My motoring week : AROnline and the MG6 GT
Okay, it’s been a busy week at AROnline Towers but, apart from our hosting issue, it’s all been good. It started on Monday, as weeks do, with a flying visit to Longbridge to pick up an MG6 GT from the inner sanctum. Well, I say inner sanctum, more like the car park outside the iconic building that more seasoned staff at MG Birmingham call ‘the Kremlin’. I’d rattled up there in my Bangernomics special Volkswagen Golf TDI Mk4 and was certainly looking for a more effortless – and comfortable – drive home.
MG’s PR man Doug Wallace handed over the key and smiled as he told me to enjoy the car. Some might see that as a challenge or dare (especially following Autocar‘s damning recent Road Test) but, as I’d already come away from the first drive having been impressed with the 6’s chassis, I was reasonably confident that I would do just that.
That said, a day’s drive on a carefully pre-planned launch route is one thing – running a car day-to-day in real life situations is something else and that’s why I’ve decided to throw away my road tester’s hat (well, motoring writer’s), and treat the car as I would if it was mine. It certainly looks good in metallic Granite Grey, riding on 18in alloys.
I do wish MG would put some weight into the car key. It’s a transponder that you push directly into the dash – it’s far too light and feels nasty when you start-up. MG, please put some quality into it!
Initial impressions are pretty favourable. The K-Series (I mean TCI Tech) engine is smooth at idle and well insulated and the driving position’s a little on the low side. That’s emphasised by the high shoulder line and dark interior. Visibility isn’t looking too good either, with fat B-posts, a high dash and slit-like view behind through the rear view mirror. The leather steering wheel is nice; the gearknob less so. Oh, and that handbrake!
Underway, it’s pretty good. The light throttle and flywheel combination makes smooth getaways quite difficult – you either rev it up like a granny or hop away searching for the right amount of gas. After the numb solidity of the Golf, it’s a different world. Heading for the M6, it feels solid and planted on the road, thumping satisfactorily over the ruts and potholes in a sporting, but not crashy manner. Engine refinement still feels good as I’m getting re-acquainted – and I rapidly came to the conclusion that it’s the nicest ‘cooking’ K-Series installation yet…
On the motorway, it still feels refined, humming along at 70mph with around 2500 revs on the tacho. Actually, at the UK limit, the wind rustle around the door tops and road roar are the dominant noise sources – even then it’s not that much at all, making it all rather hushed. The B-road thrash of the launch had me saying nice things about the 6’s poise in the corners and it’s just as competent on the motorway. That’s a good job too, as it’s probable that most customer MG6s will spend their time plying three-laners.
The cruise control is easy to use, which is also good. Its overall hush, light throttle and build up of turbo boost conspire to have you well over the limit without realising. Switching on the digital speedo with automated limit warning (via GPS) helps but not as much as using the cruise control.
Time to cover some serious miles. A trip to London followed by a run that’s the long way round backed up my initial impressions of excellent motorway refinement. At UK speeds, it’s hushed and the MG6’s firm damping and relatively soft springing work well here. There’s half a tank showing, so I stop for a fill-up – and it takes £45 to get it brimmed. Imagine my disappointment when the computed range shows 390 miles. I guess I’m too used to long-legged diesels now.
I arrive in London and meet up with some friends and keen to canvass their opinions of the new 6. They’re all car people and clearly care about MG’s heritage. The car’s size comes as a surprise to them and talk of the 6 being a Focus rival is soon scuppered – even when I say that the entry level price of the 6 is £15,000. There are some negative comments about the car’s bob-tailed look and overall anonymity, but I think that, like all new cars, it’s just going to take time…
Underway, the comments from the back seat are largely okay – that’s impressive considering how lumpy London’s roads are. ‘Firm and controlled’, seems to be the concensus although ‘crashy’ is used once the road gets particularly rough. One owns a Skoda Octavia and I ask the inevitable question. ‘Different league’, is his reply when it comes to quality.
The fuel level’s dropping rapidly on the way home as I start playing on A- and B-roads. It’s here that the first disappointments come – the TCI Tech sounds strained at revs and acceleration isn’t as strong as you’d hope with 160bhp to play with. However, this is a solid – and heavy – car. The computer’s saying 32.6mpg but that includes running through the city.
I stand by my comments about the handling – on typically cambered and pock-marked British B-roads, the 6 puts in a fine performance. Sight-lines are destroyed by that fat A-pillar and bulky door mirror, but I guess in time you get used to it. Bobbing my head side to side to compensate does feel silly, though…
It’s my birthday and I’ve promised myself some relaxation time so, I pop over to the home of fellow AROnline fan, computer enthusiast, and tech-journalist, Richard Kilpatrick. He’s 40 miles from me and, once again, it’s a nice mix of M-way and A/B-road driving. I’m finding that, while I’m getting used to the sensitive throttle pedal, it’s a car you leave in gear and waft along the twisties. Rowing through the gears isn’t as rewarding as I remember, but ye gads, this thing really grips well and is poised. The steering is pretty communicative and well-weighted.
I’m there to look over Richard’s MGF and, as an ex- and current-Citroen owner (as well as someone who’s owned 136 cars), his opinions are important. For one, he actually buys new cars and is an enthusiastic driver, as well as someone who’s sympathetic to the UK car industry. He could buy this car.
Like me, he’s impressed by the paint finish and general external quality and tight shutlines. However, the visibility is an issue for Richard, too, and he soon picks up on some of the cheap-feeling plastics used in places inside. ‘These will be chafing and squeaking in six months,’ he says. Hmm. The gadgets are something he’s interested in and he’s impressed by the ergonomics.
‘The sat-nav looks like it’s using a Garmin skin,’ he comments. As the owner of a Nuvi, I can confirm that (male voice, ugh, I prefer being told where to go by a woman)… and that it won’t find the Isle of Man. It also doesn’t do Postcode searches…
Finally, he comes up with something that gets me thinking. Why hasn’t MG shown a Police version? Get the forces on-side, and the company would sell most of its 2000 cars-per-year allocation to the boys in blue. Good point, well made.
Thursday and Friday
Days in the Octane office and chance to line-up the 6 alongside the car MG would like this car to be considered alongside, the Skoda Octavia. The Czech product has the MG licked in terms of interior quality, but I’m not so sure when it comes to its paint finish. However, as for styling, sorry, but I think the car from Longbridge has it…
More opinions are canvassed – this time from the ladies. One, who owns an MG TF just says, ‘it’s awful’ while another loves it. Divisive cars are a good thing, aren’t they?
More motorway driving and, by this time, I’m now impressed. As a tool for Ronnie Rep, the 6 really should do the business. It feels happy living in the overtaking lane and can easily keep pace with firmly driven TDIs – if only it had the range and fuel consumption. I’m really getting used to the ergonomics and control set now – and it all works really well. In the miles that have passed, I’ve not fallen prey to backache or general discomfort and, at a rest stop, I fill up the boot with shopping. Again I’m impressed, because it’s a great size and well shaped. Reps will love this.
By this time, the average fuel consumption is showing 34.0mpg. Perhaps I am being harsh – but I am used to diesels and I suspect that most of its potential customers are.
Final thoughts – the end of the week
With the shine of the new car launch out of the way and the sheer relief of Longbridge’s return to new car production blowing over, it’s time to start being more analytical about the MG6. After a week of treating this car as my own – and as the typical 2011 UK owner would – I can conclude that it’s good. For the first effort by a fledgling manufacturer, it’s an astonishing achievement, and one that bodes well for the future of MG.
When I rolled back into Longbridge with it, I was asked – by one of the Engineers who helped dial-in this car – ‘go on, do you love it?’ That’s a tough one to answer, because it’s not the sort of car I need in my life. However, from the perspective of a potential buyer and what they can get for the same money, it’s more than good enough. My initial criticisms, which now look a little harsh, were softened, but not eradicated as my week with the car came to an end.
The lack of visibility is shameful, parking camera or not; and the interior’s rough edges and petrol-ish fuel consumption are still there but, other than that, the MG6 goes about what it needs to quietly and efficiently. I could happily live with it, would not feel short-changed and would enjoy great motorway performance, as well as the odd B-road thrash.
However, as for the long game, that’s down to the dealers – if they can deliver a feel-good factor (that works so well for Skoda as well as former bed-fellows, Jaguar), the residuals are acceptable (an issue which we’re hoping MG will address in the near future), and the diesel version comes on stream soon, then it’s a car that I’d happily place on my drive.
MG, it’s over to you…