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MG Astor First Drive Review: Standing Out In Style


Does the MG Astor bring anything different to the table over its ultra-competitive rivals?

There is no question about it; the MG Astor has its work cut out. With the Hector, MG was successful, albeit in a segment with few rivals. The Astor, on the other hand, is entering a segment filled with strong players, and clearly, there is a lot at stake. While the Skoda Kushaq and Hyundai Creta aim at comfort and luxury, the VW Taigun and Kia Seltos will suffice for the enthusiast. So, where does the Astor fit in the scheme of things? How does it plan to stand out from its outstanding rivals? We briefly got to drive the Astor in and around the Buddh International Circuit, and here is what we understood:  

Looks to impress

Compared to its bigger brother, the Hector, the Astor comes across as simple and well-proportioned, not shouty and in-your-face. Its character lines are clean and rounded, but it does have some elements that grab your attention. The grille, for example, with its ‘Celestial’ explosion-like pattern, is beautifully finished and adds flair to the front. Even the detailed LED headlamps and tail lamps lend a subtle sophistication.

Unlike the Hector and other rivals like the Taigun, you won't find an abundance of chrome. Instead, you get plenty of gloss black inserts, which lend the Astor a more mature appearance. Then there are the sharply cut dual-tone 17-inch alloys and the sporty-looking red brake calipers. When it comes to size, the Astor is taller, wider, and longer than its competition, making it look more macho from most angles.

Dimensions

Car

MG Astor

Hyundai Creta

Kia Seltos

Skoda Kushaq

VW Taigun

Dimensions

Length

4323mm

4300mm

4315mm

4221mm

4221mm

Width

1809mm

1790mm

1800mm

1760mm

1760mm

Height

1650mm

1635mm

1620mm

1612mm

1612mm

Wheelbase

2585mm

2610mm

2610mm

2651mm

2651mm

What the design lacks, though, is a bit of that ‘SUV’ quotient, especially in its profile. The rounded-off edges and lack of muscle make the Astor look more like a crossover than a traditional SUV.

Premium insides

If you like the exterior design of the Astor, then you might just fall in love with the interiors! The dash looks understated and all too European as it has a nice flow to it. The touchscreen infotainment system is placed high enough, and the beautifully made toggle switches for the climate control system are easy to use and add flair to the cabin.  

However, the Astor stands out in quality. It is the first compact SUV to get a soft-touch dash top, instantly giving it an upmarket feeling. As most of the buttons and switches are borrowed from the Volkswagen parts bin (same parts supplier) it is hard to find cheap bits here. The most obvious elements shared are the buttons on the steering wheel and power window switches, the sunroof controls, and the circular side vents. Apart from that, the dual-tone red and black looks premium, and the leather quality of the dash and seats is really good. The only thing we found a little cheap were the stalks, which look a bit tacky and out of place in an otherwise high-quality cabin. Some might also complain about the hard plastics on the door pads and lower half of the dash, but that isn’t a bummer as all the Astor’s rivals offer the same. 

Space and practicality

The Astor impresses with both front and rear knee room. The front seats are comfy and supportive, and finding the ideal driving position is easy, thanks to the 6-way powered driver seat and height-adjustable steering. Although you don't get front seat ventilation, you get perforated leather upholstery, which should help when the car is parked in the sun.  

Rear seats are comfy too, but the bench is placed a bit low, and even the seat base is short, resulting in inadequate under thigh support. Even the cabin feels a bit narrow, especially at the back. This means the Astor is a comfortable car only for four people.

In terms of storage, you get big door pockets up front, a decent-sized glove box, centre armrest storage and a place to keep your mobile phone. Although you don’t get a wireless phone charger, there are dedicated four USB ports for all four occupants. There’s a centre armrest even at the back with two cup holders, seatback pockets, and decent-sized door pockets. 

The boot, like the cabin, feels a bit narrow and shallow. So to carry big items, you might have to leave the parcel shelf at home. Is it better or worse than the competition? Stay tuned to Zigwheels, we will be doing a comparison review real soon!

Well loaded (but with some misses)

The Astor comes with a big 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The high-resolution screen has a good touch response, but you can experience a slight lag in some scenarios. For example, when you are trying to quickly navigate through different menus (or the screen’s displaying the climate control details), it does stutter a bit. The sound system, too, isn’t that great, especially when you compare it to rivals like the Creta, which has a branded and much better-sounding audio setup. 

However, there is not much to complain about the digital driver's display. The functions are well laid out and easy to scroll through. Even the ADAS functions are displayed neatly, and they’re easy to understand. The features list of the Astor also includes a 360-degree camera, a panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, connected car tech features, and a lot more. Being an MG, it also comes with some unique segment-first features.

The first one is the most talked about, your friend, the AI Robot. It works in the same manner as any voice assistant, but MG has tried to give it a more humanised touch with the blinking eyes, the robot’s head turning towards you when you talk, and it emoting with emojis depending on what you say. In-car functions like opening the sunroof, driver's window, and climate control work seamlessly. It also recognises Hindi commands, which is a bonus. But internet-dependent features, for example, when you ask it to tell you a joke or the latest weather updates, can take some time to be executed (depending on the signal strength).

Surprisingly for an MG, the list of missing features compared to the competition is quite long. You don't get drive modes, wireless phone charger, ventilated seats, telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel, rear sunshade, and ambient mood lighting.

When it comes to safety, the Astor’s top variant is well-loaded. You get six airbags, ESP, ISOFIX child seat anchorage, traction control system, hill hold assist, hill descent control, and TPMS. MG hasn’t cut corners here. The Astor is also the first car in the segment to come with Level 2 ADAS. We will talk in detail about this later in the review.

Punchy drive

Let's now talk about driving. The Astor comes with two petrol engine options. The first is 1.5-litre naturally aspirated (mated to a 5-speed manual and CVT automatic options), making 110PS. If you chase performance, you can go for the 1.3-litre turbo petrol (paired with a 6-speed torque converter) making 140PS. We got to drive the turbo petrol. 

Engine

1.5-litre petrol

1.3-litre turbo-petrol

Power

110PS @ 6000rpm

140PS @ 5600rpm

Torque

144Nm @ 4400rpm

220Nm @ 3600rpm

Transmission

5-speed MT / CVT

6-speed AT

We drove the Astor mainly on the circuit, and after two hot laps around the Buddh’s technical layout, we came away quite surprised. Obviously, it’s not a sports car, but we weren't expecting it to be as much fun as it turned out to be. The turbo-petrol motor has good pulling power, and thanks to its free-revving nature, we managed to cross 160kmph down the long 1km straight with ease. The gearbox does feel a bit slow -- both in terms of upshifts and downshifts -- especially out on the racetrack. But on the road, it might prove to be quick enough. What this gearbox does well, however, is it masks this motor's initial lag, which is typical of most turbo-petrol engines. So, even while exiting slow-second-gear corners of the circuit, the engine and gearbox combine ended up pulling away quite strongly and smoothly. 

We also managed to strap on our Vbox timing gear to see how the Astor turbo would perform against the clock. It completed the 0-100kmph sprint in 10.76s, which is slower than the more powerful Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, and Skoda Kushaq. This difference will also be down to the quicker shift times of the dual-clutch transmissions its rivals offer. 

Now coming to the handling bit. Obviously, it's a tall car with the suspension tuned for the road. So it does roll quite a bit when you hustle it into corners. But while doing so, it feels safe and predictable. In fact, to a certain extent, it feels quite sporty, thanks to the direct steering that has a quick ratio off-centre, because of which the Astor feels quite agile. Even the chassis is well-tuned as you don’t experience much understeer even when you attack corners. 

Since we drove the Astor on a smooth surface, we cannot comment on how the Astor will tackle our usual potholed roads. So ride quality is something we will focus on when we drive it next on the road.

ADAS magic! 

The stand-out amenity in the Astor is, of course, the ADAS. We got to experience features like lane keeping functions, adaptive cruise control, and speed assist systems on the roads surrounding the circuit. And we came away quite impressed. Here is what we felt:

Lane Keep Function

This has three modes. First up is the lane departure warning, which alerts you with a vibration or sound should you be wavering from your lane. Next is lane departure prevention, which will steer the car automatically if you cross the markings. And finally, lane keeping assist, which will steer the Astor automatically and help you stay centred in your lane. All three modes functioned exactly the way we expected, and there were no nasty surprises. However, please remember that the speed needs to be more than 60kmph and the roads properly marked for the lane keeping functions to operate properly.

Adaptive Cruise Control

Our favourite feature, though, is adaptive cruise control. Here, you set a speed, and the car will automatically brake and accelerate depending on the traffic. This takes away a lot of stress from long-distance driving. You can also determine the distance you wish to maintain from the car in front of you, perfect for our ever-crowded highways.  

Speed Assist System 

The Speed Assist System is helpful as well. With the help of cameras, it can monitor traffic signs and detect that particular road’s speed limit to automatically slow the car down in ‘intelligent’ mode. You can also set your own speed limit in ‘manual’ mode. 

All ADAS features we tested were well-calibrated and will go a long way in making your drive enjoyable and safe. 

Verdict

We had already seen the Astor before, but what we didn’t know was how the drive would feel. And after today’s brief stint with the compact SUV, we can safely say it has got all the basics right. For example, the engine is not the most powerful in its class, but it’s smooth and punchy enough. The Astor’s biggest trump card, though, is the interior quality. In fact, MG has done such a good job that it might just set a new segment benchmark. 

However, there are some areas where the Astor could have been better. The back seat, for example, lacks enough under thigh support, and the narrow cabin means the car will be comfortable for only four people. It also misses out on some feel-good features compared to its competitors. But what makes up for the misses is the ADAS system. Going by our short-lived experience, it proved to be well-calibrated and promises to make your everyday drive much safer and convenient. 

The only question that remains is over the Astor’s ride comfort, and more importantly, the price. And going by MG's track record, we do expect them to price this car competitively.

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