First, it was the internet inside with Hector and now it’s AI inside with Astor. Clearly, MG has gravitated completely on the tech side of things. It worked for them with the Hector, and it did a chartbuster and put the brand firmly on Indian roads. In tech, two things which are baffling and overwhelming at the same time are AI & Blockchain, and Astor comes with Blockchain-protected vehicle digital passport by KoineArth, which basically means the whole lifecycle of the car with ownership, service etc will be blockchain. Ideally, tech cities like Hyderabad or Bangalore should have been the review playground but instead, we were invited on the BIC race track, and it was perplexing, it takes guts to invite auto journos to an F1 grade track and give them an SUV to play with, which will be hammered, cornered, maxed out and opinions will be formed. And it did for the Astor.
Exterior & Design
The Astor design is a leaf from the ZS EV – but more modern. The London Eye DRLs are gone and instead, we have the new boomerang DRLs and nine crystal elements in the headlamp cluster giving it a premium appeal. The grill will again refresh your memories of the ZS but is chrome studded. So if you love chrome than you won’t complain and MG calls it a celestial grille with sharper bumpers and black elements to add more depth. The Diamond Cut alloy wheels measuring 17-inches looks sharp and you can’t miss the red brake callipers which increase its sportiness quotient significantly. Moving to the rear which is a busy one with plenty of badging and chrome with faux exhaust tips and a blacked-out skid plate. Sweeping lines, flowy cuts and a streamlined silhouette give it a premium feel but I would like to control alt & delete a few badges.
SIZE – Tallest, widest & longest boy in the segment.
It looks larger in person than it appears in pictures. This is the longest, widest and tallest SUV in its segment beating the Creta /Seltos and the Taigun/ Kushaq. These dimensions; Length – 4323 mm, Width -1809 mm, Height -1650mm coupled with a shorter wheelbase of 2585 mm which is also the shortest in its segment changes the entire driving dynamics and makes the handling and cornering deft. The wheelbase has a grand effect on the weight distribution of any vehicle, and its dimensions are very important to balance and steering. In high-performance vehicles like the RS7 Sportback which I drove on the same track just a week prior – a longer wheelbase gives it more stability at higher speeds. A short wheelbase vehicle is usually able to corner faster but maybe less aerodynamic, that’s why on Indian roads the shorter wheelbase of Astor will be an advantage.
Stepping inside the cabin can be done in three ways, traditional key fob, smartphone and Superman-like stunt where you break the windows and land on the driver’s seat. Let’s ignore the third part and do it the human way, once inside the cabin a simple dashboard layout with double stitching and soft-touch materials and the red dual tone sangria leather upholstery makes the cabin pop. If you have any doubt of a cheapness, let me confirm it doesn’t look cheap by any means and feels rather opulent. Seats are very comfortable and the cabin insulation is also top-notch, even on the race track without music you feel cabin noise insulated. The 10.1 inch HD touchscreen and 17.78 embedded LCD SCREEN along with the personal AI assistant which also has a screen which can wave to you and will have eyes on you is all part of the package. Soft touch materials everywhere, visible stitching making it look hand crafted, even the screens are high quality and bits like the chrome and buttons have a solid feel.Then there is an absolutely mammoth sunroof which covers 90% of the roof area and can be operated through the voice commands and the one-touch button as well.
DRIVING & ENGINE OPTIONS
Astor will be coming in two engine options for now – the Brit Dynamic 220 TURBO petrol engine with a 6-speed AT delivering 220Nm of torque and 140ps of power. And the other – VTi Tech petrol engine with a manual transmission & an 8-speed CVT, delivering 144Nm of torque and 110ps of power and I drove the former. They might launch the diesel trim in future and that might get even more exciting. The power delivery is seamless but beyond the 3000 RPM mark the engine has a bit of boomy noise and you really can’t accelerate all the way to the top at a speed you would want,but in terms of cornering and handling it’s simply exceptional. Of course you won’t be buying this to drive on a race track and for city driving it will be agile with good ground clearance.The front MacPherson Strut suspension is paired well with the chassis , though we really had no uneven surface to experience the road bumps. On the Track I could only reach a top speed of 155km on a straight line before the turning and just 7 days back with the Audi RS 7 Sportback, the needle passed the 225 km mark. But overall it’s a fun city car to drive.
TECH, ADAS & AI BOT
You can control the car completely with the smartphone, that’s not something new these days,but you can do keyless entry and through the bluetooth, lock unlock, horn, geo fence, pre-cool and host of such features through the smartphone. But just like you don’t use more than 70% of your smartphone features, I doubt in day-to-day life you will use that with the Astor, but it’s always good to know that you have that feature. Astor has definitely raised the bar in its segment when it comes to tech and going forward can become the industry benchmark to match. The autonomous level 2 features are a big jump ahead of its rivals, we could not test all the 14 features on offer including the adaptive cruise control and front collision prevention which is going to be really helpful for long highway drives. Apart from that lane mitigation, lane departure, pedestrian emergency braking etc. Rear Drive Assist with Blind Spot Detection. Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert work flawlessly.
Astor also packs in 27 standard safety features like ESP, TCS and HDC. Among its host of comfort, convenience and safety features include 6 airbags, 6-way power-adjustable driver seats, electric parking brake, heated ORVM, rain-sensing wiper, PM 2.5 filter, panoramic sky roof, rear AC vent and front and rear armrest,10.1-inch HD infotainment system for the cinematic experience and full digital cluster with 17.78 -inch embedded LCD screen.
The AI BOT is slow to respond and at times can lag. With the “Hello Astor” command, it can shut the sunroof, adjust the HVAC settings. Still, more importantly, it can also connect you to the outside world with live score updates, Wikipedia information and even jokes when you are bored sitting in traffic. It also has two receptors which means it tilts itself towards the driver or passenger as they speak. It all adds a personal touch, and in some ways, you will never get lonely in the Astor. The other equipment updates include a 360-degree camera, a jio e-sim opens the door for 80+ internet features including park+.
Designed by American firm Star Design, the AI assistant system is a neat feature to have and works on the same principle as Alexa, it is a fresh take on in-car assistance. Not everyone will like having those digital eyes constantly staring, constantly listening, is a bit, well, creepy but can be turned off, if it becomes too much to handle.
It’s the Jaguar for the masses, and it’s also British and techy at the same time. Astor with ADAS and AI is definitely setting new standards in the industry and does its job well. It’s MG’s answer to the Korean and German duos and yes, they have certainly raised the bar.