One of the frustrating aspects of my past few months’ captivity due to my broken bones has been my inability to travel. Don’t get me wrong, I like being at home, working in the office and taking gentle strolls in the green and pleasant meadows of middle England, but I love travelling more. And taking away my ability to stray away from home for too long has been a bit like Purgatory for me. So, it was a blessed relief to receive a clean bill of health from my surgeon recently – I could get back on to the road. And that’s what I’ve been doing. And then some.
A whistle-stop trip to San Diego followed by a drive through the desert in a Jaguar XKR-S was a great kick-off for the healthier me. A further two flights saw me land in Kuwait for visit to the Concours – and, in the (admittedly brief) downtime I had, I thought it would be rude not to visit the local MG dealer and see what the Middle-Eastern line-up looked like in the metal. First thing’s first, it’s a very different range of cars offered in Kuwait to what is on offer here in the UK – basically, they have a range, and we don’t.
The cars are an interesting mix of Roewes badged as MGs and proper MGs. The MG750 (nee Roewe 750) was in evidence both in pre- and post-facelift guise and, in the context of the land we were in, looked smart and understated – I wouldn’t doubt for a second that they would appeal to the more conservative buyer looking for a traditional saloon. Having a poke around, the first thing that surprised me was the quality of the paintwork and overall fit and finish – it was excellent. The pre-facelift car (identified by its lack of wraparound headlamp/indicators) looked the pick of the bunch, as the later car’s units seemed a little bit cheap to look at.
Inside, the deep-seated quality feel of the old Rover 75 seems to be missing and, although the one-piece dash looks modern, it lacks character. And the switchgear works well, but somehow feels undistinguished. The additional rear seat legroom’s welcome, though, as is the additional boot-room – both of which have been added without upsetting the 75’s design too much. I do think it’s a shame that SAIC never sent the 75 back to the UK in 2007, though, and although it would have been ridiculed by the press and Top Gear, it would have found a market here – perhaps keeping the flame alive more effectively through the loyal dealers (and their customers), many of whom have since melted away.
The 550 and MG6, I think, continue to look smart and both work better visually as saloons. It’s interesting to see the two alongside each other because, although the 550 came first, it’s the ‘6 that works far better – to me, anyway. And in Kuwait, the ‘6 looks really appealing – and in a land where fuel costs 17p per litre, no one cares that it does 30mpg.
As for the 350, it’s a small saloon cast in the mould of the Triumph Acclaim or four-door Vauxhall Nova, and I can’t really see it working in Europe at all. Which is probably why they don’t bring it in. Looking closely around it, the fit and finish of the body are good and the interior is well screwed together, but the whole ensemble lacks any character and personality at all. And that’s why it shouldn’t wear an MG badge – Roewe works well enough, so why pollute the far more valuable MG marque with such atrocious badge-engineering. Still, the MG5 is based on it – and looks like a very different proposition entirely.
Slightly worrying for MG Morris Garages is that, in my four days spent out and about on the Kuwait roads, I only saw one Roewe 750 and it was close to the dealer. And on the day I visited, I didn’t see another customer or, indeed, a salesman. I guess rebuilding takes time. I don’t mind the branding at all, though, and if anything, it looks a whole lot classier than the UK’s white and red effort. Also prominently using the Morris Garages branding works for a traditionalist like me.
Additionally, that gives SAIC the option of selling the non-sporting models under the Morris flag of convenience instead of Roewe (which AROnline readers don’t get on with). After all, Daewoos can be sold as Chevrolets here… so why not Morris?
As in the UK, the Middle Eastern MG operation seems to be in its infancy, and consequently pretty quiet. But the dealer, which was located in the same area as Audi, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz looked set for expansion if needed and did, at least, have a range of cars for sale that fit in with what locals are buying. And that’s more than you can say about poor MG Birmingham, which is still stuck with a single model range and inappropriate, if smooth petrol engine. Things will change, and I still have high hopes that MG will become a big success – because China will make sure that it does.