MG6 (2015 - 2016) used car review

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BY JONATHAN CROUCH

Introduction

The original MG6 launched back in 2011 had a number of rough edges, but the Chinese brand improved the car considerably in 2015, improving quality and technology and installing a willing 1.9-litre diesel engine. This revised design only sold in the UK for just over a year, but may be worth seeking out on the used market for family buyers looking for a Mondeo-sized model for less than Focus-sized prices.

Models

5-door SUV [1.9 DTi diesel]

History

The MG6. It's a car that ought to have had everything going for it. A famous badge: a super-low pricetag; a high specification: and an interior more spacious than virtually all of its rivals. It was even put together in Britain. So why was it subject an abject sales failure when new?

Back in 2011, the original version of this model was the first mainstream product launched by the MG brand's new-era owners SAIC - the Chinese 'Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation'. The conglomerate always promised that the old MG Rover Longbridge production lines would run again and sure enough, with that original MG6, they did, even if the Birmingham workers were only bolting together kits imported from China. The car in question was actually based on a model SAIC had developed for the Chinese market and sold there badged as the 'Roewe 550', but was turned into something more MG-like thanks to the efforts of a group of ex-Rover British engineers who tweaked the chassis to suit newly-added MG branding.

With decent quality and really affordable pricing, that recipe might have created a car to significantly trouble some of the smaller brands in the Focus segment. As it was, MG Motor UK found that build quality standards the Chinese market had been quite happy with were simply not acceptable to British buyers. Or at least they weren't at the kind of prices being asked. So in 2015, there was a re-think - one that brought us the much improved MG6 model we're going to look at here. Launched in the Spring of 2015, it delivered higher quality, extra technology and, most importantly, much lower pricing, all matched with super-sized standards of space and a surprisingly pokey 150PS 1.9-litre diesel powerplant. This was the car we should have had from the start but it didn't save the MG6 model line, which was quietly deleted in late 2016.

What You Get

By European standards, the styling of this MG6 isn't hugely arresting, but for the notoriously conservative Chinese market where it had to sell in huge numbers, it was a very dynamic-looking car indeed, a wide track and flared wheel arches enough to set Oriental hearts a-flutter.

The aesthetic changes made to this improved MG6 certainly kept it up to date, though you'd need to know the original version of this car quite well to spot them. The front grille around the big MG octagon badge up-front is chrome-trimmed on the top model and was subtly restyled, as was the lower air intake that on post-2015 models was flanked by trendy LED daytime running lights. The headlights on this revised version were smarter too and on a top model, incorporated piercing Bi-Xenon beams that turn with the road.

Move to the side and the profile's dominated by a sharp upper crease running alongside a lower windowline that's chrome-trimmed on most models. A subtler swage line lower down gives the flanks some shape, linking the 16-inch 'Contour' design alloy wheels that all MG6s must have. We also like the chromed side vents - who cares if they don't actually cool anything? More important though, than the look and the shape of this car is its size. At 4.65m long, it sits mid-way between a 4.4m Focus-sized 'C-segment' Family Hatchback and a 4.8m Mondeo-sized Medium Range 'D-segment' model. In other words, this car's much bigger than you'd expect it to be given its Fiesta-style entry-level price.

Which is of course, something you particularly notice when it comes to boot space. Or at least the bootspace you can use once you've got your stuff inside. One of the issues with the original version of this model was the high loading lip - and the narrow boot opening on offer once you raised the steeply-raked rear hatch. Though with this revised model, this rear bumper was re-profiled for a smarter look, no real attempt was made to solve that problem, so when you raise the tailgate, there's still quite a high sill over which you've to hump your belongings. Still, once you do get everything in, the news is mostly all good. The 498-litre boot capacity is huge, beaten only in this class by the standard version of Skoda's Rapid and massively better than most of the usual choices in the family hatchback C-segment.

To be specific, you're talking of a boot that's 30% bigger than a Volkswagen Golf and fully 60% bigger than that of a Ford Focus. It's also worth pointing out that a trunk of this size gives you nearly all the capacity you'd get from one of those supposedly larger 'D-segment' models we were just talking about - say something like a Vauxhall Insignia, a car with only 32-litres more of extra luggage capacity. This MG's advantage over most of its rivals continues when you push forward the 60:40 split-folding rear bench, this action freeing up a 1379-litre total. Are there issues? A few. The flattened complete cargo area isn't totally flat and the trimming in the boot does still leave a little to be desired - the carpet's still stuck down with velcro.

What about the back seat, an area of the car with space you might suspect to have been compromised by all that extra boot capacity? As it turns out here, there's once again significantly more room than you'd find in a Focus or a Golf, with plenty of head, leg and shoulder room. To the point in fact, where on shorter journeys, three adults could sit together quite easily, assuming that the middle person could find some way to position themselves comfortably astride the rather prominent transmission tunnel.

It was the at-the-wheel experience though, that we were keenest to sample in this car. In the original model after all, this was the area that rather let the MG6 down, with a budget brand feel to the choice of plastics used and a frustrating set of rather fiddly steering wheel controls. Fortunately, things were much improved with the post-2015 model.

True, the interior still isn't quite as well finished and put together as that of a comparable Focus or Astra would be but MG certainly narrowed the quality gap to those kinds of cars. The plastic key you push into a 'Start Stop' slot on the dash still feels cheap, but not much else really does. Soft-touch plastics feature on top of the fascia, even if they're still noticeable by their absence the further down you look. And metallic inserts around the airvents and in areas like around these lower centre console ventilation controls lift the previously unremitting gloom of the sombrely-trimmed cabin. It's down here in fact that you'll notice one of this revised MG6 model's other key changes - the installation of an electronic handbrake switch. This isn't normally a feature we're particularly keen on but here, it allowed for extra storage space and a much cleaner-looking design.

Perhaps the most important cabin improvement lies at the top of the dash with the provided 'MG touch' infotainment system - a standard-fit item, provided you avoid a variant fitted out with entry-level trim. With this, a bank of middle-dash switches control a 7-inch colour touchscreen mounted higher up to the left of the instrument binnacle. Included is all functionality you'd expect, so there's access to a DAB radio and the usual stereo functions, plus Bluetooth with media streaming, the option of playing video files - oh and a 'Mirrorlink' feature that allows you to replicate your mobile 'phone handset's homescreen on the display and operate that 'phone via the 'MG touch' system. The set-up also includes app-based functionality too, a good example of which is the included 'iGo Navigation by NNG' sat nav system. This includes European mapping, 3D landmarks, reality junction views, enhanced signpost information, speed limit advisories and the option of six or seven-digit postcode entry.

As for the practicalities, well they're better than you might expect too. A few irritations remain, like the thick metalwork either side of the front and rear windows that can obscure your view out. The trip computer screen in the centre of the instrument binnacle is the smallest we've ever seen and the steering wheel-mounted rotary dials that operate it are fiddly to use, though the system does include a lap timer, a rather amusing touch given that this is primarily a budget-minded family car.

Otherwise, though, there's not much to criticise. The big, plush seats are smartly trimmed and are also heated on all models. There's plenty of adjustability too, as there is for the big four-spoke MG-branded wheel which features leather trim and multi-function buttons on most variants and through which you view a redesigned silver-trimmed instrument binnacle complete with what the brand calls a 'tunnel-style' of gauge presentation. It's not the clearest layout we've ever seen but the red-needled dials with their silver bezels add a sporty touch that fits with the dynamic feel of this car.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Budget brand models always tend to deliver a few more ownership faults than cars from pricier brands, but even against this background, the real world performance of the original MG6 model was woeful. Fortunately, by 2015, the Chinese engineers had sorted the build quality of this car out a bit and as a result, we found quite a few customers who said they liked their cars very much. Inevitably though, there were a few issues that some folk had come across.

One owner eventually had to completely replace the gearbox, having originally found that 4th gear wouldn't engage. And on that subject, there were a number of reports of slipping clutches (some say that the transmission pressure plate isn't up to the job); look for slippage on your test drive. Other things owners in our survey had to replace included a flywheel and plug leads and in one instance, a turbo boost pipe fell apart at 15,000 miles. Minor issues included problems with the trip computer and sat nav, plus the silver inserts in the front and rear bumpers tend to discolour quickly.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2015 MG6 1.9 DTi) Brake pads sit in the £23 to £33 bracket for a set. Brake discs cost around £75, though you could pay as much as around £120 for pricier brands. Wiper blades cost around £5, though you could pay as much as around £13-£15 for pricier brands. A water pump costs around £83. An oil filter is around £5.

On the Road

So what's it like to drive? Well when you climb in, it's unlikely that classic British heritage will be the first impression springing to mind. But then why should it be? MG Motor UK Ltd owners SAIC will bring us a purpose-designed sportscar in due course that will hopefully have elements of that. This is, according to the original brochure at least, apparently a 'sports-fastback'. In real language, a sportily-trimmed Focus or Astra-type family hatch.

There's nothing wrong with that. Scroll back through history and you'll find that MG didn't only make roadsters but also sporty family cars like the Magnette models of the Fifties and Sixties. Those old models sold to family people who wanted a little extra spice in their morning commute, exactly the customers the modern owners of this brand hope will be interested here. To start, you push the key into the dash, pause appropriately to remember brand history as a 'since 1924' branded slogan pops up in the infotainment screen towards the middle of the fascia, then slip the car into gear.

Sure enough, the feel on the move is quite 'sporty'. By 2015, the only engine MG6 owners were offered was a 1.9-litre DTi-TECH diesel, which is very pokey indeed by class standards, offering the kind of 150PS output that only the very priciest rival Focus-class diesel models can deliver. As a result, 60mph is just 8.4s away from rest. Annoyingly though for those who might be autobahn-bound, MG limited top speed to 120mph in order to keep insurance costs down. There's a useful 350Nm torque output too, so you won't have to row the car along with the gearlever in urban driving situations.

What especially marked the original version of this model out though, was not so much how quick it went but its impressive ride and handling balance. So much of this car is basically Chinese in origin but the drive dynamics responsible for that strong showing are very firmly British, tuned by a team in Longbridge that includes many of the same people who used to develop performance-oriented MG Rovers. They took the unremarkable original Chinese version of this car, then transformed it with revised spring and damper settings, new anti-roll bars and faster steering.

The result is a model that really suits our country's terrible tarmac - without pandering to it. Yes, there are suppler-riding cars in this class and more sportily-suspended ones, but when all's said and done, there are actually few models of this kind we can think of able to achieve a better combination of both over good roads and bad. And when a car works this well, you feel confident in pushing it along a bit, especially given the fact that bodyroll is well controlled, there's reasonable feel through the steering and there's a decent change action too from a manual gearbox that in post-2015-era models features six-speeds.

Drive like that and you'll get the benefit of the major dynamic change that sets this improved MG6 apart from its predecessor, an electronic differential that the engineers christened the 'E-Diff'. This works in conjunction with the stability control system to regulate wheelspin through the corners, giving extra safety and greater driving involvement. As a result of all of this, there's certainly substance to the claim that this improved MG6 model is just as much of a 'driver's car' as the original version was.

Are there still other issues though? A few. If you stall the car, there's the irritation that it can't be re-started unless you select neutral. And talking of gearboxes, given that a high percentage of buyers of the previous version of this car were retired, you'd think that an automatic transmission option would have been offered; it never was. Then there's the fact that cabin noise levels are higher than you'd expect from a car of this class. To be fair though, the diesel thrum settles down a bit once you get into a cruise. Once you do, take a look around. There's heated leather seats and sat nav on most models, all for not much more than supermini-money. With that in mind, a bit of a throaty engine note seems quite a small price to pay.

Overall

There nothing wrong with the concept behind the MG brand. That of taking nearly a century of heritage and blending it with the might of the world's fastest growing manufacturing nation. SAIC, MG's parent company, does after all, annually build almost six million cars. It's a combination that in the future, will doubtless bring us better models than this MG6.

Still, if you don't mind making a few compromises and you find a well looked-after car, this could still make sense as a value-orientated family set of wheels. Provided that is, you go for this post-2015 revised model. Build quality in the earlier version was woeful. This improved design was much better in this regard and feels much more up to date. Which leaves you free to properly appreciate the fact that here, you're being offered a car that's bigger and better equipped than a typical 'C-segment'-sized Focus-style model. At a price the same or less than you'd pay for a much feebler diesel-powered 'B-segment'-sized VW Polo-style supermini. That's quite a draw, especially when this MG6 also throws in sporty handling, clever technology and an evocative badge.

The MG6 is unusual, a little different and in some ways something of a breath of fresh air in a market sector getting rather set in its ways. If the badge chimes with you and you're in search of something in the Focus or Astra segment that'll give you a little more for your money, then it's well worth a try.

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