MG GS 1.5 Excite
List price £17,495
Target Price £17,067
MG jumps on the SUV bandwagon with its all-new GS.
Suzuki Vitara 1.6 SZ-T
List price £16,249
Target Price £15,149
Our current favourite budget SUV is very temptingly priced.
There's no need to rub your eyes, you're not hallucinating. This really is an SUV wearing the famous MG badge. Long gone are the days of MG building sleek sports cars; the now Chinese-owned brand is intent on conquering the big-selling classes. This revolution began with the 6 family hatch in 2010, followed swiftly by the Fiesta-rivalling 3. And now, with the MG GS, it's entering arguably the most fashionable class of them all: small SUVs.
Suzuki has far more experience in building this sort of car. It launched its original Vitara when Whitney Houston was first in the charts, and the latest model, introduced last year, is one of our favourite small SUVs.
Both cars have fairly small petrol engines and front-wheel drive, and we've chosen trims that give you plenty of kit for a very reasonable asking price. So, has MG hit a home run on its first attempt, or will Suzuki's experience prove more valuable as the two go head-to-head?
What are they like to drive?
Although both cars have similarly sized engines, the GS has a trick up its sleeve: a turbocharger. This not only gives it more outright power than the Vitara but also an extra helping of low-rev pulling ability. The result? The GS is 1.0sec quicker from a standstill to 60mph, and it builds speed more swiftly when you accelerate from low revs in the higher gears.
While getting up to speed requires a bit more patience in the Vitara, however, it never feels sluggish, and its engine pulls consistently as the revs build. In contrast, there are annoying flat spots in the GS’s power delivery that make acceleration somewhat stuttery.
While neither engine creates much in the way of vibration, the GS’s is the more vocal at a steady motorway cruise and its gearshift and clutch pedals aren’t as slickly weighted as the Vitara’s. That said, Vitara occupants have to put up with more wind noise from the door mirrors and road noise from the tyres at a steady 70mph.
For those who value a comfortable ride, the Vitara does the better job of suppressing the UK’s pockmarked roads. It’s not perfect – sharp-edged bumps send the occasional jolt through the car – but it remains more settled than the GS along typical urban streets, as well as staying more controlled over the sort of dips and crests you might encounter on a country road.
Being the longer, wider and taller car, you’d expect the GS to weigh a bit more, but it actually carries a considerable 350kg weight penalty. This, combined with heavier, slower steering, makes the GS less easy to thread along meandering B-roads.
The GS’s front tyres don’t grip as well as the Vitara’s through corners, either, and its body sways about more through tight bends. Let’s be clear: the Vitara is no driver’s dream, but it’s pleasant enough to mooch about in, and its lighter steering and tighter turning circle are a boon when parking and navigating narrow roads.
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