MG4 XPower review: the least hot hatch-like hot hatch we've ever driven Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Subscribe to Top Gear magazine
Sign up to our Top Gear Magazine
Thursday 28th September
First Drive

MG4 XPower review: the least hot hatch-like hot hatch we've ever driven

£36,495 when new
Published: 13 Jul 2023

What’s this, an MG4 hot hatch?

That’s one way of describing it, but really it’s more of a conundrum. I don’t think I’ve ever driven a hot hatch that’s less of a hot hatch. For starters, look at it. Have you ever seen a more nondescript hot hatch? That’s a set of 18-inch wheels by the way. 18s! That’s what hot hatches wore 20 years ago.

Ah, so it’s just harking back to the days when MG used to be big?

No, not really. OK, the XPower badge has a bit of a back story, as it was first worn back in 2003 by the MG XPower SV, which was MG’s answer to a TVR: a rear-drive, two-seat coupe with a manual gearbox and a 4.6-litre Ford V8. That in itself wasn’t all MG’s own work – it had started life as the De Tomaso Bigua, before morphing into the Qvale Mangusta. It’s an interesting story – have a click on the links.

Advertisement - Page continues below

But this is something very different?

The polar opposite no less: a 4WD electric hatchback. And that’s a better way of defining it – calling it a hot hatch is a stretch.

How come? It’s a hatchback with 400bhp, it’s therefore a hot hatch.

OK, I’ll follow your lead on this to start with. What we have here is an uprated MG4, but instead of one motor on the rear axle, here we have motors on both, the front delivering 201bhp, the rear 228 – so 429bhp (435PS) combined. It weighs 1,800kg, and although that’s a lot I’m just thankful it’s less than two tonnes when little else these days seems to be.

In other words it has the same power as a Merc A45 or Audi RS3, weighs as much as one of them with a couple of people on board, and is pretty much as quick. The claimed 0-62mph is 3.8 seconds.

And how much is MG asking for this electric car that’s as fast as a £60k RS3 or A45?


Advertisement - Page continues below

It’s the bargain of the century! That’s boggo ID.3 money.

Less, actually. And MG hasn’t just lumped in an extra motor and stood well back. The rear motor is equipped with an e-diff, the Intelligent Motor Control vectors torque between all four wheels, there are stiffer anti-roll bars, tougher springs and dampers increasing stiffness by 25 per cent, sharper steering and uprated vented 345mm disc brakes all round. The claimed 62-0mph braking distance of 33.9 metres is decent for an EV.

For an EV. Why add that phrase in?

Because (gross generalisation alert) EVs are heavy and don’t tend to stop well. Most petrol hot hatches will stop about two-to-three metres shorter than that. However, most EVs I’ve tested take a metre or two more.

Let’s go back to my original point: this is a hot hatch.

I grant you it has the performance of one. In a straight line it thumps you in the kidneys pretty hard, easily hard enough to have your phone flying out of the lipped tray in front of the gear selector. It’s rear drive until the back axle works out it needs some help, but the system is pretty seamless. Under hard acceleration you can detect the fronts scrabbling and tugging a little, so it could put its power down more cleanly, but it gets the job done. Top speed is 124mph. Enough.

But that’s it for hot hatch characteristics. How are you meant to get juiced up about the XPower? Outwardly there’s very few changes over the regular car, and inwardly just a single change has been made: there’s now red stitching around the seat edges. And that’s it. That’s really it.
There must be a Sport mode or Adaptive dampers or something?
No adaptive dampers, but I grant you there is a Sport mode. It sharpens the throttle. The end. You can plunge into the menus and fiddle with steering weight, regen braking and so on, but it’s not fundamentally changing the car’s character.

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

Is it good to drive then?

If you’re still insisting this is a hot hatch, then the answer is no, emphatically not. It’s dull. There’s more texture and feel in the brake pedal (sharp initially, then pretty solid underfoot) than in the twirly steering or flat chassis. It’s not eager or enticing at all, there’s little feedback from any of the controls, no noise (not even artificial piped in stuff), and although it doesn’t do anything worrying if you pile into a corner, all it does do is struggle to cope.

OK, it’s reasonable at seven-tenths, leaning a little, but otherwise scotting cleanly around. But push harder and the claims of torque vectoring look pretty thin. There’s not much depth to the driving experience. And you tend to fall out of the seats.

But still, £36k…

Which is the same as Hyundai asks for an i30N. Which is a hundred times more exciting, more dynamic and better developed. The MG4 XPower is a hatchback that just happens to have 400bhp.

And what if you treat it like that?

Then it’s perfectly respectable. Throttle modulation is accurate, the low unsprung weight of those small wheels means they track the ground well, suspension insulation is decent, it rides reasonably well, it’s quiet and subdued.

Massive straight line pace, but no interest in going round corners? This sounds familiar…

Yep, this is the Tesla of hot hatches. It’s a surprisingly accurate descriptor to think of the MG4 XPower like that: slightly cheap, bare cabin, zero steering feel, kicks like a mule.

But also a car that doesn’t play by the normal rules. It’s the loner, on another pitch altogether, playing a game of its own invention. There’s something intrinsically interesting about that.

So who’s going to buy it?

Bingo! That’s the key question. And in a candid moment, MG themselves admitted they didn’t have a clue. It won’t sell to traditional hot hatch buyers, that much is clear. Apart from speed it won’t appeal to them on any level they work on: styling, handling, noise, brand image…

But say you’re a company user-chooser and want the tax breaks EVs still offer. Say you see this on your company car list alongside a boggo Cupra Born. 230bhp plays 430bhp. No brainer surely. Or say you’re a private buyer looking at an MG4 already (so many people are, it’s close to outselling the Ford Focus this year…), but want a bit more fizz and are happy to pay the £4,000 uplift over a Trophy Long Range? That’s who it‘ll sell to.

Matter of interest, what is the range of the XPower?

The 61.8kWh battery (useable capacity) means a 239-mile WLTP range. Not enough? In addition to the XPower, MG has also introduced a new Extended Range MG4 for exactly the same money that has a 77kWh battery for 330 miles between charges. Your choice: speed or distance.

Or just save a packet and get a boggo MG4 for £26,495. They’re offering 0 per cent APR if you put down a chunky enough deposit, with monthly payments of just £130. And it comes with a seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty. That’s the car to have. That’s the car that remains a 9/10 for TG. Taken purely as a hot hatch the XPower is a 5, but because it isn’t, it’s worth a 7. As is so often the case with cars that offer good value for money, it’s the basic versions that make most sense.

compare car finance
Powered byZuto Logo

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5