First Drive : MG6
It’s the first new MG hot-hatch since the Zed cars burst onto the scene in 2001 in an attempt to sex-up the frumpy Rover range. We drive the MG6 and come away with the distinct impression that the Anglo-Chinese hot-hatch is a step in the right direction.
Words: Nigel Garton Pictures: car.autohome.com.cn Date: 24 Dec 2009
The new beginning
IT’S been a long time coming and has been subjected to far too much pre-launch scooping and speculation for a car that’s yet (officially) to see the light of day in the UK. But then the MG6’s back story is hardly a conventional one. The octagon that the MG6 carries still generates passionate responses in many car enthusiasts and, although its owners are in China, MG would like its future customers to view its latest car as a substantially Anglo-Chinese effort – combining the best engineering nous of the British with the clever and effective production methods of the Chinese. One thing is for sure – SAIC Motor has lofty ambitions for its latest mid-market car.
Following hard on the heels of the Roewe 550, the MG6 is a fresh all-new entry into the rapidly growing hot-hatch sector. Admittedly, it’s not going to find much direct competition on the conservative Chinese car market, where comfort and passenger room count for more than an impressive B-road performance, but times are changing in the world’s fastest growing car market, and increasingly young and style-conscious buyers are looking for cars that separate them from the rest of the herd.
SAIC Motor’s latest baby is therefore being targeted as a very British alternative, playing the Brit-chic card for all it’s worth. But here’s the good news – what works for a growing and vibrant sector in its adopted home market also goes straight to the heart of British MG enthusiasts and, because of that, SAIC Motor is taking a calculated gamble by building the new car in the UK as well as China, knowing full well that an onslaught on the European market will be far more viable from a base in the West Midlands, rather than 10,000 miles to the East.
As promising as the MG6 looks on paper, it is going to have to be good to meet its maker’s ambitions. Europeans are probably the world’s most demanding buyers – and if a product isn’t up to scratch, the word soon gets out. The key question, then, will be: is the MG6 good enough to cut it in Europe? We’ll only know for sure once definitive production cars are available to drive – and compare with the opposition – but, for now, the initial driving impressions all look good.
Performance and Economy
Current owners of MG ZS180s are going to be disappointed. Although on paper, the MG6 is not far down on power, the performance of the older car is in a different league. That’s because the old KV6-powered car has a much more favourable power to weight ratio, and considerably more torque. However, as the MG6’s intended buyer is likely to be a very different person, it’s best to put these comparisons out of mind straight away.
In fact, the 1.8-litre petrol-powered turbo puts in an adequate performance. In automatic form, you’re given the option of leaving the ‘box to do its own thing in ‘D’, or to change in a manual style using the paddles mounted behind the wheel. Given its leisurely performance (0-60mph in 10.3 seconds in auto form, and 9.2 for the five-speed manual), you’ll probably choose to go via the former route and adopt a more relaxed driving style. From a near silent idle, initial take-off is sprightly, mid-range pull is quite good and, although the engine needs to be worked hard to give its best, it never feels strained or unrefined – a testament to the design excellence of the original K-Series.
Refinement, though, seems to be what this car majors on – a slightly odd mix, given its overtly sporting exterior styling. It’s a good compromise that’s been achieved, but we’re left wondering how that story will change when the car arrives on these shores.
Although there are no current plans to install the Roewe 750’s V6 engine, it’s a good bet that, once the MG6 hits the European market, that picture is likely to change, although current taxation rules in Europe count seriously against it. There are also no diesel options currently available in China, but the 2-litre SsangYong unit is currently undergoing evaluation. Watch this space for more news.
Handling and Ride
For those used to the softly sprung and light-steering Roewe 550, the MG6 is going to be something of a pleasant surprise if you’re a keen driver. The suspension settings have been reworked to give the car a firmer ride and less body roll in corners. Motorway stability is impressive and, when combined with its relative hush at high speeds, drivers will find high speed driving in the MG6 a very rewarding experience. It’s actually still softer than almost all European hot-hatches we can think of but, as Chinese market cars go, this is on the firm side of comfortable.
Braking is excellent, with a solid pedal and powerful assistance. ABS and EBD are safety systems you would expect on a car of this class and they work very well indeed, adding to the overall feel of safety and security. The strange-looking handbrake lever works well and releases much needed additional space in the centre console area.
Engineers have already promised considerable chassis retuning for European models, though, so it’s too early to say whether the MG6 will be class competitive here. However, the overall levels of refinement are very impressive indeed and are a sound base upon which to work from – we’re expecting good things in this department.
At the wheel
The MG6’s interior is clearly based upon the Roewe 550’s, but there have been a few notable changes aimed at making this car appeal to younger buyers. For one, the saloon’s all digital dashboard has been thrown out and replaced with a more conventional unit that majors on the large and very legible speedometer and tachometer. Fuel and coolant temperature gauges are still digital and slightly coarsely calibrated.
The controls fall nicely to hand and are all chunky and easy to use. ICE and navigation are handled by a multi-function A/V system that works very well indeed, with logical menu controls and just enough control buttons on the dashboard not to have the driver frantically looking through menu after menu. Equipment levels are competitive – the top of the range 1.8T Elite version is absolutely stacked and comes with all of the toys you’d reasonably expect in this class: reversing camera, parking radar, cruise control, and full iPod/USB/Bluetooth/SD Card connectivity are more than welcome. You certainly get what you pay for.
It’s deliberately Germanic in layout and design and it has to be said that the build quality feels more than acceptable. The major controls feel well made and the leather interior is nicely appointed. Some of the plastics in less obvious places (such as the cupholder, door trims and seat adjusters) feel a little brittle, but no more so than much of the opposition the MG6 will be up against in Europe.
Finally, the driving position is excellent – and we really like the Octagon themed seat-pleating, which should give enthusiasts something to smile about. Front room is good, visibility is okay, but those in the rear will struggle for headroom if they are tall and that is disappointing given the generous leg- and foot-room.
For fans of AROnline, the MG6 should be something of a post-modern delight. It’s most definitely an MG Maestro or ZS120 for the 2010s and demonstrates that intelligent platform engineering can serve up some interesting model variations. It’s up to you whether you agree with the idea of buying a Chinese-built (or most probably UK-assembled), British-engineered family hatchback wearing the badge of one of the UK’s most respected sports cars, but there’s no denying that SAIC Motor has achieved something really rather good with its first genuinely new MG.
Its looks aren’t full of the wow-factor, but it’s most certainly a grower, and the performance won’t set you on fire either – but it’s intelligently designed, refined, comfortable and good to drive. There’s also the question of the price. It’s not cheap, coming in at between £11,095 and £17,700 in China, and that might stunt its competitiveness at home – and kill it stone dead in Europe.
The final verdict’s still a way away and awaiting the first UK-tuned versions, but the early signs are certainly very positive indeed. It will be interesting to see how SAIC Motor can now develop the MG marque – with more than a little help from their friends in Longbridge.
Scores out of ten