MG Hector Plus drive review: When it takes three rows to tango on roads
MG Hector was the company's debut product in India back in 2019 and the vehicle managed to find many takers despite the several challenges staring the auto industry in the country at the time. Those challenges have only compounded in recent times with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and while social distancing is the need of the hour, MG is still backing family trips which don't leave anyone behind.
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The way out? Add a third row to the Hector and call it Hector Plus.
Launched earlier in July, the Hector Plus is the six-seater version of Hector but is that its only claim to fame or does it manage to carve out its own unique, distinct and niche identity? Read on.
Classy Cabin in a Similar Shell
First things first - only the most discerning of eyes will be able to differentiate between the Hector and Hector Plus at just one glance. The new offering from MG looks very similar to its sibling, especially from the outside. But before we stand at a distance and play 'Spot the Difference', it is imperative to step in and admire the view.
And there is much to admire indeed.
Yes, there are three rows inside the Hector Plus and MG has done well to allow for it despite the proportions of the car being similar to Hector. The seats in all three rows are done up in tan leatherette upholstery with contrasting stitching and have decent levels of cushioning. Not only is it very pleasing to the senses but is actually quite comfortable to sit in, in at least the front and middle row. The middle row is like the throne actually with two captain seats - each with its own armrest. These seats recline and can be pushed forward or backward. And while these don't move in and out like in the Carnival, there's decent level of leg space, knee room and under-thigh support. Unless you opt for the hybrid variant which packs in a battery pack under the driver's seat, the feet would be nestled quite nicely even if the seat behind the driver is pulled up.
The most important element of space and comfort in the third row is, however, more about misses than hits. MG says this row is meant more for children and young adults but even they may not prefer being commanded to the back. Getting to this row itself is a task and once there, the legs are quite cramped - assuming the middle row seats are comfortably positioned for passengers there.
That said, the vents on either sides with a dedicated fan speed control blast air with power to keep the row cool.
It is important to look at the third row, therefore, as viable option which offers versatility and not as a space that may be used by passengers regularly and especially not on long journeys. It is better to have it and not use it if possible than to not have it at all.
MG does more than make up for third row space issues with a cabin that benefits from a ginormous feel thanks to large windows and a massive panoramic sunroof. Natural light and air flows in in abundance and the car could give feels like a magic carpet, especially during long rides through winding forest and hill roads. Luggage space with all three rows up is limited at 155 litres but split and folded last-row seats open up 530 litres of space.
And while the Hector Plus may mostly be a chauffeur-driven vehicle, it does offer much to the front passengers as well. The biggest plus in the Hector Plus is the commanding view of the road with the electrically adjustable seats quite easy to place into position. The generous use of hard plastics are a bit of a let down though.
Hector Plus does borrow much from the Hector up at the front but there are also some distinct improvements like a tan and black colour theme, cup holders with ambient lighting and an improved 10.4-inch infotainment screen which is the brain of the car at work. Almost every control for features in the cabin are integrated in this screen and while a lack of physical button was a tad difficult, pressing the screen for functionalities like increasing temperature or fan speed will take some getting used to. The interface of the screen is decent but is hardly buttery smooth. Then there is the option of voice command but the polite lady responding mostly struggled to comprehend most of what we were telling her. She would almost always give up and we were left questioning our command over spoken English.
Doing the Driving Drills
Getting behind the steering wheel of the Hector Plus is quite the regal experience, as mentioned above. 'King of the Road' is the kind of rather conceited feeling that surrounds the driver as he or she puts the auto transmission unit into 'D' mode.
Let the drive begin.
Hector Plus is a really heavy car and the weight becomes amply evident when it is on the move. But it is not the kind of weight that bogs down the vehicle, rather the kind that keeps it steady and composed. It chugs along decently at moderate speeds and groans ever so slightly when pushed towards the 1800 RPM mark. Even at triple-digit speeds, the drive was reassuring but hardly enthusiastic.
The one great factor playing to Hector Plus' strength is that it does not claim to offer an enthusiastic drive but one that is mostly stable and has just about enough to not leave the driver exasperated at any point. How the car will perform when fully loaded with passengers and luggage, and on uphill climbs remains a grey area but in this review, it fared well on the shallow incline roads of Aravalli Range just outside of Gurugram. There were two passengers and two camera backpacks inside.
Another major positive in the vehicle is the steering wheel itself which is perfectly balanced and provides precise inputs to the car for purposeful cornering, or as purposeful as a car of this size can aspire for. The steering remains heartening even at high speeds.
The same cannot be said about the suspension set up at high speeds. While the car remains nicely composed at city speeds, there is a slight jump on broken roads if the Hector Plus is made to tackle them with some degree of momentum. This is most prominent, quite obviously, in the last row.
Overall though, the 1.5 turbo-petrol engine in this test review managed to fare decently well even if it appears puny on paper for a car of this size and weight. The six-speed dual clutch auto transmission unit performs to the best of its capabilities and there is also a six-speed manual transmission option. The NVH levels are controlled and the vehicle seeks to serve rather than evoke emotions.
Standing still and steady
Looks may be one of the biggest factors deciding the fate of an SUV - let's not get into whether Hector Plus is an SUV or an MPV. In this department, the latest MG product may not appear latest but still ticks off the right boxes.
The car has the same height, width and wheelbase as Hector, and a face and tail that is almost identical as well. What MG has done though is taken off the bling a bit and attempted to lend a bit of sophistication. The chrome on the front grille has been played down, the front lights have been reworked slightly and the DRLs look sharp as ever.
Hector Plus sits on 17-inch alloys but the tyre size remains visually tiny under the big frame. This has been one of the biggest visual drawbacks of the Hector and unfortunately, undermined aesthetics of Hector Plus as well.
Over at the rear, the LED strip between the tail lights have been done away with and the boot now comes with a segment-first Smart Swipe which enables the car to automatically open the boot if the keys are in close proximity and a foot is moved from side to side under rear fog lights.
On the whole, the new car does look very similar to the first MG product in India and that works considering there have been many admirers of how the Hector looks.
Sense in Safety
MG prides itself in offering a feature-loaded car and the Hector Plus does shine in safety features. The car gets six airbags, auto head lights, auto rain-sensing wipers, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree surround camera which look comprehensive on the giant vertical infotainment screen.
Hector Plus plays the safe card well. While some may question the thought process behind bringing it to the market as a new product, this SUV-MPV blend does make sense for larger families not willing to compromise on the latest features and yet, not keen to spend a bomb. At a starting introductory price of ₹13.48 lakh and going up to ₹18.53 lakh for the 2-litre diesel manual (all prices are ex showroom), the car slots itself between the Ertiga and XL6 on the one end and the Innova Crysta and the even more expensive Kia Carnival at the other.
It is also priced around ₹50,000 more for each variant over the Hector. For this though, it does offer the versatility of having three rows, better features, cleaner visual profile and a reassuring drive. It is hardly meant for the enthusiastic driver or the person stranded in the last row on highway rides. Instead, it seeks to be an all-rounder - blending a premium cabin with comfortable drive quality and contemporary features.