IF you’re in the market for a well-specified, spacious family SUV that costs less than an entry-level Ford Focus, then the £23,495 MG HS seems to have it all sewn-up.

Okay, the Dacia Duster is cheaper but it’s also smaller and will feel like a compromise-too-far when you’re sat in it. The Citroen C5 Aircross is more Crossover than full SUV, while the Ford Fiesta Active is . . . well, a Fiesta that’s been slightly raised on its suspension.

Peugeot have the 2008, which again is smaller than the MG HS and is most certainly a Crossover vehicle, rather than a full-blown SUV.

Vauxhall have the Crossland. But that starts at just under £28,000, while the Mokka isn’t far behind, price-wise. And it certainly isn’t spacious.

And this was my train of thought, pretty much all of the time I spent with the MG HS – “How is it so cheap?”.

Admittedly, I was driving the range-topping Trophy version with a 7-speed DCT gearbox – but that still comes in at under £28,000 and has all the bells and whistles you could hope for.

It may not be available with all-wheel-drive but the MG HS looks the part – a true SUV with unapologetically raised suspension, roof rails and a road presence that is all Sports Utility Vehicle and not just a jacked-up family hatch.

If you’re looking for a greener option, then a Plug-in Hybrid is available, starting from a smidge over £31,000. However, for maximum bang per buck, you’ll need to stick with the non-hybrid models.

Available in just two specs – SE or Trophy – and with either a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed DCT gearbox, both versions get the same 1.5 turbocharged petrol engine which produces 162PS.

The entry-level SE is well equipped with 18’’ diamond cut alloys, bi-function LED headlights, air conditioning, satellite navigation, a rear parking camera with sensors, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry and a leather steering wheel.

Opt for the Trophy and you get heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, rear privacy glass and an upgraded 6-speaker audio system.

All models come with MG Pilot Advanced Driver Assistance System which includes Active Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning, Blind-Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Intelligent High-Beam Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control.

If you go for the DCT gearbox you also get Traffic Jam Assist which enables the car to automatically follow the car in front at speeds below 35 mph, automatically steering, braking and accelerating within the same lane. If the vehicle in front comes to a complete stop, so will the MG, and if it moves away within a short period, the MG will do the same.

However, the manual version of the MG HS is the one you should go for – barring any legal or physical reasons. I found the DCT gearbox to be hugely disappointing in an overall package that was otherwise impressive.

The autobox was fine once up to speed but getting there was more of a drama than it should have been. Pulling out of junctions could easily see the revs rise wildly while not much movement occurred, then suddenly you are jerked forward while the gearbox immediately searched for the next gear.

This happened in the car’s “Normal” mode. There is also a “Sport” and “Super Sport” mode, either of which made the problem worse. Trying to be feather-light on the accelerator didn’t appear to help, to the point where you just hung on for dear life when pulling out of junctions.

Other than the DCT issues, the HS drove very well indeed. It isn’t a quick SUV – the 0-62mph sprint takes just under 10 seconds – but it doesn’t feel slow, either. Progress is steady enough and the MG feels well-planted at all times.

The 18-inch alloys don’t quite fill the wheel arches as some may like, but ride comfort isn’t compromised by large, low-profile tyres, either. The MG HS rides our poorly maintained roads very well and takes some of the stress out of negotiating the “pot-hole slalom” we too often find ourselves in.

Although not as soft-riding as the Citroen C5 Aircross, I found the MG HS to be a good compromise between ride comfort and agility. It doesn’t roll very much around corners but still manages to ride out most imperfections very well. I don’t think anyone would find the ride quality of the MG HS disappointing if you have realistic expectations for a high-riding, 2-ton family wagon. It does the job, and very nicely, too.

On the motorway, noise levels are perfectly acceptable and similar to any rivals. There is some wind noise from around the large wing mirrors but generally the MG HS is a vehicle you’d be happy to use for longer journeys as well as the school run.

Steering feel is decent and while not as sharp as say, the more expensive Mazda CX-5, the MG does a decent job of entertaining the driver on twistier roads. I expect the manual would be more so.

Would it benefit from all-wheel-drive? Probably not, since most MG HS models will never see a muddy field. I was surprised to see that there was no “Snow” or “Off-Road” setting in the selectable modes, although strangely, there is a “Hill Descent” button.

While the driving experience was surprisingly good – DCT issues aside – the biggest surprise came when first climbing into the MG HS Trophy. Again, you have to ask yourself the question: “How is this so cheap?” On first looking around the cabin it doesn’t look bargain-basement at all. It looks and feels quite premium with leather-effect upholstery, red stitching everywhere and a 10.1-inch infotainment screen sitting alongside a fully digital dash.

You find yourself looking closer for the inevitable compromises. The brushed-aluminium effect trim? No, that looks fine. Hard plastics on the dash? No, it’s all stitched, squishy plumpness that wouldn’t look out of place in a German car. Much like the side air vents which look as if they’re stolen from a Mercedes-Benz.

The leather, multi-function steering wheel is satisfyingly chunky with a flattish bottom and a bright red Super Sport button in reach of your right thumb. The leather-look front seats are suitably sporty with large bolsters and a chunky-looking one-piece back.

The heated seats have plenty of adjustment; the driver’s seat gets 7-way electric adjustment with lumbar support, while the aluminium pedals add a touch of sportiness.

I did eventually find a compromise in the quality of the infotainment screen. It looks dated and isn’t particularly pleasant to use. But we’re splitting hairs here as it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available, so it can be made to look and perform just as you want it to.

Heating is compromised by having to poke at the screen to adjust thetemperature, although you can bring up the relevant screen easily enough, courtesy of the row of buttons just below the central air vents.

Rear passengers get plenty of headroom in the HS, although the high floor does mean those over 6ft may have their knees slightly higher than in some rivals. Again, this is splitting hairs and you’ll find the MG’s width and height provides plenty of room for a family of four, or even five.

Boot space is good, but not class-leading, at 463 litres with the rear seats up. Drop the rear seats and you get a cavernous 1,454 litres.

I warmed to the MG HS Trophy the more I drove it – I was even getting used to the “snatchy” DCT gearbox, although I maintain the manual is the better (and cheaper) option.

The sound system was decent too, so no big compromise there. The driving position is very good and visibility is good all-round. The MG HS also gets a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating and even the warranty is uncompromising – 7 years or 80,000 miles.

We had some horrendous weather with strong winds and heavy rain, during our time with the MG, but it performed very well both on the dark, flooded rural roads and out on the dual-carriageways and motorway.

The MG HS never once felt like a compromised SUV and the extra height was reassuring when pushing on through some badly flooded roads which I certainly wouldn’t have attempted in a non-SUV and would have thought twice about in a Crossover vehicle.

A very capable and impressive SUV at an almost too-good-to-be-true price and probably worth the full 5-stars with the manual gearbox.

AT A GLANCE:   
MG HS Trophy DCT
OTR Price: from £27,495
Engine: 1.5 GDI 4-cylinder Petrol
Power: 162 PS 
Transmission: Automatic
0-62mph: 9.9 secs   
Top Speed: 118 mph   
Combined Economy: 36.6 mpg

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