2019 MG Extender first drive review

2019 MG Extender first drive review

MG wants some action in Thailand’s crucial pickup market. Can its Extender cut the mustard?

The Thai pickup arena isn’t for the faint-hearted. Makers wanting to succeed need to face a slew of challenges ranging from everything financial to technical.

Don’t mention about beating Isuzu or Toyota, two heavyweights that have a 70% combined share in a market selling half-a-million units annually. Many people merely bought the D-Max or Hilux because of their strong brand credentials.

Taking a stab at lower-tier players like those from Chevrolet, Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Nissan isn’t that easy either for they all have the scale to profitably produce their respective models.

That’s why Tata stopped making the Xenon pickup in Thailand recently after it received a tepid reception from buyers over the past decade. Monthly sales were recorded in only hundreds rather than thousands.

Therefore, pundits might expect MG to receive a similar fate as the Indian brand with its new Extender. After all, this British brand isn’t a big player in the Thai passenger car market yet thanks to some lacklustre products.

However, things could turn out differently for MG due to its strong financial backing from CP, a Thai conglomerate giant, and SAIC, an automaker owned by the Chinese government. 

As for after-sales network, MG claims more than 130 places around Thailand. Apparently, the Extender’s foundation is in place, so what’s left for justification is probably its product substance and reliability, the latter aspect that will be answered over the years in the hands of customers.

After a brief drive in the Extender at its global launch in Khao Yai this month, it’s safe to say that some honing still needs to be done to really please Thai pickup users. The only model available for test was the range-topper with double-cab body, automatic transmission and 4WD running gear.

Take its appearance, for a start. The Extender has a clear identity of the MG brand with that front design. But it arguably lacks the macho looks of the Ford Ranger, the one many pickup enthusiasts tend to place on top when it comes to styling.

Sure, it’s quite emotional, but let’s not forget that MG is starting its foray with just the recreational extra- and double-cab bodies, not the regular-cab aimed at farmers and delivery services, as such.

The Extender’s interior is more likeable, though, and looks to be on par with its competition. Things you touch often like the steering wheel, gear lever, console functions and door handles are good in quality.

And despite being mostly trimmed with hard plastics, some soft-top materials can be found in this top-of-the-line model going for 1.029 million baht. 

Like in the Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton, this particular Extender comes with some driver-assist features to make up for that price. Which is probably why the more attractive option might be the second-from-top version featuring high-riding body, auto gearbox and rear-wheel drive – all for 150k less.

The most important selling point in the Extender is possibly no other than cabin space and comfort. This double-cab has plenty of space for rear occupants, not to mention the reasonably cushy seats with sufficiently angled backrests virtually matching those in sedans.

Another highlight is the presence of all-round disc brakes. Step on it from near the legal limit and stopping distances feel assuredly short. Yes, such modern stoppers deserve a place in workhorses like these.

While it’s still too early to evaluate how the Extender rides on Thai roads, there’s some room for improvement in terms of handling. Even during low-speed turns, the Extender’s steering feels aloof by not being direct enough.

Speaking of that, the Extender’s rack is hydraulic and not of the electric type, which SAIC has already developed for the Maxus T70 sold elsewhere.

The Extender could have also had more performance derived from the newly-developed 2.0-litre diesel-turbo engine that’s mated to a six-speed auto (manual is also available in lower priced 2WD models).

With modest outputs of 161hp and 375Nm, the Extender will probably never feel as quick as most of its competitors in the 4x4 double-cab front of pickups. 

However, torque is dished up quite early from below 2,000rpm making tractability at low to medium speeds good, be it on- or off-road. Making it more powerful might not be an issue, although that could harm the already mediocre fuel consumption claimed by its maker.

First impressions tell us that the Extender has the right hardware ranging from that decently sized body and appropriately downsized engine. However, some fine-tuning of this and that should help make the Extender more competitive which it really isn’t at the moment.

But given that Chinese carmakers are now quick in adopting new technologies and putting them into their latest vehicles as soon as possible (updates can now take place after 18 months against the current three-year norm applied by others), it shouldn’t be years before we see a better Extender in the Thai market, if MG is generous enough to care.

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