2021 MG Astor first look: Interior and tech impressions

·8-min read

MG Motor India is stepping into the compact crossover space with the Astor, a derivative of the popular ZS SUV it sells in European, South American, and other Asian markets. In India, the ZS is sold as an electric vehicle, and to differentiate that crossover from its internal combustion engine counterpart, it's been named Astor. This crossover will be positioned in the same space as the Creta and the Seltos, though it does offer some very unique selling propositions to the segment that have never been seen in this segment before. One of those is level 2 autonomous technology, and we have never encountered this technology before at a price point this low. I'll come back to this further ahead.

2021 MG Astor styling impressions

Apart from the name Astor, the one signature element distinguishing it from the ZS is its front grille. European versions get a honeycomb structure, but the Indian version gets what MG calls a celestial object design identity. So, you have a sunray kind of effect for the grille with the chrome slats radiating outward from the MG badge positioned in the centre of the grille. It's an attention grabber and is the singular most defining design element on this entire crossover. Talking to Carl Gotham, the Design Director for MG who operates out of their London design studios, the intent was to add an Indian flavour to the Astor, and that's where the grille change was decided on. That apart the 2021 MG Astor is well designed; I especially liked the rear wedge section that protrudes out over the rear fender. It lends a strong character to the Astor, adding volume and bringing in some classic British design heritage to the rear end of the structure. The painted callipers though need better treatment, it looks more like an after-market accessories job rather than factory finished items. These will be exclusive to the turbocharged petrol variant.

2021 MG Astor interior, features impressions

The interiors though are what clearly stand out. Step into the MG Astor's cabin and you're greeted with a premium two-tone colour theme that is quite bold and very attractive. I'm surprised no one ever thought of using such a vivid colour for their interiors before. The slightly desaturated maroon and black interior scheme is just stunning, and hats off to MG for this refreshing change in how interiors are presented. The two-tone effect will be standard across the range, so even base variants will look the same.

The maroon shade covers all the leather surfaces within the Astor. These are found on the dashboard, the centre console, the door pads and the seats. I also like the texture of the leather, it feels smooth and the exposed stitch gives it that air of sportiness one associated with more premium sports cars. Even the non-leather upholstered sections which are of the soft-touch variety feel upmarket. How well this ages, will that maroon fade, is something only time will tell.

The rest of the accoutrements look and feel very sporty as well. The steering wheel, the air-con pods, the structure of the centre console, the faux carbon-fibre shifter surround, the shape of the instrument binnacle and the feel of the control stalks behind the steering wheel, it is all very sports saloon-like and I did find it hard to associate these elements with a crossover. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the performance and dynamics feel like and if it complements the interiors.

The MG Astor is the largest crossover in the segment, it is longer, wider and taller than any of its peers. However, its wheelbase is shorter than the Creta by a few millimetres. While the length adds volume to the boot, the shorter wheelbase deducts from the occupant area. It still is a generous space, with more than enough knee room for the rear bench occupants, and just about enough room for three abreast. The one debilitating factor is that transmission tunnel that protrudes into the floor, it's not very high but significantly wide and could be a bit uncomfortable over long distances. We didn't see this in the ZS EV because it had a battery pack sitting under the floor pan, so no need for the exhaust tubing. The rear bench is a 60:40 split, and it folds completely flat though MG hasn't released what the cargo volume is as yet.

2021 MG Astor engines, specification

You can choose from one of two powertrains in the MG Astor, both petrol. This is a bit strange since MG has a diesel option in the Hector and Gloster but does not come with a diesel anywhere in the world, and I guess given the more stringent emission targets globally, adding a diesel to the mix could be a challenge. While in India this could affect sales numbers, the petrol engines are a fairly robust set of engines with the power and torque attributes on paper to not make anyone miss a diesel.

The flagship engine will be the 1.3-litre turbo petrol. It delivers 220 Nm of max torque at 3600rpm with 140PS of peak power at 5600rpm. This will be mated to a 6-speed torque converter, not a dual-clutch transmission system and you don't get paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

The second engine is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol with variable valve timing. Its peak output is rated at 110PS with 144Nm of max torque. This comes mated to a choice of either a manual or a CVT transmission. The suspension uses a combination of McPhersons at the front with a twist-beam at the rear. Disc brakes are positioned on all four corners and the 17” wheels run 215/55 section tyres from Continental. With that profile and the quality of tyre, I'm quite eager to see just what the ride quality and dynamics feel like. The Astor also gets a steering assistance selector, that allows you to select the resistance you get from the steering wheel. So if you were driving on the highway, you'd choose the highway setting and this is supposed to add a bit of weight to the steering. If you select Urban, the steering is supposed to get lighter.

2021 MG Astor level 2 ADAS

Coming to the features in the MG Astor, the biggest of them being the level 2 advanced driver assistance systems provides a reasonably high level of autonomous ability. The Astor, given all the right conditions, is almost a self-driven vehicle, requiring driver inputs only when certain executive decisions need to be made by the driver, like making a turn at an intersection. While you can't take your hands off the steering, the Astor will be able to control accelerating and braking functions like in adaptive cruise control, and to an extent even steering functions, with lane departure prevention. The Astor uses a combination of 5 radars, 1 in the front and 4 at the rear along with 6 cameras positioned all around the vehicle to aid the system. This system has two distinct use case scenarios, in stop-go traffic and on the highway. The adaptive cruise control will allow you to stay a specified distance behind the car ahead of you, accelerating when it does, or braking when it slows down. However India's chaotic traffic conditions could pose a whole new set of challenges to the Astor, and I'm curious to see just how well this works.

2021 MG Astor AI assistant

The other unique feature is the artificial intelligence-enabled digital assistant, presented in the form of a small dash-cam like object sitting on top of the dashboard. Directional microphones allow it to be used by either the driver or the passenger. Now is the ‘AI' just more marketing gibberish or does it genuinely learn and adopt as it converses with you is something to be explored. What it can do is, like Alexa, respond to any query you have as long as the source of its information can be traced back to Wikipedia or deliver jokes in a drab, humourless tone. It can also execute several functions associated with navigation, entertainment and others like opening the sunroof or the driver's side window. The entire system is a slightly more advanced form of the voice assistant we saw in the Hector Plus, and I don't know why it needed an additional AliExpress-ish object to be placed on the dashboard. It's still a bit gimmicky, and I'm hoping this is a complimentary device and MG isn't going to charge you for something that could have easily been incorporated in the 10.1-inch touchscreen.

Overall the MG Astor brings some very strong USPs to the segment, and I'm not just talking about the ADAS systems or the digital assistant, but also the quality of materials, the choice of interiors and lots more. Looking forward to the drive experience to see if engineering matters any longer, or is it all just reams of code that we will be analyzing.

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