There had been confirmed warnings for a long time that a Chinese invasion was underway and the Indians better be prepared for it. We saw it in the consumer electronics industry especially in the smartphone sector, where a number of the leading players are now Chinese. For cars, it’s now starting with the Hector and for what looks like a very intense battle, they seem to be carrying the right artillery. Don’t worry though, because as a customer, you would only benefit from it.
Here’s the headline – the Hector is a very big, comfortable car, with loads of equipment, decent engines, at a very tempting price. Now MG or Morris Garages may sound British, but it is only branded that way for a better connect with the Indian customers. The Hector is in fact the Baojun 530 sold by SAIC Motors in China. SAIC Motors who owns the MG brand, is the biggest car manufacturer in China – kind of like what Maruti is to India – only a lot bigger. China is a very big automotive market where the annual production exceeds that of the European Union or that of the United States and Japan combined.
The Hector is a handsome car when viewed from the front. The front grill is massive and imposing and there are slim DRLs extending to its edges. The headlamps are placed further lower in the bumper, as is the trend with most modern designs, and have beautiful detailing inside them. There are chrome details around and it makes the car look expensive. It is when you get to the sides that you wish they had done a better job. The wheels though they are 17 inchers look too small for the rest of the car. There isn’t much you can do about the smaller wheel arches either, and those make it look more MUV than SUV. The rear quarter glass and windscreen are pinched to make them look sleeker. The tail light that run across the full width of the car and rear valance on the bumper’s diffuser area are overdone details. The fit and finish leaves a lot of improvement with misfit panels, uneven panel gaps etc all visible across the car. Whether you like the styling or not, there is no escaping the sheer size of the Hector which measures 4655mm in length, 1835mm in width and standing 1760mm tall.
You will be pleasantly surprised by the interiors that are built like those of modern upmarket SUVs, once you get inside a Hector. There is a massive 10.4 inch touch screen taking centre stage here like in a Tesla or a Volvo. If you haven’t already noticed the ‘Internet Inside’ badging on the left fender (on the tail gate for the diesel version), this is what it is all about. You can greet the car, by saying “Hello MG” and it will respond to your commands. You can ask it to play the music, set the sat-nav or the temperature or open/close the driver side window or sunroof. It will even play videos off gaana and other apps. You can also control some of the car’s functions via a mobile phone, locate the car or check the stats from any part of the world. The touchscreen is a bit laggy and we prefer dedicated controls for everyday functions.
The Hector gets Cruise Control, 360 degree camera, Android Auto, Apple Car Play, a full panoramic roof, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers, heated ORVMs, keyless entry, tyre pressure monitoring, electric tail gate, mood lighting, six airbags, ESP, ABS etc. It is a long list, but surprisingly wireless charging isn’t present although the USBs are of the fast charging variety. Both front seats are electrically adjustable, but the passenger seat on the petrol hybrid variant isn’t, because of the presence of the battery pack underneath. Cabin quality in general is okay, but the plastics are somewhat mediocre. Some of the trim are ill fitting and the quality of artificial leather is quite basic. The meter console has yet another large screen integrated into it, but the reverse sweeping tachometer with its cramped redline markings till 8000rpm look distasteful, especially when you consider that both engines don’t rev that much.
The front seats are large and spacious but the lower back support isn’t well judged. You get good visibility and the ergonomics are okay. But the wide rear seat is the place to be in, in the Hector. It is one of the most comfortable rear seat experiences at that price point, with the best in class legroom, headroom and a reclinable back rest adding to the overall comfort. The boot space is very good too at 587 litres and the rear seats fold 60:40 for additional practicality.
Powering the Hector is a 1.5 litre turbo petrol and a 2.0 litre diesel engine. The Hector also comes in an automatic variant for the petrol, which we are yet to sample. The petrol engine makes 143bhp and 250Nm and uses a 48V system for Hybrid. MG claims the starter motor, which doubles up as the charger for the battery pack, provides as much as 20Nm to the powertrain when needed. The engine is very refined and easy to drive. It has a light clutch and there is a hint of turbo lag before it starts pulling properly. Once on the move, drivability is decent although there is a spike around 3800rpm. It is when we got to the steep inclines of Coonoor where we did the drive that the engine felt strained, needing a few extra downshifts to keep it going.
Interestingly, the diesel engine in the Hector is also the one that powers its competitors – the Compass and the Harrier. It has 170bhp and 350Nm like the Compass, but has been tuned to be more progressive. Yes, there is some turbo lag, but the sudden burst of power you feel in the Compass is not there. Like the Compass, it has a snappy clutch and you will stall it a few times initially. It is also on the heavier side and the tall gearing means you have to downshift more often than needed in the inclines too. It is a good relaxed cruiser on the highway and once on the move is very refined too.
The Hector isn’t a car you enjoy driving fast. The steering is vague, there is a huge amount of body roll and the narrow 215/60 R17 tyres run out of grip rather easily. The car understeers when pushed and it is easy to lose composure when you encounter a mid-corner bump. The steering is light enough for city use. The brakes which are discs all around, have good stopping power. Where it excels though, is the ride quality which when cruising is excellent. The Hector is best enjoyed when driven slowly, soaking up the scenery especially from the back seat where you take advantage of the full panoramic sunroof.
With ex.showroom prices ranging around Rs.12.18 to 16.88 lakhs, the Hector is fantastic value for money. It is spacious, comfortable, feature packed and has good engines to choose from. It also comes with 5 years unlimited kilometre warranty and MG claims the ownership costs will be the lowest in its class. They have also introduced attractive maintenance packages to take care of the car for five years. The value proposition as with any Chinese product is huge and that alone can make most customers gloss over most of the pitfalls. If the success of the Chinese smartphones are anything to go by, this is only the start.