Another titan ready for the fight

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Jun 13, 2019
The Hector

The Hector

MG Motor’s Hector will take on the heavyweights of the compact SUV segment with its larger size and novel features. But is that enough?

MG Motor India threw open the doors of its first dealership just a couple of weeks after the official launch of its first vehicle, the Hector; and just two days before the official test drive event. If that seems like it is cutting it too fine, and plants a few seeds of doubt about how quick to respond the company’s network may be, the Hector itself is surprisingly good, in most departments.

Highlighting the brand’s British heritage and combining the potential for low cost manufacturing offered by its current Chinese ownership, MG Motor India will attempt to join the race in one of the most hotly contested segments of the car market. MG Motor officials say that the dealership network will be 120-strong by the end of July and will be ramped up to 250 outlets by September this year. Those are decent targets that’ll need to be achieved to take on competitors like the Hyundai Creta, Jeep Compass, Tata Harrier and the upcoming Kia Seltos. There is a lot of buzz surrounding the Hector; to find out if all that is justified, I headed to Coimbatore late last week to get behind its wheel and take on the winding ghat section leading up to Ooty.

Testdrive
 

Design

The Hector is a fairly large vehicle at 4,655 mm. It’s size is clear when viewed from the side, but the slightly disproportionate width makes it seem smaller when you view it straight on from the front or the rear. In fact, it is almost the same width and the identical wheelbase (2,750 mm) as the Toyota Innova Crysta; and is only slightly taller.

Despite the closely set dimensions, the Hector’s design isn’t slanted any bit in the direction of a van, instead the SUV character comes through from multiple exterior elements like the squared-off wheel arches, the faux skid plates and the vaguely familiar, Audi-like tailgate.

The front design of the Hector is dominated by the oversized grille. A line of LED DRLs in place of the regular headlamp position, chrome elements surrounding the grille and the twin projectors of the headlamps integrated into the front fender give the Hector a modern face. An airdam and oversized faux skid plate complete an aggressive face for the SUV. The rear tail lamps sport a connected look and feature LED tubes that give it a fairly sophisticated finish. Sharp creases divide the rear design into layers and the oversized diffuser with dual exhaust add some sportiness to the design, even though one exhaust is a dummy.

The top trim variant I was driving sported quite a few chrome elements. One of the features that I thought was out of place and frankly a bit of an overkill was the “Internet Inside” badge. Also, the 17-inch rims looked too puny within the large wheel arches.

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Cabin

The Hector’s cabin is large and quite welcoming with an air of modernity to it. The most striking feature, of course, is the 10.4-inch screen that nearly consumes the entire centre stack of the dashboard. This touchscreen (the largest in a passenger vehicle across segments) acts as the control centre for all key functions, Except for the base variant, all the other three variants will get this screen. The screen’s presence is so overpowering that one tends to overlook other features. But, I turn around to find a cabin that is neat and well finished, with some premium touches like the metal door handles. The top trim variants of the petrol and diesel Hectors that I drove sported leather seats, a leather-clad steering wheel and double stitched leather dashboard and door panel inserts.

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There is loads of legroom for rear passengers. The boot also offers an extremely generous 587 litres of space, making one wonder if this can be made into a slightly cramped seven-seater too with three rows of seats. In fact, the space at the rear allows the second row to recline by 10-15 degrees. There are a few segment-busting features in the Hector’s cabin like the powered tailgate and dual pane panoramic sunroof (available in top trim). The top trim diesel variant that I drove also sported electrical seat adjustments for driver and front passenger, while in the petrol hybrid it was manual adjustments for the front passenger.

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The iSMART system that is behind the controls offered by the main touchscreen brings in the novelty for the Hector. With an embedded SIM, the system offers controls for all the major functions like navigation, music system, air conditioning, etc. It also offers voice commands for activating functions like opening the sunroof, windows and navigation. In addition, using an app on your smartphone, it will be possible to connect to the car and activate functions like the AC, sunroof open/close, tailgate and door lock/unlock. It also allows the system to be offered with some preloaded entertainment, receive over-the-air updates and activate geo-fencing. Emergency and assist call functions are also built-in though they weren’t functioning at the time the test drive event was conducted last week.

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Performance

The Hector is being offered with a choice between one petrol and one diesel engine; with the option of choosing the petrol engine with a 48-volt assist Hybrid system and two transmission options — a six-speed manual and a dual-clutch automatic (non-hybrid petrol only). The 48V mild Hybrid system’s independent power was not disclosed at the time of the drive and company officials only mentioned that by offering e-boost, the system helps improve fuel economy by 12 per cent and reduce CO2 emissions by 11 per cent. The system also features engine idle start/stop and regenerative braking.

The Diesel engine in the Hector is the two-litre Fiat MultiJet engine that we are familiar with and is already being used in the Tata Harrier and the Jeep Compass. In the Hector, the 1,956 cc turbocharged engine produces a similar 170 PS of peak power and 350 Nm of peak torque. The engine comes alive with the same characteristic clatter on the outside, but the noise levels in the cabin are well contained until the needle crosses the 3,000 rpm level. The gear ratios on the six-speed manual are obviously tuned specifically for Hector. The shift quality is good, and the engine feels brisk and torque-y, even though there is a bit of turbo-lag till you cross the 1,500 rpm mark.

The 1.5-litre Petrol Hybrid version with the six-speed manual was the one offered during the test drive. The non-hybrid petrol DCT was not made available. The turbocharged and intercooled 1,451 cc engine produces 143 PS of peak power and 250 Nm of peak torque. There is no electric-only range and the parallel assist mild hybrid system’s effect on the performance is difficult to distinguish separately. But, this engine does feel more sprightly to a point where the Hector feels lighter and much quicker off the block. There is an uncharacteristic level of low-end torque available and the six-speed manual is equally good to use with crisp shifts. The engine wasn’t left breathless at any point while hustling up in the Hector and taking the tight corners and hairpins on the road to Coonoor.

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Bottom Line

What the Hector lacks in is high speed dynamics. With a slightly wallowy suspension set up that has been tuned for a cushy ride in city traffic speeds and for soaking up broken tarmac, it feels edgy over undulating tarmac and at three-digit speeds. It doesn’t help that the steering feels over-assisted and completely lacking in weight and feedback. But, city-based users will barely get to experience this weakness and may on the contrary like the over-pliant ride of the Hector.

Hector is also being offered with a range of safety equipment including six airbags and a 360-degree camera; both of which are available only in the top trim. But quite a few safety features are standard across variants and include Electronic Stability Program, traction control, hill hold control, ABS with EBD and brake assist, etc. MG Motor is also claiming that Hector is rated as the most fuel efficient vehicle in the segment, though during my drive it returned less than half the claimed mileage.

MG is making a fairly grand entry with the Hector. Despite the lack of brand recall, if it can equally leverage its British legacy and its Chinese connection, this could turn out to be a winning formula. I expect prices to be in the ₹13 lakh to ₹18 lakh range (ex-showroom).

Published on June 14, 2019
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