Australia has had a long love affair with SUV’s and hatches, with sedans the forgotten body shape. In fact, this writer has only reviewed one other during all of 2023. That’s why it was nice to sample the MG5 Essence.
Edgy and angular beyond what the Black Pearl Metallic paint lets on (there are five more colours available), it bares a striking resemblance to a Hyundai i30 sedan. Even the polished-and-black dual tone wheels were uncannily similar.
Regardless, it was easy on the eye, particularly from the front, where the automatic LED headlamps flank a wide black grill. Grabbing the body-coloured driver’s door handle affords a first glimpse at interior accommodations in the MG5 Essence.
It’s a lot of black, broken up by red stitching and accents. The seats are wrapped in synthetic leather front and rear, as is the steering wheel and shifter. The whole shebang looks clean and classy and comes with a sunroof to boot.
The cabin is easy to access using both the front and rear seats, a real asset particularly with small children. Unfortunately, once the initial glances are done, the interior is where one first starts to realise why the MG5 Essence has a price point of $28,990 drive away.
There is an inordinate amount of hard plastic scattered across the cabin, of the kind we haven’t experienced for many years. From the top of the dashboard, to the door cards and centre console, with much of it already showing signs of scratching.
Thankfully, high touch areas such as arm rests and the console storage lid are softer to the touch and complemented by high-gloss black and silver highlights. Driver ergonomics also left us wanting.
Outward vision is great, and the driver has their own screen with a tonne of display options (including a 0-100km/h timer) and a 6-way electrically adjustable seat. Unfortunately, the driver footrest feels about 100mm too high, which made resting a foot uncomfortable.
Further, the combination of steering wheel position, the pitch of the seat bottom and the intrusive right-side seat bottom bolster, made getting comfortable trying. Where it does excel is in useable space.
Up front the driver and passenger get good leg room, dual cupholders and the utility of two USB ports to charge devices. These ports facilitate Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the 10.0-inch multifunction touchscreen atop the centre console.
The doors have great storage, which supplements the glove box and centre console. Rear seating is spacious for its class. Two kids are easily housed, but adults would also be well accommodated. There’s a single USB port.
One interesting challenge was the singular rear air condition vent. It would only blow in one direction, which led to the equivalent of World War 3 among our kids. The MG5 also doubles down against its hatchback rivals.
While the boot isn’t small at 401-litres, its party trick is the folding rear seats. The only limiting factor is that it folds in one piece, but if you’re needing to get access to this much space, you’re going to need it all anyway.
Hitting the keyless start brings the 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine to life. On paper the numbers don’t really jump at you – the unit musters 119kW and 250Nm of twist at a lofty 3,000-4,000rpm.
It’s backed by a 7 speed dual clutch transmission, which is a good thing, but we found the combination and an apparently peaky motor frustrating, and on one occasion, just plain unsafe. To the uninitiated, a hasty take-off shouldn’t be taken lightly here.
There is Sport mode, but it really doesn’t do enough. We found ourselves either “spooling” up with a foot on the brake or waiting for a bigger gap, such is the lag to get going. Thankfully, when the mighty 1.5 litre does come on song, it’s an unexpectedly nice tune.
It’s punchier than we could have imagined, and it is here that the DCT makes sense. Quick shifts keep it on the boil when driving in any sort of anger, and it can be controlled with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
This zing is also largely matched by the chassis dynamics. Don’t expect hot hatch performance here, that’s not what this is. But turn in is sharp and crisp and makes the driving experience fun.
It is relatively softly sprung though, and you feel that all the time. Pushing it through a corner is either going to see understeer, or a spinning inside front wheel. Either way it’s benign with no surprises.
This fun results in a fuel consumption of 8.2-litres/100km, with predominantly city driving. A fair gap from the claimed number of 5.9-litres. When commuting, it’s a comfortable and relatively quiet place to be.
We found the mostly black interior to heat up incredibly quickly, which meant a heavy reliance on air conditioning. As you would expect, it’s controlled by the 10.0-inch screen, and that creates a bit of an issue.
You see, when Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is deployed, there is no way to get to the air conditioning controls other than switching out to the native app, then navigating a set of menus. Not even the toggle on the centre console would take us to the relevant screen.
To compound this challenge, once we were at the right screen, we found there was no auto function and control of temperature and fan speed was via two touch operated sliding toggles.
These proved to be irritatingly inaccurate to use. Much like the slow take offs, this was quite simply a hazard – both in terms of time looking away from the road and the resulting frustration.
The MG5 does come with a range of safety features though, including airbags, ABS, autonomous braking and emergency brake assist. It has a 360-degree camera that automatically activates at low speeds.
It does however miss out on lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring, in part contributing to its zero ANCAP safety rating. Overall though, despite the various challenges, we were surprised by the MG5 Essence.
The brand has clearly lifted its game, and while this model remains imperfect – it is well packaged for its price point. Throw in a 7-year unlimited kilometre warranty and it’s a remarkable value proposition – worth it if you need an affordable new car.
Our test vehicle was provided by MG Motor Australia for review purposes.