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MG4 XPower review – the price-to-performance king

MG’s 429bhp electric hatch is blindingly quick, but it doesn’t live up to its promise as an involving driver’s car

Evo rating
Price
from £36,495
  • Price-to-performance ratio
  • Does its best work in a straight line

MG has big plans under the ownership of Chinese firm SAIC, and we're not just talking about run-of-the-mill crossovers and EVs. With its halo sports car – the Cyberster – and the revival of the XPower badge, new-age MG is aiming to tap into the hearts, minds and wallets of enthusiasts.

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It may not have the same ring to it as AMG or RS, but XPower is a name with real provenance. Delve into the evo archive and the last XPower model we featured was the wild V8-engined SV-R (tested by Rowan Atkinson, no less), and before that the badge appeared on BTCC cars and Le Mans racers. This time, it’s being applied to the MG4 – the electric Volkswagen ID.3-rivalling hatch which has already impressed us in standard guise. 

The base MG4 is great value at £26,995, and the XPower’s price-to-performance ratio is outstanding. For £36,495 – or £795 more than a basic ID.3 – you get a 429bhp dual electric motor setup in place of the standard car’s single rear unit, which is good for a 0-62mph time of 3.8sec. This makes it among the most accelerative hot hatches available, and we can’t think of anything more powerful for less money. Drawing from the same 64kWh battery as Long Range MG4s, the XPower claims to achieve 239 miles from a charge (we saw more like 160-180 miles, albeit in bitterly cold conditions). 

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Pay close attention and there is some evidence of cost-cutting. There are no major bodywork changes in the transition to XPower spec (fine by us), but MG has applied fake orange caliper covers to give the illusion of bigger brakes (not so much). The interior, meanwhile, is some way off the quality of an ID.3’s and especially that of a Cupra Born

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It’s not a like-for-like comparison given that those two offer less than half the power for the same money, but some elements – like the tiny font on the instrument display, clunky infotainment UI and tacky steering-wheel buttons – don’t feel like they belong in a £36k car. 

But this is a hot hatch, and if MG has invested where it counts – on the chassis and powertrain – then the cheap-feeling cabin is a compromise we can live with. The XPower combines the base car’s 228bhp rear motor with a 201bhp unit at the front to deliver that 429bhp headline figure, and it really does deliver hammer-blow performance. Select Sport mode for the powertrain and the MG whips forward with real energy when you get on the accelerator – the calibration is a little too sensitive, if anything – and it feels like a bonafide hyper-hatch in pure performance terms. 

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Sadly, the XPower doesn’t raise the game in other areas to quite the same level. Despite comprehensive changes to the chassis, including stiffer springs and roll bars, retuned dampers and an electronic locking differential, it really struggled in the slippery winter conditions of our test – conditions in which you'd ordinarily expect a four-wheel-drive car with torque vectoring to shine. 

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When the road bucks and dives, the MG can become scrappy and hard to read. In the damp the balance can shift dramatically within the space of one corner – turn in hard on the brakes and the car pivots in with some mobility at the rear, but if you get on the power to carry that attitude through to the exit, the front tyres spin up and immediately slide wide of your intended trajectory, sending ripples of torque steer through the steering. In this sense it feels a lot like a powerful front-wheel-drive car.

On the subject of the steering, ignore Sport mode at all costs. The gloopy, inconsistent weight build-up saps confidence and the responses are far cleaner in Normal or Comfort. The MG4 isn't a natural communicator no matter which setting you choose, though, so you end up driving it in a reactive manner, making constant small adjustments without being fully in tune with what it's doing. This is amplified as you push harder and the mass – all 1800kg of it – comes into play, squeezing the tyres into the tarmac and requiring a gentle touch through direction changes. The dampers are passive and, in truth, the setup feels quite crude – there’s a constant patter over poor surfaces and the car needs a half-beat to settle after hitting mid-corner bumps. 

Ironically, the 429bhp XPower is happier when you aren’t using all of its performance. Knock the pace back and it’s easier to settle into the car, easing through corners and surging along straights without putting it under strain. This does beg the question of whether you actually need the XPower version, particularly when you consider that the SE Long Range model gets an extra 42 miles from a charge for £7000 less. Driving the XPower hard is an exercise in patience and, ultimately, frustration, which makes that price premium hard to justify.

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