MG’s Chinese owner, SAIC Motor, is banking heavily on the brand’s reputation and buyer sentiment in its Australian relaunch.

But instead of traditional British sports cars, for which the marque was best known and loved, the current range comprises small and mid-sized cars and now a small SUV it calls GS.

GS is in many ways not unlike any number of current offerings from other makers. Its styling is contemporary SUV, though the frontal appearance is very distinctive, if not polarising, and focuses attention on the prominent hexagonal MG badge. Design work is still done in MG’s traditional home of Longbridge in the UK, but the models for the Australian market are now built in China.

It’s a five seater with quite reasonable interior room, a big boot, and a very useful 1336 litres of cargo space with the rear seat folded.

There are four models in the line-up. The entry level Vivid includes reverse parking sensors, bluetooth, 17” alloys, electric park brake and auto headlights. Core adds a 7-speed Dual Clutch Automatic transmission, reversing camera, climate control air conditioning, a six-speaker sound system, leather multifunction steering wheel and cooled storage box.

Soul gets 18-inch alloys, sports leather seats, 8” colour touch screen, nav, fog lights and rain sensing wipers. The top of the range Essence X boasts xenon headlamps, active rollover protection, Hill Descent Control and sunroof.

All but the top spec model are fitted with a 119kW 1.5-litre petrol engine. The base model Vivid is 6-speed manual only while all but the top of the range model get a seven-speed Dual Clutch Transmission. Essence X has a 2.0-litre 162kW petrol engine and six-speed DCT with paddle shift and automatic torque sharing AWD system. Both engines are from the companies new more fuel efficient NetBlue range.

Combined cycle fuel consumption is listed as 7.3 litres/100km for the manual model, 7.4 for autos and a heavyish 9.6 for AWDs.

Standard safety features include ESP, Corner Brake Control, Emergency Brake Assist, ABS + EBD, and six airbags. There’s no AEB available and it manages only a four star ANCAP rating, which is a level lower than many similar sized SUVs.

Inside, the trim is basic black. The two lower spec models have cloth while the higher series cars get leather. The dash layout is simple, with most controls conveniently grouped in the centre cluster, which again is fairly standard current practice. There’s an 8” centre display on the two high spec models, a 6.1” display on Core, while the entry level Vivid goes without. Bluetooth, trip computer and a range of auxiliary input options are standard on all, while Soul and Essence X get navigation as standard.

The launch drive program offered only a limited on-road component, which was largely restricted to easy country roads, so there was no real opportunity to get a good feel for the car. There was, however, an extensive off-road program of skid pan, motorkhana, and some gravel in which all variants acquitted themselves very well. Handling in the controlled environment of the Victorian proving ground was pretty sharp and the electric power steering has a reasonable amount of feel. It was clear thought even from the short on-road drive that the ride is very firm and in some cases borders on being harsh.

Both engines have very noticeable turbo lag, both from a standing start and when accelerating hard out of a corner, but once ‘on-song’, they pull hard. The 1.5-litre engine feels to be a bit livelier that its bigger sibling, but that may just be due to the added weight of the AWD system.

The standard of build quality and finish is generally pretty good, but there are couple of aspects that are likely to fall short of buyer expectations.

The interior is, in some respects, a throw-back to another time. Hard interior plastics abound at a time when most passenger car manufacturers long ago moved to soft touch trims. And while there’s a fair sprinkling of contemporary piano black trim accents to provide a touch of class, it only partially lifts the general ambiance and feel of the cabin.

Secondly, interior noise levels are reasonable but certainly not in line with class leaders. NVH in general still needs some work, particularly engine noise and ‘buzz’, and the cabin noise, which is very noticeable on coarse chip surfaces.

On the whole, the newcomer is not a bad start but it’s up against some very stiff, well known, and highly regarded competition. And the fact that there’s currently only a handful of dealers on the East Coast is likely to limit its attractiveness and sales potential to some degree. To balance the ledger, though, there’s a six-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assistance, and the list prices, while not exactly cheap are reasonable for what you get.

Overseas model shown as illustration.