Australia's cheapest plug-in hybrid comes in the form of the MG HS Plus EV, and while it surprises in some regards, it could do with a few small tweaks that would make a big difference.

Although ambiguous in name, the 2022 MG HS Plus EV is a car that serves a fairly simple purpose here in Australia – popularising plug-in hybrids. Yes, that’s what the ‘Plus EV’ moniker actually means, confusing as it sounds, but in a market that’s remained averse to PHEVs – they account for just 0.6 percent of all vehicles sold in Australia in 2022 so far – this cut-price plug-in hybrid could be the car that gets more intrigued by the technology.

Two HS Plus EV variants are offered by MG – the base Excite priced at $49,690 drive-away and the Essence tested here which asks for $52,690 drive-away. That still makes it the cheapest PHEV available right now – it’s cheaper than the equivalent Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross PHEV or Ford Escape PHEV when on-road costs are factored in – but it should be noted that back at the start of this year you’d have paid $4700 less for the same car.

Also making that price sting is the standard petrol-powered HS Essence costing just $39,990 drive-away, while the 2.0-litre all-wheel drive Essence X is still only $42,990 – nearly $10k less. However, with hefty price rises running rampant across the new car market, MG is hardly the only brand you’ll see this issue arising with.

Regardless, the MG HS Plus EV is still the cheapest PHEV in the country, and if you opt for this top-spec Essence model a particularly well-specified one by anyone’s standards. It’s a smart-looking car with LED headlights and taillights and a set of 18-inch alloy wheels, it’s a fortunate far cry from the tat MG made in the early 2000s while it was still under British ownership. It also shows how far the brand has come in its decade under Chinese ownership as part of SAIC Motor.

The interior is similarly smart at first glance – there’s plenty of soft touch materials all throughout the cabin and red contrast stitching on its well-bolstered front bucket seats to give a strong initial impression. It’s quite an airy cabin, too, thanks to the standard panoramic sunroof.

Where it shows some corner-cutting, however, is with the tech. I do rather like the big 12.3-inch instrument cluster ahead of the driver as the display is very clear and has a serious plethora of information – you can nerd out with everything from amperage to electric motor RPM. However, when you first start it up and flick through the various bits of information it offers, there’s some noticeable lag.

Mind you, it’s nothing compared to the lag which the 10.1-inch infotainment screen in the middle of the cockpit displays. The main operating system itself – which looks rather dated – is about as slow as the instrument cluster, but the sat nav is painfully slow, going through three loading screens before presenting you with the map, by which point 17 seconds (yes, I broke out the stopwatch) has gone by.

Mercifully, you can opt to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for maps instead, although neither operates wirelessly. You won’t be able to avoid using the main system itself, though, as the climate controls (including even the heated seats or air recirculation) and a number of other vehicle settings are operated through it as well. It’s also worth noting that if you’re a fan of any DAB+ stations, the HS lacks digital radio.

So, the tech may not be perfect, but you can’t say anything you’d expect to see is missing from it, with keyless entry and push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, ambient interior lighting, and a powered tailgate all standard. It even has some gimmicks like puddle lamps that project the MG crest onto the ground at night.

It also has plenty of driver aids as part of the ‘MG Pilot’ safety suite, with adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane-keep assist with steering assist all standard. However, the MG HS Plus EV hasn’t been rated by ANCAP, although the standard petrol versions of the HS were awarded a five-star score against 2019 standards.

As far as practicality goes, it’s a very roomy cabin with plenty of headroom and legroom for all occupants. The boot measures in at 451 litres in the Plus EV – only a 12-litre penalty compared to the standard MG HS – although the battery under the boot floor does mean there’s only a puncture repair kit in place of a spare wheel.

Under the bonnet is where things get really interesting – at the very least on paper – as the HS Plus EV is being touted as the most powerful MG ever. Certainly, it is the most powerful under SAIC’s ownership, but the ZT 260 and XPower SV from the brand’s past appear to have been overlooked. Regardless, its outputs of 189kW and 370Nm are impressive, as is its claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.9 seconds and fuel consumption of just 1.7L/100km.

To break down how it attempts to reach such numbers, the drivetrain consists of a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 119kW and 250Nm, along with an electric motor that adds 90kW and 230Nm, with it drawing power from a 16.6kWh battery pack that gives it a claimed 63km of pure-electric driving. The combined power of the two is channeled through a 10-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels alone.

Certainly, when you get it on song, it feels as quick as MG’s claims would have you believe. The engine may not be the most refined – it sounds a bit coarse, you can clearly feel as the turbo gets on boost, and likewise you can tell when the variable valve timing switches to the more aggressive cam profile – but when combined with the torque of the electric motor, it really gets going.

The hard part, however, is actually gaining access to the power that’s there, hiding away at the top-end. This comes down to the 10-speed transmission which displays all the hesitance of a novice skydiver when asked to upshift, while being as stubborn as a spoiled child when you want it to downshift. Was there a way to manually shift it, this wouldn’t be a problem, but as there isn’t, you can only instruct it via the throttle pedal.

Fortunately, during daily driving duties, this issue is a lot less noticeable, although most of the time you’ll simply want to hit the ‘EV’ button next to the shifter and lock it to electric power only. With it relying on the electric motor, it is utterly smooth and torquey as you’d expect. Consider this a very good sign for MG’s electric-only models like the recently updated ZS EV.

Although the electric-only range isn’t that much – expect more like 55km to a full charge – it’s more than enough to get from home to work and back without burning any fuel. It’s not quite enough to offset the thirst of the petrol engine all together, though, as I could only manage 4.4L/100km over 530km of mixed driving – well over the claim, but still enough to save families some money compared with non-hybrid rivals at a time when the price of fuel is continuing to rise.

Beyond the drivetrain, the HS is a fine thing to drive, with decent ride quality in most conditions although it feels a bit busy on poorer road surfaces. Likewise, the steering communicates fairly well what the front wheels are doing, but there’s perhaps a touch too much resistance in comparison to the smooth and light steering of most rivals.

And really, that summarises the HS rather well. Everything here is fine and inoffensive, but all around lacking the polish you’d get from something like a Mazda CX-5 or Toyota RAV4. With that said, the MG HS Plus EV certainly has the edge on its closest rival, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross PHEV, as the Mitsi can’t match it for interior material quality, performance, and price. I’d wager the smarter, more restrained looks of the HS are a good thing as well.

The bones of a good car are here, and MG’s progression since it was taken over by SAIC is absolutely clear as it’s starting to become a real challenger against the mainstream brands we’re used to given the price point it can compete at. If that way of challenging other brands is by being bold enough to offer the country’s cheapest PHEV, in turn bringing this sort of tech to more Australians, then I say bring it on. Hopefully the company continues taking feedback to heart so it can really compete in our dense and diverse market.

2022 MG HS Plus EV Essence Drive-Away Price: $52,690
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 7/10
    Ride & Handling - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Tech & Features - 7/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Genuinely powerful petrol-electric drivetrain, interior is roomy and feels higher-quality than you’d expect, still the cheapest PHEV in the country
Cons: Laggy infotainment system, clunky automatic transmission, can’t quite match its fuel efficiency claims

In a nutshell: The bones of a good car are to be found in the MG HS Plus EV, but it’s lacking the sort of polish you’d find from the likes of Mazda or Toyota in this class. However, an updated infotainment system and some tweaking of the driveline are simple fixes that would make a world of difference. Regardless, it’s pretty impressive for the country’s cheapest plug-in hybrid.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by MG Motor Australia for 10 days with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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