2023 MG 5 Essence Turbo Review
Price & Equipment:6.5
Performance & Economy:8
Ride & Handling:7.5
Interior & Practicality:7.5
Service & Warranty:9
What we like:
  • A new sedan in 2023 is great
  • Well priced and relatively well equipped
  • Smooth dual-clutch auto
What we don't like:
  • Zero-star ANCAP rating for now
  • Touchscreen could be more intuitive
  • Short service intervals
7.7DiscoverAuto Rating:

In a world seemingly obsessed with SUVs, where they take up a significant portion of new car sales each month, it seems like car makers will be done with regular sedans, hatchbacks and wagons by the end of this decade. It’s a further blow to enthusiasts and those looking for a cheap car who have had to deal with the world switching to SUVs, but there is some hope from a company we didn’t expect. Is the 2023 MG 5 Essence a start of a small sedan revolution in Australia? We hope so, so let’s find out.

2023 MG 5 Essence front

While Europeans can buy an electric MG 5 wagon, MG Motor Australia has just launched the same nameplate as a new sedan, which will be refreshing to those tired of constant new SUV launches. Priced comfortably under $30,000 – even in top-spec form – is great news to those looking for a cheap car, and almost takes us back to an era of how new cars used to be priced. It’s not a perfect product, but we think the MG 5 will sell well locally – read on to find out why.

How much does the 2023 MG 5 Essence cost?

For now, there are just two MG 5 models on sale in Australia: the entry-level Vibe and the top-spec Essence. The Vibe has a 1.5-litre petrol engine and the Essence adds a turbo to that – both aren’t available with any options except colour, and both are only available in automatic sedan form.

Standard equipment for the top-spec Essence ($28,990 drive away) tested here includes:

  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Dusk-sensing automatic LED headlights
  • Front LED daytime running lights and indicators
  • Sunroof
  • Intermittent wipers
  • Eco driving mode
  • Heated and auto-folding exterior mirrors
  • Keyless entry with push button start
  • Rear privacy glass
  • Air-conditioning with a central rear air vent
  • Synthetic leather steering wheel
  • Electric parking brake with auto hold
  • Synthetic leather upholstery
  • Six-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat
  • Digital driver’s display
  • 10-inch touchscreen
  • Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • AM/FM radio
  • Six-speaker sound system
  • 3x USB-A ports

The MG 5 range was recently rated at zero stars by ANCAP with scores of 37 per cent for adult occupant protection, 58 per cent for child occupancy protection, 42 per cent for vulnerable road user protection and 13 per cent for safety assist. The MG 5 range is due to receive a safety upgrade in 2024 with more active safety equipment and structural upgrades. Safety equipment includes:

  • Six airbags (dual front, side and curtain)
  • Auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection
  • Forward collision warning
  • 360-degree camera
  • Rear parking sensors

Available colours on the MG 5 Essence:

  • Dover White
  • Royal Yellow
  • Misty Grey Metallic ($700)
  • Brixton Blue Metallic ($700)
  • Black Pearl Metallic (on on our test car – $700)
  • Diamond Red Metallic ($700)

There aren’t many rivals to the MG 5 (especially at Vibe level), but the Kia Cerato S ($28,290 drive away) and Hyundai i30 sedan ($31,990 drive away) will no doubt be cross-shopped with the 5. Other small sedan options include the entry-level Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport (around $33,000 drive away), the Mazda2 Pure (around $29,000 drive away) and Mazda3 Pure (around $34,500 drive away).

Comparing the MG 5 to both the Cerato and i30 shows off its biggest weakness: its lack of active safety equipment. While the MG 5 range includes auto emergency braking and the Essence further adds a 360-degree camera, both its South Korean rivals offer lane keeping assistance with lane trace assist, driver attention monitoring, auto high beam and pedestrian monitoring for their AEB systems. Add the safety pack to the base Cerato S ($29,690 drive away) and features like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, rear exit warning and cyclist detection for the AEB get added.

While the MG 5 has a larger touchscreen, synthetic leather trim, a 360-degree camera, a sunroof and LED headlights over the Cerato S, and we’re sure that some buyers will be happy with the level of safety kit offered on the MG 5 range, we think it should have at least the option of a safety package with more kit – or, as standard equipment as that would make it even better value for money.

What’s under the bonnet of the 2023 MG 5 Essence?

Under the bonnet of the 2023 MG 5 Essence is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that’s also used in the larger HS mid-size SUV. In the 5, it makes 119kW of power (at 5,600rpm) and 250Nm of torque between 3,000rpm and 4,000rpm. The turbocharged 5 Essence is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, while it’s only available in front-wheel drive form. For those wanting more pep from their small sedan, the Essence variant is much more powerful than the 84kW Vibe base model.

As we’ve seen in the larger HS, the MG 5’s engine is a willing performer – though the 227kg weight loss from the HS to the 5 (1,293kg versus 1,520kg tare) definitely helps it feel more spritely once the turbo is on boil. Interestingly, the engine in the 5 is tuned to give maximum torque from 3,000 to 4,000rpm and because of that, it can feel laggy from a standstill. Yet in the HS, the same peak torque lasts from a wider 1,700rpm to 4,400rpm, which makes it feel peppier from lower revs but at the expense of smoothness. Otherwise, it’s a relatively refined engine and provides more than enough pep for most buyers.

The only transmission available on the Essence variant of the MG 5 range is a seven-speed dual-clutch unit, which was surprisingly refined in our experience. Dual-clutch transmissions are typically quick shifting and are generally rated lower for fuel consumption than regular automatic transmission but their low-speed behaviour can be unpredictable, and that’s not specific to any one brand either. But this transmission is generally smooth and quite refined, even at lower speeds.

The 2023 MG 5 Essence is rated at a claimed 5.9L/100km on the combined fuel consumption cycle with CO2 emissions rated at 149g/km and we achieved 9.2L/100km in mostly urban testing but our test car had under 1,000km on the clock, so it was still quite new. The MG 5 can on 91RON regular unleaded fuel and it features a 50-litre fuel tank.

Ride & Handling: 7.5/10

Behind the wheel of the 2023 MG 5 Essence is a totally fine experience and it drives well. Like its i30 and Cerato competitors, the 2023 MG 5 uses a normal MacPherson front/torsion beam rear suspension set up and around town, it’s perfectly comfortable. The initial ride isn’t too soft, though the secondary ride – or how the car deals with bumps after the initial impact – is a bit soft and can take a bit to settle to larger impacts. The steering offers reasonable feel and three stages of weighting, while it’s also a reasonably fun car to chuck around as well but the Cerato offers a more fun and comfortable driving experience.

Elsewhere in the driving experience is not quite as positive – the road noise levels are high at highway speeds (like a Cerato) and the lack of safety equipment isn’t great. We found that the auto emergency braking (AEB) system to be too sensitive as well, even at its most relaxed setting. The 360-degree camera is quite grainy as well, though we suppose it’s better to have one than not at all. The visibility, however, is good all around and overall, it’s a pretty easy car to drive.

What’s the interior of the 2023 MG 5 Essence like?

The interior of the 2023 MG 5 Essence is a generally nice place to be – the layout is modern, it’s spacious and it’s comfortable as well, but there are devils in the detail. While it’s generally well built, the only soft touch materials are located on the centre and door armrests – the dashboard, centre console and doors are otherwise made from hard and scratchy plastics. That’s not uncommon at this price point, but given that the MG 5’s ZS and ZST cousins feature lots of faux leather trim on their insides, we expected a bit more and adding said trim to the side of the centre console and dashboard facia would do a lot.

2023 MG 5 Essence cabin

Thankfully, the storage inside the MG 5 is reasonable with big door bins, a big bin underneath the centre armrest, a reasonable glovebox and a nicely sized tray underneath the centre console where we wish a wireless phone charger was located. Just above it are the two front USB-A ports, as well as a 12V socket.

Both the Vibe and Essence trims in the MG 5 range feature synthetic leather upholstery as standard, and while the seats look good and are reasonably supportive, they get hot because it doesn’t breathe as well as regular leather or cloth. The driver’s chair is six-way electrically adjustable, though the steering wheel only adjusts up and down, and not in and out. Thankfully, the driving position is otherwise solid – much better than the ZS and ZST twins.

Centre of the MG 5’s interior is a 10-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as AM/FM radio – but no digital radio, live services or inbuilt satellite navigation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t use the same ‘iSmart’ software as the newer MG 4 in Australia. It’s fine for most users – especially those using smartphone mirroring – but the small icons and grainy screen quality can be distracting at speed.

Annoyingly, there’s no automatic climate control either and the HVAC controls are located in the screen. Adjusting the temperature and fan control can be frustrating thanks to the small buttons for them – there are some physical shortcut buttons below the screen, but only to turn the system on or off and to access the air conditioning menu. We’d prefer one button to handle the fan speed and one to control the temperature (the important functions, especially on a hot day), as that would make it far easier to use.

The rear seat of the MG 5 Essence is a reasonably spacious place to spend time. Leg- and kneeroom for six-footers is good, though the sloping roofline eats into headroom a bit. There is a reasonable amount of features on offer too, with door bins, map pockets, a single USB-A charging port, some storage and – importantly for those who will use the 5 as a family or ride share car – a central air vent, though there’s no centre armrest with cupholders and while the rear seatback folds, it’s only as one and not split (unlike both the Cerato and i30). There are two ISOFIX points, as well as three top-tether points, for child seats.

The boot of the MG 5 Essence measures 401-litres with the seats up – versus 502L for the Cerato and 474L for the i30 – and it does look bigger in person because it’s quite deep. Underneath the floor is a space saver spare, and there’s also a bright LED light, but that’s it for features with no hooks or nets to secure more fragile items.

What warranty covers the 2023 MG 5 Essence?

Like other new MG products, the 2023 MG 5 Essence is covered by a seven-year/unlimited km warranty with seven years of roadside assistance. The 5 must be serviced once every 10,000km or every year, whichever comes first and five years/50,000km of servicing costs $1,831 ($366 per year).

2023 MG 5 Essence badge

Kia also covers its new cars with a seven-year/unlimited km of warranty, with up to eight years in total of roadside assistance – Hyundai’s warranty is a lesser five-year coverage but its roadside assistance is extended by 12 months with each dealer scheduled service. Both the Cerato and i30 have longer 15,000km/12-month service intervals and five years/75,000km of servicing costs $2,022 ($404 per service) and the same for the i30 costs $1,495 ($299 per service).

Should I buy a 2023 MG 5 Essence?

Overall, the 2023 MG 5 Essence is an interesting and worthy addition to the Australian new car market. We always applaud the addition of cheaper new cars – especially when new cars have increased price dramatically over the past few years – and in a lot of ways, the MG 5 is cheap and cheerful. Those looking for a cheap new car can have their cake and eat it too in most ways – it’s well priced, offers a spacious cabin, uses a punchy and efficient turbo petrol engine, has a strong aftersales package. Best of all – to us, at least – it’s not another SUV.

2023 MG 5 Essence rear

Of course, it’s not perfect – the zero star ANCAP safety score is a big red flag for us, while the lack of safety equipment isn’t great, the interior is largely full of hard plastics, the ride could be better, the turbo lag is annoying and the central touchscreen could offer more features and be more intuitive to use. These flaws aside, the the MG 5 is a welcome addition to the new car market – one we hope that shows car makers that many new car buyers still want sedans.

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