MG Hector Drive Review. Potential and promise hindered by performance and efficiency

Few new entrants to the Indian auto market have been able to crack the code to success as quickly as MG Motor India has, since its introduction almost five years ago. Back in 2019, it was a relatively obscure entity trying to make inroads in an already crowded segment dominated by household names. But what MG managed to achieve with the Hector has been truly commendable, with the SUV consistently driving the company’s growth in India.

Hector quickly set the benchmark for an enhanced, tech-enabled in-cabin experience, offering adequate comfort and space. And a wide range of variants ensured that there was a Hector for everyone’s needs. Considering that it’s been around for a few years now, the original version has aged quite well. But a mid-cycle refresh is always welcome. And that’s exactly what MG has done with the MY 2023 Hector. So far, it has been a standout success story in the Indian market; carving a niche for itself as a feature-packed and spacious SUV. With the latest iteration, MG aims to build upon its popularity by offering a refreshed design and an even richer feature list.

Earlier this month, we drove the 1.5L Petrol CVT variant of the 2023 MG Hector extensively, to find out if MG has done enough with this refresh, to stave off pressure from some of its newer competitors. And after driving more than 800 odd kilometres over a couple of weeks, here’s what we think about it.

The exterior design of the new Hector is definitely an evolution rather than a revolution, with MG retaining most of the predecessor’s structure and tweaking little design elements. While it retains its recognisable and unique design philosophy, we much prefer the more tame and understated look of the earlier iteration over this year’s look, which can come across as a bit overdone at times. The grille up front, which is still massive, now has way more chrome on it, thanks to the ‘Argyle” inspired diamond-elements, giving the Hector a more commanding and beefy presence from the front. The split-headlamp design has been retained, with the sleek DRL’s now framed by a strip of chrome running along the sides of the grille. Down the sides, the refreshed Hector looks almost identical to the outgoing model, which is a good thing, since MG has retained the sharp body lines. While we would’ve loved to see some larger wheels and updated alloys, the sloping roofline combined with the dual-tone paint job gives the Hector a stylish and premium-looking profile. The rear is where things start to feel overdone, with MG going for the seemingly-mandatory connected tail lamp design, underlined by chrome, of course. What stands out noticeably are the chrome-outlined faux exhausts – a design choice that appears rather unnecessary. We would have loved to see the Hector get a more understated makeover and evolve into a matured and sophisticated version of its earlier self. The new version is a tad too loud for our liking, though it has a lot more pizzazz. Which is great, if you are looking to announce your arrival and command some prestige around the neighbourhood.

On the inside is where the changes are most noticeable, with the new Hector continuing to play to its strengths with updated technologies and more features. The highlight of the cabin is the upgraded central infotainment screen, which now sits at a massive 14″ diagonally. Expressing a minority viewpoint, we find ourselves less enamoured with how the infotainment screen integrates into the central console and dashboard. It lacks seamless integration with the overall design, and looks as though it has been stuck as an afterthought. Moreover, the disproportionate size doesn’t really result in any added convenience.

The rest of the interior is a mix of semi-soft leatherette, piano black inserts and brushed metal accents, which come together to create a good looking but slightly generic cabin. Overall cabin quality has definitely improved from the previous generation, with soft-touch materials across most touch points. However fit & finish does remain questionable in certain places, such as the steering mounted controls and the finishing around the wireless charging pad. Our test vehicle came with a broken glovebox release, which can be possibly attributed to use of lower-grade plastic.

The beige and black combination of the cabin and the massive panoramic sunroof does wonders to lighten up the space, making the cabin feel roomier than it really is. There’s ample storage throughout the cabin, including generously sized door pockets and a decently sized stowage under the central armrest at the front. In terms of comfort, the Hector’s front seats, which are electronically adjustable and ventilated, may seem a tad too firm for some, but still manage to offer decent support. The rear is where the Hector really shines, with absolutely acres of legroom, headroom and shoulder room – even with three well-built adults on the bench. The completely flat floor also means that there’s ample foot space for everyone, and passengers can recline the seats for even greater comfort. Hector also comes in a 7-seat configuration for larger families, and has enough space for everyone’s luggage, with a 587 litre boot in the 5-seater version.

In terms of features and technology, the infotainment screen is a major upgrade in size over the previous generation’s 10.4″ unit. It has much crisper graphics, and is bright enough even on the sunniest of days. But while the screen looks good visually, it can sometimes be a pain to use on the go. Responsiveness isn’t the best, and we had to press on-screen buttons twice or thrice, causing quite a bit of distraction while driving. We also weren’t appreciative of the fact that there are no physical buttons for frequently used functions like climate control. Using the HVAC controls, for instance, necessitates taking one’s eyes off the road, as adjusting the fan speed requires multiple taps on the screen. Voice commands too, remain a perennial pain point in general. The few physical buttons which are provided, control things like traction control system and seat ventilation, and feel tactile and premium to use. There is wireless and wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although the wireless connection kept breaking down, and we eventually had to give up and switch to the wired option. We also didn’t quite enjoy the fact that HVAC controls vanish from the screen every time CarPlay is connected. Ideally it should always be visible at the bottom of the screen, considering that there is ample space available on the ultra large display. The UI design could benefit from some tweaking to enhance the user interface and make the experience more intuitive. Clearly, size isn’t everything, and we would’ve loved to see MG make better, more efficient use of the huge amount of screen space available in the vehicle. 

The updated Hector now features a digital instrument cluster. While it provides valuable information, navigating menus can be somewhat perplexing. Additionally, the screen’s low brightness and resolution contribute to a somewhat dim and gloomy ambiance.

Other features on the new Hector include automatic climate control, automatic headlamps and rain sensing wipers, a wireless charing pad and two USB-A ports, an expansive panoramic sunroof, front and rear park assist, a great 360 degree camera system, and an Infinity speaker system which doesn’t sound the best. Notably, the new Hector now comes with level 2 ADAS features, which include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, traffic jam assist, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, hydraulic brake assist, pedestrian emergency braking, and intelligent headlamp control. There’s also what MG calls “intelligent indicators”, which automatically start indicating when you turn the steering past a certain angle. While it sounds great in theory, it is little more than a gimmick in practice, since the automatic indication is deployed so late that it makes the entire process a bit redundant. It is only effective in situations when traffic is slow, and you forget to indicate your intention to make a sudden turn. Other safety features on the top of the line variant we drove, include six airbags, traction control, TPMS and ESC.

Engine choices are limited to a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel or a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol unit, and our test car came equipped with the latter. The petrol motor, which puts out 141hp and 250Nm, and is mated to an 8-step CVT automatic transmission, is neither the fastest nor the smoothest engine in its segment. Power delivery is linear once you get off the line, but the engine shows barely any pulling power past 80 km/h, and there’s also a bit of turbo lag when you put your foot down while cruising. Spirited overtakes take some planning, and putting the car into Sport mode makes just a bit of difference. What does significantly alter the drive is engaging Eco mode, resulting in a notably sedate and sluggish throttle response. To the point that the vehicle tends to struggle, especially on the highway. The CVT, in general, provides smooth shifts which are well suited for city driving, although we did find it to be quite jerky at times, in stop and go traffic. The most disappointing bit about the Hector’s drivetrain is its fuel efficiency, with the petrol powered Hector returning less than 8.0 km/l on average, despite the addition of a CVT gearbox. On the positive side, there is barely any engine noise creeping in at idle and low-medium speeds. Hector does a great job at insulating passengers from outside noise and vibrations, although tire noise makes a noticeable presence at higher speeds and uneven tarmac. The Hector’s ride quality is comfortable and well suited for day-to-day city driving, and the suspension does a good job at absorbing road undulations at low speeds. However, at higher speeds, the suspension loses its composure, causing noticeable jolts and instability when encountering bumps in the road. The ride becomes excessively bouncy at higher speeds, and the Hector’s suspension might not instill ample confidence in both the driver and passengers due to its handling. Needless to say, the Hector doesn’t love being thrown into corners, and driving dynamics are clearly skewed towards the comfort side. There’s a tonne of body roll while cornering, thanks to the soft suspension, high kerb weight and tall height. The vehicle also tends to understeer during hard cornering, and is by no means an enthusiast’s car. The steering is quite light as well, which is great for city driving and parking, but not much fun, when you’re out on twisty roads.

But that’s hardly what the Hector has been designed for. And for what it is, the Hector manages to feel adequate. Boasting a distinctive and easily identifiable exterior design, an extensive array of technology, entertainment, and safety features, plus generous cabin space, the Hector shines as a premium people mover, making it a good choice for urban families. It may not deliver the most exhilarating SUV experience, and the driving dynamics is likely to leave enthusiasts craving for more excitement. However, offering a choice between two refined and sufficiently powerful petrol and diesel engines, coupled with a diverse range of variants priced between INR 14.72 to 21.72 lacs (ex-showroom), the Hector presents good value for those seeking a secure, roomy, and comfortable premium people carrier. It is worth mentioning though, that one should carefully consider the running costs associated with the Hector – an area that could potentially raise concerns for those on the fence about their decision.

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