 seconds for the retardation runs. I must point out the brake pedal has a long travel and feels soft but the braking performance is good. On the safety front there’s six airbags on the top trim and quite a lot more to talk about.

Advanced Driver Assistance System on MG Astor

The Level 2 autonomous ADAS features are the big talking point on the MG Astor and is one step up on everything this class (and even a segment higher) offers. Let’s start with the blind spot warning that has an indicator in the wing mirror that lights up to warn you when something is in your blind spot and then flashes when you turn on your indicators to further draw in your attention.

Set the adaptive cruise control and the MG Astor brakes and accelerates to the set speed depending on what traffic in front is doing. Further more there’s lane keep assist that, above 60kmph, steers the Astor within the lanes, even cornering hard and making the tyres squeal as it kept the MG within the lanes on the demonstration runs. And there’s automatic pedestrian braking that will slam the brakes if you are late to react to an obstacle in your way preventing a collision till 40kmph and minimising it above that. This is supplemented by collision warning that alerts you when you are approaching traffic way too fast for your own good.

All these systems work well but if you don’t like the intrusions you can switch it all off. And that is easily done through the menus that are laid out logically and intuitively. In fact I like that there’s a row of physical buttons under the touchscreen to operate often-used functions like the air-con and volume which also contributes to safety. You don’t have to take your eyes off the road to access these frequent functions.

I almost forgot. Stick it in reverse and if something is coming into the lane you are reversing out into the Astor will warn you. Plus there’s a 360 degree camera. All very useful safety features and will push other manufacturers to start rolling out ADAS features on their mid-size SUVs.

AI assistant sitting on the MG Astor’s dashboard

The AI assistant is rather useful
The AI assistant is rather usefulShot by Rohit G Mane

Of course the ADAS is just the tip of a very long and extensive feature list on the Astor, and another headline feature is the AI Assistant. There’s a little Wall-E-like bot sitting on the dashboard that works as a physical representation of this assistant and it is quite cool. It has two eyes and can make endearing human-like expressions when it responds to you. The Assistant can do many of the things it could on the Hector like change the temperature in the cabin and open the sunroof. But in addition to that, this one is designed to also read out the news, search the web for information and recite what it finds to you, it can hold a simple conversation if you are feeling sleepy behind the wheel and can also tell you jokes. The AI is voiced by paralympian Dr Deepa Malik and works rather well, and its response times depend on network connectivity.
In addition to this, the Astor also has a digital key that resides in your smartphone. Should you forget the key somewhere, you can pair the locked car to your smartphone via Bluetooth and not just unlock it, but also start it and drive around. A hugely convenient feature! Just make sure your phone battery doesn’t run out because then you will well and truly be stuck…

Interiors of the MG Astor

The interior quality is great
The interior quality is greatShot by Rohit G Mane

The interiors of the MG Astor are a pleasant place to be. Mid-size SUVs have pushed the boundaries of what you can expect from the interiors of cars at this price point and the MG Astor is no different. To start with, the red interiors on our car were very cool and the levels of fit and finish were impressive. The dash is draped in soft touch materials and everything feels very well put together.

You can get to a good driving position with the six-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat but the steering is only adjustable for rake, not reach. Bang in front of the driver is a 7-inch digital instrument cluster that sits between a digital tacho and speedo — all very legible and easy to read. The 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment comes packing a fair bit of kit. There’s the usual business of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with in-built navigation and a suite of apps like Jio Saavn that allows you to stream music. The screen itself is responsive and easy to navigate through, and also allows you to control the ADAS settings here.

In terms of equipment, the Astor is fairly loaded with a 360-degree camera, panoramic sunroof and electronic parking brake though ventilated seats and a wireless phone charger would have been welcome additions as well.

The backseat is a comfortable place to be. The seats are supportive and space is good — both in terms of knee room and headroom. The cabin feels airy as well, with reasonably large windows and the big sunroof.

A touch more bling to the MG Astor styling

Styling is a big point of contention in the mid-size SUV segment, and the MG Astor looks rather good. The design is familiar, bringing to mind the ZS EV that it shares a platform with. But the Astor is based on the facelifted ZS and gets sharper looking LED headlamps, and a tweaked bumper design. There’s also that grille — the celestial grille is what MG is calling it — and this design element is specific to the Indian market. It is flashier than what the ZS gets in Europe and other international markets, but is in no way gaudy and should work will with our chrome-loving car buyers.

In profile, there’s very little different between the ZS EV and the Astor. The Astor gets 17-inch wheels with red brake calipers hinting at its sporty heritage, and there’s also a generous sprinkling of badges. The Brit Dynamic badge indicates that the Astor comes packing the more powerful 1.4 turbo petrol engine, while the Internet Inside badges from its previous launches have now been replaced by AI Inside badges. There’s more badges at the back, with the ZS badge in one corner (as it belongs to the global ZS family) and an ADAS badge, in addition to the Astor badge. The rear is actually quite a flattering angle with nice detail in the taillamps.

The Astor is a handsome looking car, that passes up the traditional upright styling of an SUV for softer, more sophisticated lines and it is all the better for it.

Verdict on the MG Astor

The MG Astor will be hard to overlook if priced competitively
The MG Astor will be hard to overlook if priced competitivelyShot by Rohit G Mane

We don’t know the prices of the MG Astor but experience with the Hector and Gloster means we can expect aggressive prices and a significant undercutting of the Hyundai Creta. But it’s not just pricing that will have buyers swinging by MG dealerships (or the website, you can buy everything online these days).

The Astor impresses with its grown up road manners — good ride quality allied to competent dynamics. The turbo-petrol engine is nearly on par with class rivals in terms of performance while the torque converter automatic goes about its job smoothly and without intrusions. I think the styling is proportionate and works very well in the metal, even the added bling on the grille (over the ZS sold in Europe) will find favour with Indian buyers, though I still think there’s one badge too many on the car. As for the interiors the Astor can rightfully claim its place at the top of the class. And glueing it all together are the exhaustive features, particularly on the safety front. And now if MG offers all this while still undercutting rivals, that will be a value for money proposition which will be impossible to ignore.

It makes me think the current production capacity at their Halol plant will hardly be enough to supply the volumes the Astor will surely do. Good thing that another two car factories have just gone up for sale in India.

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