The launch of the ‘3 has seen MG Motor UK’s marketing, PR and sales effort step up a gear compared with the near invisible ‘6. When we first drove the car back in September, we concluded that ‘the MG3 is a likeable addition to the market that’s quick, stylish and cheap, would be a sure-fire hit if it were being sold by, say, Ford or Vauxhall’. Those early impressions were formed on the back of a brief drive around the New Forest, and I was keen to see if they still hold true in the real world.
One thing is for sure, the MG3’s launch was probably the most memorable one I’ve been on for a long time. It was both surprising and delightful, thanks to the choice of venue. MG tried to keep the fact it was going to be held at Butlins in Bognor Regis a secret – fearing that the chattering classes might make a big deal of the fact. However, as it happened, the hotel we stayed in was superb and the evening meal, prepared by celebrity chef Brian Turner, was amazing. In short, it was a quirky event, and I liked it.
The idea was that the ‘fun’ image of a reinvented MG was reflected in the venue of its launch. Butlins had modernised, smartened itself up and is projecting a younger and more dynamic image for itself. The fact that Brian Turner has set-up his own restaurant in the place tells you all you need to know. Mind you, being MG, it didn’t quite go to plan – we were treated to a stage show that went badly, badly wrong, leaving us all confused and bemused; and then there were roadworks right at the beginning of the test route… But, overall, it was light years ahead of the unveiling and launch of the MG6.
And that probably reflects the MG3’s chances on the market compared with its older and larger cousin.
The memories of this agreeable summer drive of a capable and likeable ‘warm’ hatch with bargain pricing still lingered fresh in my mind, when the car was delivered to AROnline Towers on a blustery December Monday. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, if you want people to really look at your MG3, you need to order it in ‘Hello Yellow’ – it’s a strident colour that evokes memories of the MG ZR and, for some people, the Fiat Punto Sporting.
The test car is the MG3 Style version, with the optional ‘Emoticons’ sticker pack and part-leather interior. Total price for this lot is £10,600 – and it has to be said, that appears to be a lot of car for the money. In Style form, the MG3 comes with 16-inch alloys, air conditioning, parking sensors and DAB Audio for starters. As I said, that’s a lot of car for the money. Interestingly, as well my Sandero Access long-termer, there’s a Logan MCV test car parked on my drive, and it’s a Laureate model loaded up with a equipment, coming in at a very similar price to the MG.
In terms of interior feel and quality, the MG feels more mature and less like a budget product. The black interior is livened by light headlining and contrasting red stitching (but not seatbelts). There’s lots of storage, too, including a brilliant lidded compartment in the dash-top with integral USB port and optional ‘phone dock. The paint finish and shutlines are largely comparable between these two hugely good value cars – but, overall, if I were to give one the nod in terms of perceived quality,the MG takes it by a nose, even if the Dacia is a more rounded and mature product.
The first day with the MG3 is a bit of a write-off. I’ve too much writing to do and I limit myself to a quick run up to Silverstone. The 70-mile round trip gives me a chance to re-familiarise myself with the warm hatch and begin to make the mental reboot to get the best from it. By that, I mean drive like a 23-year old again. You see, the MG3 is a car that’s clearly been designed for younger drivers – it’s blessed with a really low purchase price and insurance grouping – and has an eager little engine that delivers its best beyond 4500rpm.
It’s for this reason, I reckon, the MG3’s come in for a bit of a panning from the press. This is a car you actually have to drive in order to really keep up with the flow and, as I find while flowing out of the roundabouts, its tall gearing means you need to be in a lower cog than you might if you’re used to the huge amount of mid-range torque that a modern turbodiesel pushes out. Drive it like one of those cars and you’ll end up bogged down, wondering why everyone else is romping away from you. As I say, it takes mental recalibration for a typical forty-something to drive this car.
But the first re-impressions are good. The controls all feel as they should and are well-sited, there’s ample rearward seat travel for those in the front (not always given in a supermini) and the steering is nicely weighted with above-average amounts of road-feel. Once again, while zipping to and from our most well-known racing circuit, I am reminding myself just how little money this car costs – to give you some perspective, the misery-spec Vauxhall Corsa 1.0 12V in Life form has a list price of £10,255. Remember that…
Day two of my MG3 week involves an early start – and, in mid-December, that’s not always the most desirable state of affairs for a nocturnal creature like me. The plan is to do a little vehicle logistics work with my friend, Richard Kilpatrick. First that involves picking up my latest acquisition, a Citroen XM, and delivering it to his secret barn in Leicestershire and then driving him down to Hampshire to buy a Jeep Cherokee he’s set his heart on.
The first leg of the trip involves nothing but minor A- and B-roads, and it has to be said that the MG3 really does excel in this department – even though I restrain myself from pushing hard, as I have a passenger and the low sun and damp roads present a few visibility problems, thanks to the sheer number of unlit cars on the road. However, by the time we arrive at my storage area the XM’s languishing in, I’m impressed by the MG’s flat cornering, quick steering and strong brakes.
The ride’s a little on the joggly side, but the damping is good and seems to get better the faster you go. Considering that the Chinese version was less than stellar, dynamically, it’s hard not to conclude that Andy Kitson’s chassis team has done a brilliant job in turning the MG3 into a car that handles really very well.
After we spark the XM back into life, it’s Richard’s turn to drive the MG3. I’m keen to find out what he thinks, as he’s a potential customer – he’s coming up to the end of his lease on a Citroen C3 Airdream and is keenly interested in seeing whether a ‘3 could fit into his life. His road test is going to be a little unfair, though, as he’s following me in the XM on the way back, the roads are damp and I’ll be dictating a leisurely pace thanks to near-bald front tyres.
While I’m wafting along, loving the effortlessness of my XM Exclusive, enjoying its immense mid-range torque and magic carpet ride, Richard’s getting to know the MG3. The problem is with an XM, even if you’re ‘taking it easy’ you’re actually cracking along at a decent pace, so MG-driving Richard gets a better test than we both expect. When we roll up to his barn after 30 or so miles of cross-country driving, Richard looks like he’s had fun.
When he gets out, his response to my questioning look surprises me. ‘This is far better than I was expecting,’ he smiles. ‘It’s a really nice, well-sorted little car. Some of the interior design features, such as the lazy use of ovals is a little disappointing, but otherwise it’s really very good indeed. I would own one of these – and I’d have the yellow one. Perhaps without the stickers.’ This from a man, from whom praise doesn’t come easily.
I now have 300-miles to cover by motorway to get Richard down to look at his Jeep Cherokee – and, ordinarily, this might not be the perfect stamping ground for the MG3. After all, it’s a £10K supermini, powered by what many people in the press describe as being a substandard engine. As Richard and I join the M1 south, the first thing that impresses is that at the 70-80mph cruise, the MG3 feels remarkably grown up. Wind noise is kept well in check and the engine note is subdued thanks to that tall gearing – and it trundles along quite happily with the repmobiles.
Considering we’re on the downhill run to Christmas, the drive down to Hampshire was easy. The traffic was light, and those on the road were moving along at a good pace. Professionals one and all. By the time we roll into Bordon to look at the Cherokee, I’ve really warmed to the MG3…
It’s about this time that that a fuel warning chimes at me. Hmm, time to fill up and brim it up with a fresh tank of Shell VPower Nitro – and, when I tot up the mileage and amount of petrol pumped in, reality clicks in a little. The average for this tank full is 36.7mpg. Hmm… In my defence, I’ve been driving the MG3 like a 23 year old and haven’t had much opportunity to cruise in a way more typical owners are likely to. Expect 40-43mpg in the real world, not unacceptable for a warm hatch.
While Richard’s looking around the Jeep, I ask the seller what he thinks of the look of the car we turned up in. He’s not a car person and, when he looks over at it and asks me what it is. ‘New MG,’ I say… ‘I didn’t know they were making cars now – are they still British?’ he asks, while looking across at his new Land Rover Discovery. ‘No,’ I reply, with a heavy heart.
Still, Richard bought himself a new Jeep.
The boring drive back on the motorway gave me chance to play with the initially disappointing-sounding DAB stereo. The lack of bass was down to settings and, once corrected, it was very good indeed. Far better than the unit installed in the MG6, in fact. It’s only later I realise why the bass has been turned down to -3 by the previous occupant – DAB sounds muddy and boomy when correctly set-up for my MP3 player, meaning that the factory levels are inconsistent depending on source – an annoyance if you’re constantly switching from one to the other.
Still, it all looks good inside at night – the red illumination is spot on for this car, as is the matching ring around the stereo system (below).
Nearer home, I managed to pick up my favourite test route and attacked it at a decent speed, aided by the good headlamps and lack of traffic. The late night run confirmed what I’d suspected – when you really push the MG3, it handles well, losing grip at the front first, but you have to really be pushing for that to happen.
The engine note is undistinguished at low to medium revs and takes on a harder edge as the revs rise – but it’s far from being the unrefined unit the road testers make out. My own small car benchmark, the MINI, is measurably more composed at the limit and steers even more sharply, while the Citroen DS3 is softer and more forgiving. Having said that, it makes absolute mincemeat of the Vauxhall Adam.
After a couple of days Christmas shopping and general errand running that sees me refilling the tank again, I really begin to appreciate the MG3’s interior room and large boot – and curse its short range. For some more alternative views, I thought I’d run it down to my friends at the local MINI dealer. Although the MG3 is in a different market sector to the MINI and isn’t be expected to compete, I was keen to see what my mates Paul Raynes and Gareth Earl – both sales execs for Wollaston MINI – would think of the new MG3.
Paul jumps in and starts poking and prodding. ‘Looks good. Quality’s there, the dashboard plastics aren’t bad and there’s nothing that stands out as being badly made. The instruments and stereo are good and I like the way the dials sweep when you turn on the ignition.’ A quick spin confirms his initial positive impressions. ‘The steering’s good – a tiny bit light, but nice and quick and full of feel. The engine’s smooth and it pulls pretty well. It doesn’t really put a foot wrong and it certainly drives better than something like a Fiat 500.’
However, whereas I think of it as the ideal young person’s car, Paul has some other ideas. ‘I think it loses something for not being available as a three-door car. But it looks right, modern and would make a great second car.’ Not a bad summary.
My week is up, and I’ve had more time to formulate my own opinions about the MG3. And on another grey and damp Monday morning, they begin to crystallise as the delivery truck turns up to take it away. The two-man crew is local to Longbridge and the guys are happy to see the car getting out and about. ‘Everyone we’ve delivered it to has come back saying how much they like it – and I hear that they’ve sold every car they’ve brought in from China so far. But it’s sad that Longbridge is a shadow of its former self’. I do like getting the delivery guys’ views of any test cars – they hear things first hand and generally tell it like it is.
Overall, I think it’s a bit of a result for the MG3. I’ve been accused of giving the car a bit of a soft ride, so it seemed the correct thing to do to sound out as many people as possible about it – enthusiasts as well as those who have a passing interest in cars. Just like it was with the MG6 at launch, the ‘3 creates a good impression. But this time around, MG has got the pricing just right and seems to be spending some money on advertising, so it’s a huge step in the right direction. After a week with it, I reckon it’s a good choice for the buyers it seems to have been honed for.
Would I recommend an MG3? Yes, it’s a winner with reservations, but I’ll be happier when I know it’s being built in Britain. If you’re young, in the market for a stylish, fun warm hatch that’s cheap to insure, it’ll be right up your street. Just as long as you have a dealer nearby and don’t mind getting 40mpg. The me of 20 years ago would have loved the MG3, but I think the me of now would prefer to go for a specced-up Dacia Sandero instead.
|Engine||NSE 1.5L petrol, 16V, DOHC|
|Max torque(lb ft/rpm)||100/4500|
|Suspension||Front MacPherson /Rear Torsion Beam|
|Brake||Front disc brakes/Rear drum brakes|