Steven Ward recounts the events of Wednesday, 12 June 2013 at Longbridge, England. The reason he was there was for the unveiling of the UK-spec MG3 – the car that was going to put the famous Octagon badge back on the map.
Here is his account of the day of the MG3 launch…
Showing the Brits how the MG3 was made
At 10am the UK Press from motoring magazines, newspapers and TV gathered in small hospitality room within Longbridge’s Engineering Department. In addition to the UK visitors, dozens of SAIC engineers and suppliers had flown in from China for the occasion. We were all waiting to see the simultaneous unveiling of the newly-enhanced Design Centre and the UK launch of the MG3.
Somewhat cannily MG had billed the event as a rebuke to Jeremy Clarkson’s recent article in which he heavily slated the newly-launched MG6 diesel range. However, it was quite clear that the event had been in the planning for quite some time.
MG Motor UK’s PR man, Doug Wallace, ushered us into the newly-built Visualisation Suite for the presentation. This very large ‘booth’ will be used to project life-sized images of sketches in either 2d or 3d aspects. The idea of this is to give stylists a flavour of what has been sketched in China, the UK and by contractors. For such “high-end kit” I was disappointed that the giant screen in the room was used for just a plain old PowerPoint presentation, which the company’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones, kicked-off.
China ‘proud’ of Longbridge
He told the assembled audience that SAIC ‘was immensely proud’ of the result of the sizable (£5m+) investment which had gone on over the past three years – doubling the size and number of Design Studios. As hacks, to be brought in to see the investment in facilities and products was said to be ‘a unique, one-off opportunity’. I can understand that, for the whole place was to be wide open to us. Incidentally, all 300 Engineers on site are now fully integrated into working with the 2000 Chinese Engineers on projects. There doesn’t appear to be any demarcation over design now, although design direction does emanate from Shanghai – I digress.
Guy soon handed over the presentation to Anthony Williams-Kenny who waxed lyrical that Britain ‘was a leading light in the world of industrial design.’ He claimed the facility would help imbue the products with the MG brand’s core values of being British, Fun and Affordable. However, I did feel at one point as though I was taking part in a Brit-Pop video…
Of SAIC’s 130 stylists, there are 30 on site at Longbridge in the two Styling Studios. These artists are especially pleased with their ‘new, five-axis milling machine’. I was later to see this machine finalising a change to the flanks of the good-looking MG SUV vehicle… but on with the presentation.
The boss within styling at Longbridge is Martin Uhlarik. Just before he took over from AW-K we watched a short video. Now this video, on a huge screen in a dark room remember, reminded me of the torture melted out to Harry Palmer in the Ipcress Files movie as ‘they’ attempted to brainwash him. I genuinely thought they were trying to mass hypnotise the audience before giving us the full low down on changes that make the MG3 desirable and acceptable for the British market.
Essentially, MG will be pitching the MG3 at the young and trendy who want a MINI or an Audi A1, but can only afford a Fiesta or FIAT 500. There is big emphasis on personalisation of the car at the point of purchase meaning genuinely interesting and wacky graphics and bits of colour-coded dash. These are intended to clash/compliment the ten bold colours on offer.
MG also realise that you need to equip a car with the very latest in plug-in bits for your Sat-Nav, digital radio, iPod and whatever else and have thoughtfully placed these sockets and power points in a large slot on top of the dash. This slot is rubber lined to stop objects rattling on the move and has a folding lid to hide said objects when parked-up.
MG refused to answer any further questions relating to the sales and marketing budget for the car, other than to say there wouldn’t be a TV advertising campaign for it. However, they did admit that they’ve been holding off marketing spend until the MG3 is launched to the public. They also refused to disclose their expected sales target and couldn’t give me a definite date when it will be available, MG3s are expected to reach all 29 dealers by 1 September for test drives.
MG3 external design
Visually, there are no sheet metal changes to MG3 compared with its Chinese sibling, but the front bumper and grille is new. These contain the front end’s calling card of hockey stick LED daytime running lights (above). They are bold and visually enhance the slightly bland frontal aspect, although the headlamps do feature an internal octagon, a feature isn’t immediately obvious.
The side of the vehicle has new side skirts which look neat and are finished in matt black along the lower centre section and body coloured as they touch the wheel arches. These skirts visually lower the vehicle and make such a tall, narrow vehicle look more ‘ground hugging’. The wheels are said to be diamond cut alloys in a two-tone finish. Disappointingly these show the rear drum brakes off all too readily.
The rear of the vehicle is visually the smartest aspect of the styling I feel. In addition to the already neat design, a large rear spoiler tops the tailgate while the new rear bumper moulding houses a substantial rear valance said to have been inspired by the British Touring Car Championship. A chrome exhaust finishes the detailing.
Internally, the general feel is of decent enough quality for the class, rather mimicking the last-generation VW Polo in terms of style and layout. As previously mentioned, you can colour-code certain bits of interior plastics to add fun and alleviate the old-school blandness. The needles for the speedo and rev counter do a neat sweep and re-set when the ignition is switched on, just like a racing car. With regards to interior space, the passenger room is a revelation and ‘fun’ could certainly be had by an amorous young couple.
The seats feature read stitching to match the stereo surround illumination and a large Octagonal insert. A great deal of thought has gone into those seats, too. A stronger (yet still light) seat frame, a robust double backrest adjustment mechanism (for crash safety) and denser foam padding (for fat man comfort) have been carefully thought through to cope with an average Brit. I was deeply impressed with the diligence that had gone into making the seats suitable for us Brits.
Go for the climate control system and you get a well-designed, simple to use control panel that looks good. Go for the base model and you get dated heater control dials of dubious quality and appalling action. You have been warned.
Finally, on base models, you get a manual ‘joystick’ adjusted for the external door mirrors. This reminded me of the items in the Rover ‘XX’ 800 series and, as such, gave me a warm glow. Overall, the car did have overtones of the much-missed MG Metro. So much so, I enquired as to why the car hadn’t been given red seat belts. I was told that they had been considered, but the dye does things to the webbing and so the car would have to go through homologation again.
MG3 powertrain and chassis
The MG3 has been extensively driven all over the UK to ensure the chassis is up to the MG moniker. That means the car rides 10mm lower than Chinese versions and boasts all new springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, rubber bushes and wheel/tyre combinations. Almost uniquely, the MG3 will come with good old-fashioned hydraulic power-assisted steering. Such a system is great for feel and feedback, but has fallen out of fashion due to its effect on a vehicle’s CO2 output. I did ask what the MG3’s CO2 output would be, but I was told that MG would be making ‘No Comment’ until the vehicle pricing structure has been worked out.
The engine is the new (to us Brits) 1.5-litre 16-valve unit featuring variable valve timing on the inlet values. Such an engine is large for its class and anticipated demographic although the car won’t be over-powered with just 103bhp available. The engine mapping and throttle response is said to be unique to the British market. Its CO2 output however, will be supercritical to customer acceptance.
First impressions of the MG3 are good, but in no respect is the car cutting edge in the immensely competitive Supermini segment. The styling is trying to be youthful and trendy, but at the same time it is saddled with a practical, yet boxy bodyshell. This could be considered a USP, but it doesn’t feel it. The biggest issue that will hinder the car’s sales success is the miniscule Dealer Network. Plans are said to be afford that will see this increased to a much need 100 over the next two years. Indeed, at this very event, national dealer groups were being courted into taking on MG franchises.