Answer the following questions:
Tropicana or from concentrate?
Ted Baker loafers or four-quidders from Primark?
Nivea shower gel or Radox 2-in-1?
If your answers are consistently the latter, the latest product from MG could be perfect for you.
My personal experiences with MGs have truly covered a full range of emotions throughout the years. Long road trips down to Silverstone in my Father’s MGC fill my younger years, followed by three years of retrospectively happy motoring in my own little MG/Rover ZR. This romance soon ended in heartache with an engine replacement and a swift sell to a gutsy local. So as the MG UK press car swings up outside the house, I am in two minds as to how I feel about spending the week in the now Chinese-owned legend of British motoring.
The MG3 is a funny-looking thing; it’s like a mix between a Suzuki Swift and a Beetle. The cabin dominates the entire design, with barely a bonnet to speak of and a stumpy rear that makes for something that dangerously resembles a slightly fettered cube. It doesn’t help that it sits slightly tall, making the overall design anything but sleek. It’s also unfortunate that I despise the colour yellow (unless on a Delta Integrale) and a paintjob that resembles a mutated daffodil seems a tad rash for the middle of January.
So as you can tell, I’m loving it so far.
It uses a 1.5 litre petrol engine, which seems hugely outdated compared to the powerplants in most other superminis in the market. Whilst everyone else is downsizing and turbocharging, the Chinese engineers have opted for a fairly unrefined, rasping 4-cylinder petrol engine. It almost feels like they’ve picked a 1.5 just to be difficult. And boy is that thing thirsty. The car managed 25 mpg while I was behind the wheel; almost half of what other cars of its ilk would achieve. The 911 I just had was more frugal.
Moving down the powertrain, the gearbox is actually really well put together. It has a beautifully mechanical feel to it, producing a satisfying clunk between gears that makes changing cogs a real pleasure. It almost feels gaited, and even passengers comment on the pleasing thump from the ‘box. The integration between transmission and the engine isn’t perfect however, with large gaps in performance when you want to get a move on due to naff ratios and torque gaps that can frustratingly hinder progress.
The MG is actually very useable, comfortably taking a full car of fairly large fourth year mechanical engineers across town in comfort. This is one area which I think MG could slightly cut back on to make the proportions of the car seem a little more normal; I personally can’t think of a car with a stumpy bonnet that looks pretty, comment below if you can. The interior is pretty cheap apart from a leather steering wheel, as the stereo resembles a section from an early 90’s ghetto blaster.
The aux cable also makes an extremely odd whine that is precisely in-sync with the engine revs…not quite sure about that one. The stereo controls are hard, loud plastic in comparison to the soft rubber fitments found on the likes of the Vauxhall Corsa; I almost expect to find a hidden cassette player hidden in the silver painted panel.
The little city car really does a good job of the morning commute, making the thirty-minute trip to university through town seem infinitely more relaxing than in my Alfa Romeo daily driver. The suspension setup is almost there but it seems due to the sheer height of the car (which actually provides a staggering amount of headroom), MG have had to stiffen up the springs to reduce the risk of the car toppling over.
The MG3 still isn’t a car I’d like to perform an evasive manoeuvre in anytime soon, with the centre of gravity seemingly hovering around shoulder height. And despite the engineer’s efforts, the suspension just seems that smidge too harsh for a proper super mini which should glide over the potholes of Charlotte Square with ease.
This new era for MG is actually a perfect example of the differences between the British and Chinese manufacturing mind-sets. The Brits make a car and it seems they decide to devote serious time to some aspects, giving their cars real quality and precision in certain areas. But for every well-engineered part there is another that is just waiting to catastrophically fail.
Take the previous MG hatchback; the Rover-derived ZR and its K Series engine. The actual concept of the engine was revolutionary and its twincam setup with VVC (Variable Valve Control) effectively beat the Japanese to the world of VTEC. But the headgaskets were far too weak and caused catastrophic engine failure once the car reached around forty thousand miles, a trait that I experienced first-hand a couple of years back. So British engineers effectively fill a car with a romance, getting under your skin and forcing you to respect a car but then proceed to tear it all away due to a couple of ill-placed shortcuts.
The Chinese on the other hand seem to enjoy more of an even keel. The MG3 is nothing special, it seems like more of a box-ticking exercise for the Shanghai-based company to appeal to the masses. It won’t win your heart, due to its inherent inability to have any true talent, something that would give the car some form of soul but for a first attempt, they could definitely have done a hell of alot worse.
It’s is a perfectly reasonable city car and it makes a very tempting prospect at just over eight grand new (£8,399). The lads at Longbridge will even insure the car for the first year and if that doesn’t entice young motorists into the showroom then I don’t know what will. But I look for something more in a car than just being able to ‘do the job’. So at this moment in its evolution, I wouldn’t personally shell-out for one.
However, MG are definitely on the way back and the 3 has setup a glorious platform to produce something properly special. Turbocharge it, sort out the proportions and give the interior a tad more attention and the brand could really give the likes of Kia and Hyundai a jab in the ribs.
Clarkson once said that there’s no such thing as cheap and cheerful. Hopefully the Longbridge lads have something to say about that in the coming years. The floor is yours MG, don’t waste it.
A big thank you must go to MG UK for allowing me to take their car for the week. It was my first press car and was therefore a huge leap forward in my journey as a journalist.