Why I would buy it?
- Many segment first features
- Interior quality and look
Why I would avoid it?
- No diesel option
- Limited shoulder room
Engine and Gearbox
Unlike it's closest rivals, the Astor misses out on a diesel power train. Instead you get two petrol engine and gearbox options. There's the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre motor that makes 108bhp and 144Nm and the other option is the one that we have here. It's the more powerful 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine that makes 138bhp of power and 220Nm of torque.
Now this engine can only be had with a 6-speed torque converter automatic gearbox and our first impressions of this drive-train are really solid. Now I know the Aster isn't the kind of car you take to a Formula 1 track and do hot laps in but for what is basically a family crossover it did really well. Straight line performance is strong and because peak power comes in early on in the rev range, this relatively compact 1.3-litre engine delivers good bottom end and mid range punch.
The 6-speed automatic paired to this engine isn't the most energetic gearbox but then it isn't an old school slush box either. The upshifts are fairly quick and as you go down the gears it's all seamless. It's just that it doesn't take well to spirited driving and is slow to respond to throttle inputs. You have to pre-plan everything when driving reasonably fast.
Ride and Handling
What's unique to the Astor is that it has different steering modes for feel. This is something new to the segment and as it turned out, the BIC was the perfect place to gauge how the steering weighed up and felt in every mode. Unfortunately the other downside of driving any family car at the BIC is that you can easily overcome the limits of the tires and comfort biased suspension setup. Naturally, the Astor felt soft and slow to respond when we talk of changing directions and attacking the corners but for everyday driving it makes for a reasonably quiet and comfortable family vehicle.
The steering modes on offer do change the way how it feels but it’s mainly to do with how heavy and light it gets in Dynamic and Urban respectively. It’s perhaps best to leave it in Normal because then it behaves exactly what it says on the box. Our first drive of the Astor was limited across the buttery smooth roads in and around the BIC so we couldn’t really test it for ride quality. Nevertheless, we will be having the Astor with us again soon for a road review so do check back for our comprehensive road test.
At the front, the thing that catches you attention first is the heavily chromed concave grille. It’s a single piece unit and even though it’s quite large it doesn’t have that over the top look to it and that’s a good thing if you ask us. We also like the Astor’s full LED headlights which come with boomerang shape daytime running lights in them.
Towards the side, there isn’t much to differentiate between the Astor and the ZS EV though you do get new 17-inch alloy wheels which again, appear really neat with the turbine shaped dual-tone look. The taillights mimic the ones at the front when it comes to detailing – you can see the same boomerang style main light under which you have tiny segmented light clusters which seem to have been meticulously arranged.
Now this being an MG model, there is no shortage of badges all across the body panels. In fact, the tailgate is home to a large MG logo, the Astor lettering along with ADAS and ZS badges. You also get Brit Dynamic badging on the sides for certain trim and AI Inside written on the front doors irrespective of trim levels.
Comfort, Convenience and Features
Compared to the Hector, the Astor offers a big jump in perceived quality and you will notice that as soon as you step inside this cabin. First of all, there’s the red and black theme for the dash, the seats and the door pads and it looks extremely nice in a sea of black and beige interiors. Now if you are not a fan of this sporty upholstery and would rather want something more opulent then you have two other colour options including ivory and black to choose from. Secondly, MG has used softly padded materials all across the cabin so anywhere you touch chances are you will get that nice embellished feel to all the controls and touch points.
The 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system sits neatly below the AC vents and it’s layout is far more conventional than the one found on the Hector. The touch response and UI is also better but it’s still not class leading when it comes to fluidity and how the graphics appear. In terms of connectivity you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and this system also gets an embedded Jio eSim offering a horde of in-car connectivity features. We will get to this car’s highlight that is the AI assistant and connectivity features in a bit but first lets jump in the back and see what it’s like.
Now there are hardly any issues at the back for average sized adults as there’s more than enough legroom. The backrest angle is also pretty much correct and the seat itself offers good back support. What we are not fans of here though is the high window line and also the seat lacks a little under thigh support. On the positive side, you get two USB ports here and also, the hump on the floor for the middle passenger is minimal though we wouldn’t recommend having three people here because firstly, shoulder room isn’t all that great and secondly the backrest is unusually hard and the person sitting in the middle might just end up with a backache over long journeys.
Now here's the Astor's ultimate party piece and it's the quirky looking personal AI assistant. As odd as it may sound, this active dash ornament can listen and react to a lot of voice commands that you may have for it. For instance, you can control in-car features like the sunroof by talking to it. You can also ask for updates on the latest news, weather or even tell you a few jokes if you're feeling blue. It's a very interactive feature this and it's almost bizarre seeing this tiny figure move and look towards you as it responds to your commands. In terms of features, you get a full size sunroof, climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a 7-inch digital instrument cluster, fully powered driver's seat, an electronic parking brake and lots of leather everywhere. There is some stuff missing on the Aster though. It doesn't get features like cooled seats, reae sun blinds and auto dimming rear view mirror. These are all feel good features that MG could have included especially considering how popular they are nowadays. We will give it to MG though for adding a USB port to the side of the internal rear view mirror so that one can connect their dash cam directly. That's a really neat touch.
Coming to the ADAS setup, MG claims that the Aster has Level 2 autonomous system which uses a camera and radar at the front for active safety features such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Prevention and Speed Assist. What makes the Aster stand out is the fact that it's the first mainstream car in India to use cameras as well as radar for all of these features. To give you an idea, the much bigger Gloster uses a camera-based system only for it's ADAS setup. Now it remains to be seen how well these systems work in the real world with heavy traffic, pedestrians and smaller road objects. We got a brief experience of Aster's autonomous functions at the BIC though that was in a relatively controlled environment. Let us know in the comments if you would like us to test it's autonomous capabilities in the real world. As for the rest of the safety features, You get six airbags, hill hold function, disc brakes on all four corners, a tyre pressure monitoring system, blind-spot detection, ISOFIX child seat mounts, a 360-degree camera and an electronic parking brake.
The ZS EV may not have any real rivals but with the Astor, MG India has some big names to contend with. We all know that the Hyundai Creta and the Kia Seltos are doing extremely well and now the MG Astor has to also deal with the Skoda Kushaq and the recently launched Volkswagen Taigun, both solid products in their own right.
The Astor also has a lot going for it. It looks smart, it drives well and it has all the new age trendy features considering that MG is targeting a younger set of buyers with this car. What really works in favour of the Astor is that it offers not one but several segment first genuinely usable features including ADAS and the AI assistant. The latter may seem gimmicky to some but there is real potential in it and we cannot wait to see how this tech develops and evolves. So what does MG India have to do now? Well, they have to back up what we think is a solid product with competitive prices. Anything above the Creta or the Seltos would be a difficult proposition to sell and with that in mind, we are expecting the Astor to come in between Rs 9 lakh and Rs 16 lakh depending on the variant.
Pictures by Kapil Angane