Richard Bremner
20 April 2011

What is it?

The MG 3 supermini is the next step in the regeneration of MG by its owner, SAIC. If all goes to plan, it will join the MG 6 in Longbridge’s cavernous assembly halls, where the last 20 per cent of the assembly process will be performed on semi-complete kits from China.

It’s a long way from turning rolls of sheet steel into motor cars, but this is a major step forward for what was a virtually dormant plant. And like the MG 6, the MG 3 has largely been designed, engineered and developed in the UK.

What we’re sampling here is a pre-production MG 3 built to Chinese specification; a European version is also under development.

As with the MG 6, that will mean tweaks to the suspension to provide a more sporting feel, weightier electric power steering, different interior upholstery and, it is hoped, significant upgrades to the cabin quality. But the car is essentially as you see it here, and in mechanical terms it’s entirely conventional.

What's it like?

Tested here is a 1.5-litre automated manual with optional two-tone paint – China’s top-of-the-range specification. The MG’s deep flanks, shallow glasshouse, back-swept grille and sizeable rear lamps make it quite distinctive, especially with the two-tone paint, but the end result looks close to a Skoda Fabia and threatens to date over the next 18 months.

The same applies inside, where you find an unfussy-looking dashboard whose neatly spare style is undermined by easily marked, hard-to-the-touch plastics that are well adrift of the standards set by Volkswagen, Ford and many others, and never mind the unusual ice-white finish of some interior components. But the driving position is good, despite the column’s lack of reach adjustment, and the cabin is generously scaled.

Another plus is the MG’s robust aura – a good thing, given China’s bold driving style – and its civility at speed. The chassis shows promise, too, although it clearly needs calibrating for European tastes.

Positives include plenty of grip, limited roll and good stability, but the electric power steering, although free of tactile artificiality, is overlight, feel-less and curiously short of precision, the MG’s trajectory quite often needing mid-bend corrections. Push it hard and a tightening of line can be achieved with the throttle, which is promising.

Ride quality was hard to determine on SAIC’s paper-smooth test track, although a solitary hard-hit ridge did provoke some steering kickback. The brakes could use more bite, too. So, more work needed here, then.

The MG’s automated manual is among the better of the breed for small cars, but the standards are low. There’s some hesitancy on take-off, full-throttle changes thump a bit and the ’box is slothful during manually triggered shifts under enthusiastic driving. At less frenetic speeds, it’s acceptably smooth.

So is the engine until you reach the high 5000s, but the lightly strained sounds heard here fade slightly towards 6000rpm and beyond. Work it hard and the engine is brisk, although impeded by leggy gearing.

Should I buy one?

The MG 3 needs a fair bit of refining to meet European standards, but there’s clearly a sound car here, and it has potential to play the modest entertainer like the MG 6. Two-tone paint and white cabin decor are far from enough to disguise the fact that this is a robust, budget supermini whose presentation falls well short of the class best.

It will need clever upgrading and keen pricing to succeed, but it’s not without appeal.

 

MG 3 1.5L AMT

Price: £14,000 (est); Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: na; Economy: 55.4mpg (combined); CO2: na; Kerb weight: 1150kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1498cc, petrol; Power: 107bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 84lb ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd automated manual

Join the debate

Comments
25

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

So far so good then. It's probably the most credible Chinese cars to date. At more than 1.1 tonne, the 3 seems a tad overweight though. I do like the fact it has an automated manual 'box.

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

The guys at Longbridge will be able to sort the Chassis out. I was speaking to Ian Podgson (Chief engineer MG) over the weekend and he is passionate about his work.

Cabin quality was criticised with the 6, but I thought it was fair quality. Depends on price.. I'd rather have it sell for less with the current plastics rather than bump up the price to improve it.

Let the MG/China bashing commence....

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

Looks neat, as does the interior. If priced right, could, and should, do well

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10 years of Smart ownership over, sensible car mode activated

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

PRODIGY wrote:
Cabin quality was criticised with the 6, but I thought it was fair quality. Depends on price.. I'd rather have it sell for less with the current plastics rather than bump up the price to improve it
Renault have been selling both a cheap and a quality version of the Clio dash, depending on spec. No reason why this could not also be done!

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10 years of Smart ownership over, sensible car mode activated

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

superstevie wrote:
PRODIGY wrote:
Cabin quality was criticised with the 6, but I thought it was fair quality. Depends on price.. I'd rather have it sell for less with the current plastics rather than bump up the price to improve it
Renault have been selling both a cheap and a quality version of the Clio dash, depending on spec. No reason why this could not also be done!

Great idea! I never knew that about the Clio, but I was really impressed with the cabin and plastics in a (pre-facelift) Clio I drove in Spain 2 years ago - compared with the last gen Fiesta hire car my Dad had, it was like comparing chalk and cheese.

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

Interesting test but one that's not particuarly relevant considering the development and time until we see it in the UK market. Yes, it is a good base but that's exactly what it is, a base.

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

'The easily marked, hard-to-the-touch plastics cannot match VW or Ford' Are Autocar being serious? Ford have good quality interiors? The Fiesta is just a mess of cheap plastics and the Mondeo is just lot's of shiny plastics and fake wood. VW do have good quality if boring interiors but Ford cannot be put in the same sentence with VW and quality.

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

PRODIGY wrote:
I never knew that about the Clio
Yeah, the Clio basic models & RS Cup gets the low rent interior, and the higher specs and standard RS gets the upmarket one with soft plastics etc

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10 years of Smart ownership over, sensible car mode activated

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

timmmmy wrote:
VW do have good quality if boring interiors but Ford cannot be put in the same sentence with VW and quality.

Not sure i entirely agree with that comment, a VW Golf I hired recently had very cheap quality plastics around the seat base. Not that it bothered me particularly.

This new MG is an interesting thing, its pretty much a Skoda Fabia Mk2 with a Skoda Fabia Mk1 dashboard. However its still a nice car visually and i can`t really see how it will date quickly. Love the 2 tone colour scheme BTW.

Re: MG 3 1.5L

3 years 13 weeks ago

timmmmy wrote:
'The easily marked, hard-to-the-touch plastics cannot match VW or Ford' Are Autocar being serious? Ford have good quality interiors? The Fiesta is just a mess of cheap plastics and the Mondeo is just lot's of shiny plastics and fake wood. VW do have good quality if boring interiors but Ford cannot be put in the same sentence with VW and quality

The fake wood in the Mondeo was nasty, but it has been dropped now. As for general Ford interior's, they're not a match for a VW, but they're not far off. After 3 years and over 40k my Focus is squeak free, plus the often criticised hard plastics lower in the cabin are wearing very well. I don't mind hard plastics in a car - it's practical, but they shouldn't scratch easily which seems to be the problem here.

As for this MG3 in general it seems more promising than the MG6 providing the price is right. I know it's only Autocar's estimate, but £14k is a lot even for a top spec model.

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