MG3 review

The MG brand's MG3 supermini is a sporty value-orientated proposition that now boasts a smarter look and a cleaner Euro6 engines. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

Now cleaner and smarter than before, the MG3 is a supermini you probably won't have considered. Yet it's fun to drive, practical to own and vastly more affordable than the conventional choices in this segment. If you don't need class-leading efficiency and you're prepared to forgive a few rough edges in return for the big savings on offer, then it could rank as a very clever choice.

Background

There's something about the two letters 'MG' that strikes a chord in the British consciousness. The brand named after 'Morris Garages' way back in 1924 has been a part of our automotive heritage for nearly a century, with its cars rolling down the Longbridge production line since 1962. And still they come: take this car, an improved version of the MG3 supermini. Like its larger MG6 stablemate, it's badged as being 'British-built', though in fact, all the Longbridge factory does is bold together kits sent from SAIC's manufacturing plant in Lingang, China. Still, it is true to say that this car is properly British-developed, with its styling and drive dynamics created by many of the same talented folk who at the turn of the century brought us the surprisingly satisfying MG ZR, ZS and ZT family performance models. Chinese manufacturing clout also means the brand can bring this Fiesta-sized supermini to market for up to 30% less than obvious rivals. Which leaves MG able to claim what they see as an unbeatable combination of fun and value for this car. Does it deliver in this improved smarter Euro6 form? Let's find out.

Driving Experience

As before, the only engine option here is a 1.5-litre petrol unit that MG owners SAIC have bought in from GM, though a little compensation comes with the news that it has now been brought up to cleaner Euro6 standards and develops a healthy 105bhp, substantially more than most direct rivals can offer. That means a reasonable turn of speed, rest to sixty two achievable in 10.4s en route to a 108mph top speed. Though it's true that most of this car is Chinese, many of the bits that really matter are British through and through - an observation especially true when it comes to the elements concerned with ride and handling. There are suppler-riding cars in this class and more sportily-suspended ones, but few models of this kind that I can think of achieve a better combination of both over good roads and bad. Which for a first attempt in this segment, is quite an astonishing achievement for the Longbridge-based development team given that the class in question contains models of the talent of Ford's Fiesta. Bodyroll is brilliantly controlled, grip is prodigious and there's better feedback through the steering than in most Gtis I've driven, primarily perhaps because modern era electric steering hasn't made it to MG yet. The downside of that is that the helm is heavy during parking manoeuvres in the kind of urban environment where the option of an automatic gearbox would be nice to have.

Design and Build

The exterior styling now features a revised chrome grille and looks quite smart, if maybe a little supermini-generic in a way that could have been produced from one of many manufacturers in this sector if you covered the badges over. Still, because the MG3 looks to undercut many of the established names, this rather blended styling is perhaps to its credit. It continues the design theme introduced on the MG ZERO concept vehicle and the company claims it's "a distinctive statement of modern British style designed to target young and style conscious buyers". Make of that what you will. The interior will come as a welcome relief to anybody who's a bit baffled by the complexity and deep technology of many modern superminis. Climb out of a Peugeot 208, with its tablet computer style central infotainment system and, without being unduly blunt, it's very different. Still, the MG3 is tidy inside with seats that look and feel very Volkswagen. There are a few white touches around the stereo, on the steering wheel, the door pulls, handbrake and gear lever but aside from that, everything is uniformly grey. Sit in the back seats and you'll find the front seats are sculpted to improve leg room, while the rear headroom is genuinely impressive.

Market and Model

Prices start at under £8,500, getting you this supermini-sized car for less than the kind of money you'd pay for a little citycar. All models get signature front LED lights and a hill holder clutch as standard, with all but the entry model featuring a high quality DAB audio system. Safety-wise, there are six airbags, electronic stability control, corner brake control and traction control. The entry-level model is the MG3 3TIME which features a CD player with MP3 compatibility and Aux-in facility. Next up is the MG3 3FORM which adds air conditioning, that DAB radio, Bluetooth with audio streaming, a leather MG-design steering wheel with red stitching and steering wheel audio controls to the tally. A '3FORM SPORT' variant also adds a bodykit and 16" alloy wheels. At the top of the range is the MG3 3STYLE with premium 16" "Diamond cut" alloy wheels and a sports body styling pack that includes the rear boot spoiler and side sill extensions. Standard high-tech convenience features include cruise control, automatic lights and windscreen wipers and reverse parking sensors, all for around £10,500. A top '3Style Lux' variant even adds leather trim. However, the key attraction for many people will be how much fun you can have creating your own MG3, with its huge range of colours, exterior graphics, interior colour packs and leather upholstery created by the UK design team and inspired by the British fashion industry.

Cost of Ownership

Of course, the downside of getting a lot more engine is getting a fair bit less fuel economy and the MG3 can't hope to bend the laws of physics and return better fuel figures than many eco specials. The current Euro6 engine does get a stop start system though, so is much cleaner than before. The 124g/km of CO2 figure remains nothing to write home about but it does put the MG3 in the lower VED band D, resulting in zero road tax for the first year. The combined cycle fuel figure is better too - at 51.5mpg about 3mpg better than before. Overall, you're looking a car that will be a little more expensive to run than its immediate price rivals but will offer more fun behind the wheel. And it will be pretty cheap to insure, rated at just 4E.

Summary

There's a spark of real promise around this MG3. The five-door shape squeezes a lot of styling into its four metre length and the price and equipment levels look very competitive, though of course MG has a long way to go in this country before it can mix it with the big names. With more power to call upon than its rivals, this car promises to be a far more effervescent steer than, say, a much pricier and poorly equipped entry-level Skoda Fabia. Of course, despite the Euro6 engine improvements, it still won't be quite as efficient to run as one of those. Mind you, the value proposition ought to compensate for much of that. Overall then, it's trendy, tightly priced, good to drive, spacious and cheap to insure. If MG can get its marketing right, a significant number of people might be tempted by all that.