Let’s get one thing out of the way first. In just about every single department, it’s possible to find a better car than the new MG3. The Ford Fiesta is better to drive. The Volkswagen Polo is better built. The Kia Rio offers a superior warranty package. The Alfa Romeo MiTo is better looking. And the Dacia Sandero is cheaper. But to write off the MG3 as an also ran would be mistake. It’s far from perfect, but against all the odds, the MG3 remains a flawed diamond.
It manages to deliver something that’s sadly lacking in most modem cars. And that’s a bucketload of character. Maybe it’s the MG badge, but there’s something thoroughly engaging about the MG 3Style. And for that reason, it deserves your attention. Is that MG badge a help or a hindrance? Does it raise hope or expectation? Perhaps it’s a bit of both. But one thing’s for sure, seeing the octagonal MG badge on the steering wheel does create a sense of willingness for the little MG3 to achieve something.
No matter that it says SAIC Motor on the side window next to your right elbow, a stark reminder that MG is more Chinese than British these days. You just can’t stop yourself from wanting the MG3 to do well. But of course, this goodwill will only take it so far.
Or at least as far as the 1.5-litre petrol engine will take it. Which – to be perfectly honest – isn’t that far at all. Alongside the other petrol engines in the MG3’s sector, the wheezy 105bhp engine just doesn’t cut it. The key issue is the 137Nm of torque – which would be perfectly adequate – were it not for the fact that it peaks at 4,750rpm, meaning you need to work really hard to get the best from the engine.
Fine if the hard work rewards you with a fine engine note and is complemented by a delightful gearbox. Sadly the MG3 offers neither of these things, so making swift progress remains a torturous affair. And naturally, this will put a serious dent in MG’s claimed 48.7mpg on a combined cycle. During a week of mixed driving – two long motorway trips, town driving and B-road shenanigans – the digital readout failed to rise above 36mpg. Which by supermini standards, it’s not good at all.
Of course, the other manufacturers will proudly boast of their own economy figures. Fifty this, sixty that and – in some cases – seventy this and that. In such company the MG3 can’t compete. And with no diesel option available, the MG3 is found wanting.
But all is not lost, because the MG3 has a formidable ace card up its sleeve and it’s not afraid to use it. And that ace card is price.
Ask yourself, how often do you see a car advertised with its maximum price? All too often, a car will advertised with a ‘price from’, only for the disclaimer to reveal the actual model shown is a few grand more expensive. It’s a tried and tested method – lure the punters in to the dealer with a bargain price and then spend a coupe of hours up-selling to a more expensive model.
Well, a couple of hours, or the time it takes the ridiculously hot cup of coffee to cool down.
MG’s approach? ‘Top model, £9,999’. How refreshing. How confident.
And at £9,999 for the top spec MG3 3Style – as tested here – the MG3 is very well priced. For that, you get some rather tasteful 16-inch ‘Cut Diamond’ alloy wheels, cruise control, automatic wipers, automatic lights, reverse parking sensors, remote central locking, leather steering wheel, air conditioning, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel controls.
Impressive indeed, but it’s actually the little touches – some of which cost extra – that make all the difference to the MG3 experience. This is a car that seems to have been designed with a bit of love. MG appears to have done its homework on what matters in this sector.
Take the little MG logo in each headlight. Nobody would mind if it wasn’t there, but it is, and it creates a feel good factor. Then there’s the band of red light which surrounds the DAB radio unit – it’s a lovely touch, which helps to complete a rather wonderful nighttime ambience in the MG3’s cabin.
The LED daytime running lights are also executed as well as any in the business. A mention should equally be given to the sport design grille, rear sport design valance and the chrome square tailpipe, which is very Proton Satria GTi. And will probably divide opinion in much the same way.
The other neat touches on PetrolBlog’s test car, well they cost money. Like the delightfully named ‘Cherry Bomb’ metallic paint, ‘Trophy White’ exterior graphics, ‘Piano Black’ interior pack and Vauxhall ADAM-esque ‘White on the tiles’ wing mirror caps.
Add the ‘Tech’ part leather trim and the MG3 will cost a not altogether unreasonable £11,231. The MG3 3Style would still drive the same without the trimmings, but they do help to create more of an emotional attachment.
And that’s very important to the MG3, as it helps to car to put up a fight in a sector where it may have otherwise struggled. Even taking its undoubted character into account, it’s unlikely to ever win a group test or come out on top of any scoring system. But this is PetrolBlog, where emotions are more important than rationalism.
So we can look beyond the fact that the paint quality is such that – even after four thousand miles – the front bumper was already covered in tiny stone chips. Or the fact that the interior quality struggles to compete with the majority of cars in the sector. But contrary to what you may think, the MG3’s interior really isn’t that bad.
It puts me in mind of the Suzuki Swift, in the respect that everything is clearly laid out and well positioned, but the quality of the plastics can’t match the likes of the Polo, Fabia or even the Fiesta. But you only need to be reminded of the price…
It’s a shame that the engine remains the weak link in the chain, because the MG3 is far better to drive than you’d think. The ride is typically bouncy, but settles down nicely on longer trips. The steering is positive and body roll is well controlled. The go-faster stripes give the MG3 3Style ideas above its station, but it’s still possible to thoroughly enjoy a good drive.
It’s an engaging little car. Because the rough edges haven’t been ironed out, the MG3 presents a rather involving driving experience and you soon learn that some joy is to be had from exploring the upper reaches of the revs range.
The most surprising car of 2013? Undoubtedly.
Admittedly, the expectations were low – especially in light of what was reported on the MG6 – and subsequently discovered after the MG3. Full report to follow.
But these are good times for MG Motor UK. Finally, the company has a car it can proud of and it would appear the marketing strategy has some real force behind it. And since the arrival of Laura Biss, the PR and events side of the business seems to have genuine potential. The fact that Laura arrived from Mercedes-Benz should not be underestimated.
And yet – despite this newfound optimism – the MG brand still retains some parochialism about it. A press release will proudly shout about a new dealer in Spalding. Or a Facebook update that tells MG fans about a MG3 that will be parked outside a Tesco supermarket in Essex. It presents a rather endearing brand character.
This seemingly small-scale, almost family-run feel is a complete accident of course, but it just happens to present the perfect antidote to the fact that MG is actually owned by a huge, faceless Chinese goliath. Long may it continue.
You’ll either get the MG3, or you won’t. There’s a sense of traditionalism about it, which won’t appeal to buyers who are used to soft-touch plastics, supreme build quality and uniform design. But for those buyers who prefer something different – and are prepared to take a punt on the MG3’s unknown long term performance – it’s 100% worthy of your attention.
In fact, as an overall package – including genuine affordability – it feels more like the original Mini than the current MINI does. The 256 litres of boot space coupled with enough interior space to comfortably seat four adults should be applauded. And buyers will have great fun using the ‘Go P3rsonal’ range of personalisation options.
Thinking of buying a new supermini in 2014? Put the MG3 down as your third option. It may just surprise you.
For MG, three really is the magic number.