Automobiles are slowly but surely transforming into tech gadgets on wheels. The connected nature of our worlds – be it at home or work – now moves with us, thanks to rapid progress in embedded tech in mobility. Cars are evolving to be connected bubbles that are ‘always-on’; seamlessly integrating our life on the road with everything else that we do. “I’m driving” isn’t a valid excuse anymore. Because multi-tasking while driving is clearly a possibility now. Autonomous driving assistance makes it reasonably safe to bump up productivity on-the-go, without taking those eyes off the road.
The MG Astor is a step in that direction. It packs in a bunch of safety, convenience, infotainment and connected car features that makes it increasingly more tech, and less car. Not ‘less of a car’. Because this one is no push over. It is the first car in its segment to feature a personal AI assistant and Autonomous Level 2 functions. The AI assistant sits on the dash and reacts to voice commands, shares news & weather updates, sources information from Wikipedia if you need to know, and operates in-car controls such as climate, music, skyroof, and other vanity functions with ease. But those welcome and goodbye messages devoid of emotion can get irritating beyond a point. And the struggle to make the robot comprehend specific information repeatedly, can be quite stressful. But then hello – this is Astorverse – and like the Metaverse, it’s still work in progress.
For starters, the Astor is a mid-size SUV priced between INR 10.32 and 18.23 lacs. It comes in 2 engine options – the 1.5L petrol with a choice of 2 transmission types (5-speed manual & CVT); and the 1.3L turbo petrol that comes with a 6-speed AT. There are 9 variants with different trim levels and 5 colour options. Clearly, you could be spoilt for choice.
We drove the top of the line turbo petrol version for a week, and this one surely defies stereotypes. The 1.3L 220 turbo unit is more powerful than the 1.5L VTi-Tech, and is the one we would recommend. It’s a peppy responsive engine, kicking 140 PS peak power and 220 Nm peak torque. But more on that later.
At first glance, the MG Astor looks striking with its bold celestial grille, hawk eye LED headlamps, distinctive 17” alloys and dual exhaust at the rear with chrome accents. It doesn’t look butch, but has an elegant appeal and is more townie than the go-everywhere kind. It has bigger than expected proportions, and beats its main category competition with its dimensions. This translates into perceptible roominess inside the cabin. Ingress and egress is easier, seats are wider with enough elbow room, legroom and headroom at the rear is more than adequate, and the boot space doesn’t seem compromised. The airy cabin leaves little room to complain. The rear seats are great for two adults and a teen perhaps, though it may be a bit of a squeeze for a third adult, especially on those long drives.
Overall, the Astor has elegant and sporty contours, a lovely stance, signature badging and a solid demeanour to make it stand apart in the streets. The ‘Brit Dynamic’ badge with the Union Jack seems a bit overdone though – trying too hard to reinforce the Morris Garages legacy and shake off the Chinese ownership.
Though it may not belong to the stable of high-end luxury SUVs, Astor holds its ground and delivers several top notch features, that one would have expected of a Volvo or a Mecedes, till a few years ago. The premium mid-sized SUV category where it is positioned, has emerged as a bridge-to-luxury segment and makes a compelling case for itself as a value for money category for the upwardly mobile. And the Astor pushes the boundaries by loading additional ‘category-first’ features into it.
As you step inside the Astor, you are greeted with a rich & indulgent vibe dominated by the striking dual tone ‘Sangria Red’ leather stitched upholstery. It is bold, opulent and seductive. A mood elevator of sorts, it adds a touch of flair to the in-cabin experience. At first glance, there is enough tech in your face to keep you busy for hours, before you get a grip of things and it all comes back intuitively. The electronically controlled driving seat, compact textured leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, fully digital 7” driver display and the 10.1” touchscreen are the highlights inside. The humungous panoramic skyroof comes as an added bonus. Going right upto the rear, it makes the airy cabin feel even bigger.
There are a few noticeable misses though. For a fully specced variant, ventilated seats, telescopic steering, wireless charging, a temperature controlled glove box and auto dimming rear view mirror would have been nice to have. A heads-up display and paddle shifters would have made things sweeter. And perhaps even reclining rear seats and a reading lamp at the back. Hopefully, we can expect some of these soft upgrades sooner than later.
The touchscreen takes a while getting used to. Though it has a clean UI, there are manual toggle buttons below that helps switch between functions, and one needs to make a mental note of when to tap and when to toggle. There is internet connectivity, built-in navigation, a well laid out touch keypad, a 360 degree camera, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, USB + FM + Bluetooth Music & Calling, and all the bells & whistles you would ever need. JioSaavn, Wikipedia, MapmyIndia and a couple of other services are in-built and integrated, to take care of music, information & navigation – in case you are good with these. We preferred to use the more familiar Apple CarPlay, Apple Music and Google Maps.
The digital cockpit is a busy little space and throws up all the information you need to know, and more. The graphics are good, and you can keep an eye on cruising speed, distance from the vehicle ahead, and even get to know speed limits from traffic signs and allow the vehicle to regulate the speed accordingly.
Other features that make life easier behind the wheel are the intelligent auto headlamp controls, rain sensing wipers, heated ORVMs, and electronic parking brakes with Autohold. Drive modes switch between regular to sport at the flick of the stick and additionally there are steering modes (normal, urban, dynamic) to change the responsiveness. For passengers, there are 5 USB charging ports – 2 in front, 2 at the back, and 1 above the rear view mirror to fix a dash cam. The last one is a matter of small detail, but extremely thoughtful.
What clearly sets the Astor apart is the introduction of Autonomous Level 2 features in the segment. These are preventive functions that keep the vehicle and passengers safe, and reduce the possibilities of an accident; or the severity of potential damage. Lane Assist functions such as Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Prevention and Lane Departure Warning work well on clearly marked highways, alerting you and manoeuvring automatically whenever it senses a deviation. Then there is a bunch of Rear Drive Assist functions to help detect blind spots or traffic crossing from behind. The system alerts when a hazard is detected, be it an approaching high speed vehicle, or one already in the blind zone or an approaching vehicle while you are changing lanes or reversing. The Adaptive Cruise Control accelerates/ decelerates to maintain distance from the vehicle in front, and the digital display constantly shows real time status. When the possibility of a collision is detected, the Forward Collision Prevention function applies autonomous deceleration. The Speed Assist System reads traffic signs to infer speed limits, alerts in case of over speeding, and slows down to be within limits automatically. Alerts for different functions are a mix of steering vibration, warning icons that appear on the ORVM, and other visual & acoustic signals in the cockpit. They are really hard to miss.
Astor comes with over 80+ connected car features and you can communicate with the vehicle through the app on the phone or even a smartwatch. In case of an emergency, one can use the digital key to lock/ unlock the vehicle, start it and drive away. One can control the AC and music through the app, and even share live location with family & friends. The anti-theft immobiliser can be activated remotely and vehicle status, tyre pressure, etc. can be checked even when away. It’s all quite convenient.
In terms of other safety features, the MG Astor comes with 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, Electronic Stability and Traction Control, Emergency Stop Signal, Hill Hold and Hill Descent functions. All put together, Astor uses technology intelligently, to enable a safe driving experience without compromising on performance. On most occasions, this intelligent piece of machine will have your back. Beyond that, you have to be really stupid and reckless behind the wheel to get into trouble.
The turbo engine makes for impressive driving dynamics. It is responsive to the pedal, power delivery is linear, and you wouldn’t notice any lag, whatsoever. There is enough juice on tap when there’s need for speed, and it is stealth in stop & go city traffic. The 6-speed AT is well synchronised and keeps up with the proceedings effortlessly. The S-mode (Sport) is definitely more engaging and fun, but the regular D-mode isn’t a compromise either. Switching between the 3 steering modes can make the steering feel lighter making it apt for the city crawl, or add some weight when you need absolute control on mountain roads. On the highway, the Astor looks smart & stylish, and feels quite solid cruising at high speeds.
Some bit of engine and road noise does creep into the cabin though, leaving scope for improvement on insulation. However, there is absolutely no vibration or harshness even at high speeds. At 125 km/h the vehicle felt rock solid and stable. A bit of body roll while cornering is acceptable and can’t be held against the Astor; we have experienced comparable levels with SUVs in higher segments. Braking is quick, sharp and makes you always feel in control. For an SUV with the shortest wheelbase in the category, the handling, stability and ride quality is surprisingly good. Neither do rear passengers feel any sort of discomfort on bumpy roads as the suspension seems to be purposefully calibrated for a firm ride. On the bright side, the Astor manoeuvres well for its 4.3 metre length and is a breeze to park.
The only noticeable area where it fares poorly is on fuel consumption. We returned with figures of 10.3 km/l driving mostly in-city and on the expressway, and that was a bit disappointing.
The Astor sits in a crowded space and competes against the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, Skoda Kushaq, Volkswagen Taigun, Toyota Hyryder, Nissan Kicks, and the soon to be launched Grand Vitara from Maruti Suzuki. All worthy players. But its tech orientation gives the MG Astor a head start. And it’s the tech space where car wars of the future shall be fought. While others may individually offer marginally better driving dynamics or fuel efficiency, when you look at the entire package, the MG Astor in its 1.3L 220 turbo version offers great value and cannot be ignored. It boasts of superb interiors, trims & finish, has a brilliantly appointed ultra premium cabin, offers good ride and handling with acceptable levels of driving dynamics for an urban SUV, and loads of features and tech that is ahead of the rest.
It is hard not to be seduced by the Astor. It clearly pushes the boundaries, makes competition work harder, and customers happier.
Watch the MG Astor features & highlights video here: