It is now 90 years since the first MG went on sale in 1924. The iconic British brand has been revived and is now owned by the Chinese. Today’s MGs are designed, engineered and undergo final assembly at the brand’s historic home in Longbridge, Birmingham by MG Motor UK.
MG Motor UK is owned by the SAIC Motor Corporation. SAIC Motor achieved record global sales of over 5.1 million units in 2013, an increase of 13.7% over those in 2012 sales. SAIC Motor is the first Chinese automotive manufacturer to exceed five million units in a year and 230,000 units of this figure can be attributed to sales of the MG and Roewe marques worldwide.
In the UK the MG brand only sold 504 cars last year, 35.5% less than in 2012. With ten new UK dealerships added to their network already this year they have boosted sales by over 360% with 185 registrations in just two months. To sell more cars the brand needed more dealers now they just need more models.
MG says their aim for the brand is to make stylish cars that are fun to drive and own at attractive affordable prices. The latest offering launched last November, the MG3 five door 1.5-litre petrol powered ‘supermini’ B-segment sized hatchback, is no exception and prices start at a very competitive £8,399 and none of them are exactly short on specification and of course carry the well known MG badge. To compliment the range there is a wide range of extra cost personalisation options, including body graphics, customers can choose from.
Older motorists will remember MG in its prime with affordable sports cars and sports saloons. Many will still remember the Rover 200 and Rover 25 who’s genes are somewhere in the MG3’s family tree and who can forget the MG label being placed on versions of the BMC’s Metro and Maestro models, BMC (British Motor Corporation) being the former owner of Longbridge.
The MG line-up also includes the MG6 C-segment five door GT hatchback and four door saloons with the option of 1.8-litre petrol and 1.9-litre diesel engines with prices starting at £15,455.
It has to compete performance and price-wise with the best selling Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, VW Polo, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris, Peugeot 208, Citroen DS3 plus more supermini models from Hyundai, Kia and now from the budget Dacia brand with its Sandero.
Whilst it can certainly compete on price it needs to be desirable and the MG branding is its strongest appeal, certainly for older buyers who remember the MG heritage. MG has also started to compete in the British Touring Car Championship with the MG6 GT Hatchback to raise the brand’s profile.
Whilst the larger but aged MG6 offers no real price advantage over discounted Focus and Astra models, the MG3 is a vastly different proposition. There are Time, Form, Form Sport and Style levels of specification and all use the high revving 1.5-litre, 105bhp, 101lb ft of torque from 4,750rpm petrol engine. This unit is certainly not the latest word in technical sophistication with no direct injection, no turbo boost and not especially clean in CO2 terms emitting 136g/km. It is used in conjunction with a five speed manual gearbox with well spaced ratios to suit the engine’s power output characteristics. Unfortunately no automatic gearbox option is available and these are popular with older or less able customers who buy in the budget priced supermini sector.
The new MG3 five door hatchback has an elongated wheelbase and with its chunky but curvaceous exterior styling it looks quite good in the flesh. The Sport version I tried has 16-inch alloy wheels, sports front grille, bulbous front bumper, sculptured lower door panel sections, rear tailgate roof spoiler, square exhaust tailpipe and of course MG badging showing off its heritage. Inside it offers better space in the rear and the boot compared to most other supermini and in the front the dashboard is neat, the seats are comfortable and it has a very good driving position and good visibility all round. There is a deep boot offering 256-litres of space which can be extended up to 1,262-litres with the rear seats folded down and it comes with a spare wheel.
The £9,549 Form Sport version tested has all the previous MG hallmarks of grey seats with red stitching and red fascia highlights. The instruments are ‘tunnel’ design and overall the inside looks quite sporty so in terms of design it lives up to its ‘Sport’ classification. The specification includes front and rear electric windows, electrically operated heated door mirrors, air conditioning DAB radio, Bluetooth, six speakers/tweeters and central door locking. On the technical side the model has LED daytime running lights, antilock braking, electronic stability control, hill hold and tyres pressure monitoring. Some of the electric functions such as wipers, heater fan, central door locking are a bit noisy in operation. For the money the MG3 sees off the competition specification wise.
In terms of driving performance it is less convincing. The handling, agility, sharp steering and relatively comfortable ride are its strong points. There was considerable noise intrusion from the suspension when potholes were encountered and tyre noise was high The normally aspirated engine is nowhere near as refined or as responsive compared to the latest Ford, or the family of Renault, Nissan and Dacia engines or VW Group turbocharged units.
When cold the MG 1.5-litre unit was hesitant and didn’t run that smoothly until it was warm. The engine performed best when revved but I got the feeling it was being strangled of performance to keep it as fuel and CO2 efficient as possible. Though the power and maximum torque are developed quite high up the rev-range with its five speed manual gearbox the ratios are well spaced and so provided relatively responsive driveability on the open road or in town traffic. Top speed is 108mph and zero to 62mph takes 10.9 seconds so it’s workmanlike rather than sporty. Although the recent horrendous weather and flooding in my area curtailed my driving opportunities the car returned 37.5mpg on rural A/B roads.
The MG3 has space, affordability and the Form Sport version has high specification, smart looks, affordable price and low insurance costs on its side backed up by low cost finance options so it should be considered by customers wanting a new car. However it lags behind the technical abilities offered by models such as the Suzuki Swift Sport which of course is a third more expensive. So customers face their usual personal decision; do they buy a well equipped new budget car or do they buy a used one such as the latest Ford Fiesta and its far more efficient drivetrain? It’s a tough choice.
MILESTONES. MG3 FORM SPORT 5-Door. Price: £9,549. Engine/transmission: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, normally aspirated petrol, 105bhp, 101lb ft of torque from 4,750rpm, 5-speed manual. Performance: 108mph, 0-62mph 10.9 seconds, 48.7mpg Combined Cycle (37.5mpg on test), CO2 136g/km, VED road tax £125. BIK company car tax from April 20%. Insurance group: 4E. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles. Boot capacity: 256 to 1,262-litres. For: Spacious, affordable, well equipped, good looks, MG branding, low insurance costs. Against: A modern body but with an aged heart, no official Euro NCAP rating as yet but it has good safety equipment, no auto transmission option for any model, noisy heater fan, wipers and central door locking functions Miles better news agency