Words: Martin Williamson Photographs: Simon Davies/Pegasus Photographics
Brit-Cars.com Contributor, Martin Williamson, has now done over 1000 miles in his new car and reckons it’s time to dispel a few myths about the MG6.
The closure of Longbridge in 2005 meant that I and, no doubt, many other enthusiasts, had to wait with bated breath and see what NAC would do with the MG badge. Sadly, though, it seemed that NAC were merely lifting and shifting most of the Longbridge assembly lines and continuing to make cars for the Chinese market which were already considered way past their sell-by date in the UK and Europe. There was little sign of anything new coming back to the UK – apart from a mildly facelifted TF.
My disappointment lead me to the local Mazda dealership in late 2008 whereupon my much loved, owned from new 2002 MG ZT 160 V6 was exchanged for a new Mazda5 Sport diesel. A year later, the family pet, a 1998 Rover 214Sli which we’d also owned since new, was traded for a 2005 Mazda MX5 Launch Edition. It was time to experience the delights of the reputedly more reliable brands and to buy cars with sensible residuals.
However, things took a turn for the better in the Far East. SAIC Motor took over the NAC operation and suddenly it seemed new cars were on the horizon. Even better, with British input from the largely original team which had delivered the exciting Z range, I returned to watching the action with a growing sense of anticipation.
The MX5 lasted all of four months before being traded in against a new TF LE500 in April 2010. There was nothing really wrong with the MX5 as such – apart from an airbag module which needed replacing at a hefty price of £400. However, the MX5 Mk3 was the most uncomfortable car I have ever owned. Thanks to a generous part-ex offer on the MX5 from Graham Walker Limited in Chester, a pre-registered, zero miles TF LE500 was mine.
It was time to find out just how good the MG dealership and factory support would be. I can’t fault either. Graham Walker Limited has never baulked at dealing with any issues and the factory involvement was fantastic – a complete contrast to the patronising and stand-offish attitude I encountered with Mazda UK during one of my attempts to take up a matter with them.
Anyway, as a result, over the 12 months leading up to the launch of the MG6 in April this year, I have had a chance to drive the Chinese specification 6 at Goodwood last year, I have been for a personal factory tour and I had also come to appreciate that the local dealer and MG would be able to offer more than acceptable after-sales support, with affordable service rates.
Mind you, getting the better half onboard with the idea of a new MG6 was probably the biggest hurdle, but a test drive eliminated any concerns there. Once again, Graham Walker Limited offered an excellent part-exchange deal on the Mazda5 and the Regal Red MG6 GT TSE on Graham’s showroom floor was ours.
I have naturally spent an unhealthy amount of time surfing the net, reading the magazines and watching any footage of the new MG6 both prior to and since the purchase. I keep hearing various negative comments from magazine testers and, it has to be said, some of these points are matters with which I would concur. However, there are other comments which I think are wide of the mark. More to the point, I have noted a number of comments from MG enthusiasts who have seen the car.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but, strangely, many of the naysayers of the new MG6 are the same pro-Phoenix fan-base that bemoaned the naysayers of the pro-Abingdon era. That aside, it is apparent that many of the comments emanate from either the reading of the magazine tests or simply seeing the car on a stand at a show. Clearly, many have yet to drive an MG6…
Hopefully, as the owner of an MG6 which now has 1000 miles on the clock, I should be able to answer some of the criticisms.
The MG6 could easily be a Kia or a Hyundai
Well, so could many European designs now – that’s the outcome of designing for pedestrian safety. It’s often said you don’t realise how many similar cars are on the road until you buy one, then suddenly everyone seems to have gone out and bought one. Like most people, I have blinkers when it comes to modern cars because I don’t have any interest in them. That’s why many modern cars look alike to me and why I think many classic MG enthusiasts have dismissed the MG6’s looks because they’re not interested in the new era (or should that be ear?).
That said, the 6 does not do itself justice in 2D. The more I see our car the more it makes sense in 3D. The styling is a subtle blend that pulls together well as a whole but takes time to appreciate. Yes, seen alongside other modern cars, it’s inoffensive in some ways, but volume sales don’t allow for odd-balls, unless the design is retro and the badge begins with an i! Like a parent looking at their child and seeing a family resemblance to some relative, I see echoes of the ZT in its squat front end view and barrel sided doors. The raised piece above the front badge is very reminiscent of the Z range, the MGF and the MGB before it.
Personally, I think the headlamps are very unique adding to the aggressive look. Maybe I am biased, but others suggest they make the car look sleepy. I even see echoes of Mercedes-Benz styling in the way the waistline is convex, something that isn’t apparent in the photographs. I am glad they haven’t added unnecessary chrome to the front or rear – that is starting to look dated on the current Kias, Hyundais, Mazdas and Vauxhalls etc.
The MG6’s interior is low-rent
Define low-rent! What is low rent about the specification list? By that definition, many much more expensive cars are low-rent in that regard. Well, if it’s the surfaces, after a quick wipe over with some dashboard polish last weekend, I swear the interior looked a lot smarter and more up market. More to the point, if you want cheap and nasty, go take a look at a Mazda and you will find flimsy plastic panels that rattle and scratch easily – now that is low rent!
I’d agree that the front cup-holder and the rear ash-tray are cheap feeling in use and I would suggest that the rotary knob that controls the screen display could do with being more solid but, as to the rest, it’s on a par with many of the so called premium brands in which I have been recently. The leather seats, though, are not the best – these could do with being a better grade of leather and even some contrasting colour stitching to give the interior a sportier feel.
The MG6 needs more power
Is it some form of male inadequacy that seems to drive this comment? I took our 6 down a country lane yesterday and, frankly, if there had been any more power, I’d probably not have been able to use it anyway. How fast do you need to go? Cecil Kimber tagged MG as “Safety Fast”. Every MG I have owned has lived up to this core value. Actually, I reckon that MG has missed a trick in not making more of this tag line with regard to the limited top speed that ensures a substantial saving on insurance costs.
It’s not about outright, straight line acceleration – if you want that buy a jet fuel dragster. For me, it’s more than the traffic light grand prix, it’s about carrying the speed through the corners on a flat line of torque throughout the rev range and this is where the 6 excels, leaving more expensive sporty cars for dead in its wake.
MGs are about taking the back roads and enjoying the corners – the 6 more than rewards in this department. When others are braking for the corner, the 6 is lining up and powering through – it encourages the driver to revel in the feedback and to keep pushing it harder. Surely, if the 160bhp 1.8-litre turbo can offer that then only a track day warrior needs more power where it can be legally exploited in a safe environment.
The TCi-Tech engine is too harsh or too noisy
You don’t buy a guard dog and cut out its vocal chords. MG is marketed as a sporting brand so one would have thought that some noise was desirable. Sure, pile on the revs, and over 5000rpm it will not be turbine smooth but how often are you doing that in normal use? I’d agree that a V6 would be nice and smooth with a muted growl, but I don’t think the 4 pot is overly harsh. Indeed, in my book, the gruff note goes hand in hand with the sports car feel. However, the 1.8-litre K-Series was never as sweet as the smaller 1.4-litre or 1.6-litre units – I recall my Rover 75 1.8-litre was not particularly smooth when pushed through the rev range, but it’s not a fault that is there all the time.
The TCi-Tech engine is ancient and too thirsty
Yes and no. Back in 1989, the original K-Series was so far ahead of anything else that, even today, there are not many 1.4-litre engines offering 105bhp with reasonable economy. Admittedly, stretching the engine to capacities of 1.6-litres and 1.8-litres certainly brought with it the reputation for head gasket failure and only time will tell whether that fault has been addressed on SAIC Motor’s TCi-Tech or NAC’s N-Series derivatives. However, new engines are on their way, but these take time to develop and, in some ways, I am happier that the MG6 has a proven engine as opposed to an unproven new engine with a new set of problems to discover.
What about the thirst? Well, certainly, the first 1000 miles has seen an average of 30mpg from around town use with a few motorway runs making up about 250 of those 1000miles. I can understand the argument for diesels being needed. However, that said, I had a Mazda5 diesel which, unfortunately, never delivered better than 28-29mpg because it got used around town most of the time.
A diesel is on its way for the 6, but should MG have waited even longer to launch the new cars, or gone ahead and at least made their entry to the market with these early cars? The initial buyers like me are not long distance commuters or fleet buyers; economy is the least of the fleet buyers’ worries when faced with a new car from a relaunched company like MG. The MG6 seems to be selling well to the older buyer with more disposable income and a lower annual mileage.
The increased tax thanks to the higher carbon emissions is also a concern to many company car drivers but, from my perspective as a private buyer, the higher tax is more than off-set by the saving from the much lower insurance group – that would also apply to any private buyer looking at similar sized cars.
Certainly, newer engines are being offered by the mainstream competition with increasing power yet lower emissions and better quoted economy figures. This is in part due to more modern technology with lean burn but, ultimately, any existing engine design ends up a compromise between controlling emissions without adversely affecting the power, torque or the economy or vice versa. More to the point, in real world situations, the quoted figures for fuel economy are often unrealistic.
My 2.0-litre 160bhp MX5 could achieve 38mpg if kept within legal speeds on a motorway run, but it could drop to as little as 20mpg around town and with too much use of the rev range. By contrast, the TF manages at least 33mpg even in spirited driving or around town and can better 40mpg when driven sedately. This is in part due to the flatter and wider torque range of the original K-Series design – it’s more likely to achieve the quoted figures than the more modern engines. I would therefore expect the economy to improve to at least around the 33-35mpg mark in regular, all round use.
The older design will have its benefit in terms of servicing as a cheaper semi-synthetic grade of oil can be used at a lower price than the specific full synthetic oils now demanded by many manufacturers for their advanced engines.
The MG6 needs a six-speed gearbox
My favourite! Why? Is this the latest fashion that separates the new from the old? Most of these comments come from people who haven’t driven the MG6 yet – it’s just another negative to throw out to strengthen their case against the 6. The K-Series was always a ‘torquey’ engine by virtue of its under-square cylinder/stroke design – that’s in the true tradition of all British cars avoiding the road tax laws way back when! My TF LE500 pulls well from low rpm and so does the MG6, aided by the turbo, to help drag the extra 400kgs along.
However, in contrast, many petrol engines need the revs need to be brought up by down-shifting in order to make more rapid progress. On the motorway, the revs are fairly low; it seems to have quite tall gearing in fifth. Any additional cog would mean it would not have the torque to maintain a steady cruising speed and the engine would be revving even further away from its most efficient point. The spacing between the ratios seems fine with no noticeable gaps that might otherwise dictate the need for a sixth gear.
Many six-speed boxes actually have the same final drive ratio as their cheaper five-speed counterparts so what is the point? It seems to me that six-speeds are there to mask a narrow torque band rather than providing any fuel efficiency. Six-speeds were developed for diesels with their limited rev range but petrol engines shouldn’t really need them unless there is a flaw in their design. Clutch manufacturers are the only ones likely to benefit…
I appreciate that some of these points such as looks and the interior are subjective and a matter of personal opinion, including the power and economy. However, before criticising the MG6, it should be put into perspective against the cars in its price category rather than trying to judge it against more expensive German rivals. That said, I would also be the first to agree that there are areas for improvement which I hope MG will consider.
The MG6 is SAIC Motor’s first attempt at a new car for the UK and it is not, by any means, a write-off. Indeed, I believe that the MG6 bodes well for the future models to come and, given that the car as a whole is hampered by being designed for a different market, MG has done well to come up with a competitive UK specification at an affordable price.
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