Is the arrival of the new MG 6 a watershed moment for Chinese cars in Europe, or is this just another also-ran?

Neither good enough nor cheap enough – not by a long chalk. That’s an accurate summary of the outgoing MG 6MG Motor’s re-engineered UK-market version of China’s Roewe 550 – and a direct one when you consider that, for the past few years, it has been MG’s own unofficial party line.

Although the 6 was launched in 2011, MG insiders admitted, when pressed, that its mid-sized hatchback wouldn’t really be fit to challenge Europe’s budget hatchbacks until after its first mid-life facelift.

Slow sales until now have been thusly explained, accepted and even excused. Car makers are seldom so matter of fact about their products, but such frankness always speaks volumes.

So now that Longbridge has had its chance to revisit the car and make more of the improvements that it evidently recognised the need for several years ago, has Britain got its first really competitive Chinese family car?

Has the full potential for value of something built in Shanghai but bought in Selly Oak been belatedly delivered? And does the 6 now have what it takes to tempt you out of a European-built five-door as practical, comfortable and carefully executed as the Skoda Octavia?

It certainly seems to have the price for it. This is a 4.6-metre-long, 148bhp turbodiesel five-door – itself a good 10% bigger and more spacious than your average Ford Focus combatant – but it’s yours for little more than an entry-level diesel Ford Fiesta.

Mindful of the need to reposition this car as a true value champion, MG has improved the 6’s value by up to £3000 when corrected for a standard equipment list that includes heated seats and LED running lights on entry-level S versions. You get plenty for your money, then.

Spend £16,195 on a mid-spec TS car such as the one you’re looking at on these pages and you’ll get part-leather seats, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, cruise control and a 7.0in touchscreen multimedia system with sat-nav.

You don’t quite need to go to the Elegance trim level of the Octavia we lined up in opposition to match the MG’s kit level; an SE Business with a couple of options will do. But even the lesser version of the Skoda will set you back just over £21,000.

So with a 25% price advantage, the 6 starts this comparison with a healthy head start. It has refreshed front and rear-end styling – nothing too bold or shiny, just a welcome dose of added smartness sensitively applied. And the car’s position has been further rationalised by changes made under the bonnet, under all four corners of the body and inside the cabin.

MG has discarded the turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol engine with which the 6 made its UK debut and now offers only the UK-developed 1.8-litre DTI-Tech turbodiesel introduced in 2013, albeit in updated form.

Read the full Skoda Octavia review

Although it makes the same 148bhp and 258lb ft as before, that engine contributes to modest improvements on claimed fuel economy, CO2 emissions and 0-62mph acceleration.

On all three fronts, it’s helped by a 75kg overall weight saving, old model to new, and by the decision to offer only 16in alloy wheels even on full-house TL models. The outgoing version ran with broader-profile rims up to 18in in diameter.

All of which allows the 6 to brush aside the first challenge that every budget car is set in 2015: thou shalt not compromise. The MG is within a couple of tenths of the Skoda on the 0-62mph sprint and competitive on claimed efficiency. On paper, it’s a contender. And it’s cheap – at face value, at least. Half the battle? Perhaps not, but it’s enough to tempt plenty into a showroom, or even a test drive.

So it’s with a certain cautious optimism that you swing the MG’s door open, lever yourself into the driver’s seat and thunk the door closed behind you. Comfy seat, well-located controls, decent visibility, lots of space: check, check, check and check again.

Where the facelifted car improves on the original is with greater attention to material and ergonomic detail. Firstly, the ugly mechanical handbrake has been replaced by a much neater electronic one. You needn’t reach over to the far side of the transmission tunnel to operate it, and it’ll never trap your thumb. Hurrah.

That, in turn, has made space for some of the switchgear formerly located on the MG’s crowded centre stack to migrate to a much clearer-looking console just aft of the redesigned gearlever. The difference made to your overall impression of the car’s centre console is marked.

But it’s not just that the cabin layout has improved. It’s as if 50% more money has been spent on most of the buttons, dials and knobs you frequently use. There’s much more sophisticated and effective use of chrome, too, and less shiny, binbag-black plastic. And higher on the dashboard, the darker grey trim around the air vents, the new multimedia set-up and the clearer, classier-looking instruments look far better than what went before.

Upshot: the MG’s cabin now seems entirely acceptable for a budget option. It still isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to earn your forgiveness. The digital water temperature and fuel gauges are a bit crude and dated, and the scroll wheels mounted on the steering wheel look and feel like they’d last about five minutes at the hands of a curious toddler.

Read the 2015 MG 6 review

Meanwhile, the 6’s cheap plastic starter key is still very much like something you’d give to that curious toddler to keep him from breaking your steering wheel. These, however, are minor irritants among a dwindling number. And only in comparison with the unerring consistency, dutiful care and brilliantly simple usability of a cabin such as the Octavia’s do they seem genuinely unpalatable.

To the eye and the touch, the Skoda’s material highlights are no ritzier than the MG’s, but it just doesn’t have the low points that cause those odd few involuntary winces. The Octavia’s glovebox and door bins are lined. Its plastics are smooth, solid and perfectly matched absolutely everywhere.

The Skoda’s multimedia system is so easily navigated that you could master it from the back seat using only your grandmother’s walking stick. The MG’s, by contrast, won’t let you connect your smartphone via Mirrorlink and Bluetooth at the same time, so you can watch a video on the 7.0in colour screen but not hear the audio.

The Octavia is also the more practical car of the two, with more leg room in both rows and a considerably larger boot. Offering greater usability than the average family five-door, the MG gets close to the Skoda’s standard here for the money, just as it did on cabin appointment. But it is not quite close enough to recommend without caveat, which goes to show how much budget-brand manufacturers have to do to win mainstream approval in 2015.

The chink of light presented to the MG is on driving dynamics, though, because as competent, quiet, comfy and long-legged as the Octavia is, there’s little that’s flavoursome or engaging about it.

With its loping ride, large steering wheel and stability-biased handling, the Skoda is a pragmatist right down to its contact patches. It’s entirely undemanding to drive, mechanically refined and reassuringly enveloping. But it’s so dedicated to comfort and ease of use that it seems a touch prosaic and straight-laced at times. It’s capable but ultimately unwilling to indulge you in a momentary bit of country-road fun.

On the basis of MG’s previous 6 and the current 3, you’d imagine the new 6 might better serve more sporting tastes. But it seems that, perhaps by switching to those 16in wheels, Longbridge has eroded the car’s one outstanding selling point.

The 6 remains a much more game-handling prospect than the Octavia, with firmer springs, stouter damping and stiffer roll control, but it lacks the mechanical grip, incisive front end and steering feedback of its forebear. Some deterioration in handling agility is an unavoidable consequence of the decision to cut emissions by reducing wheel and tyre size.

But to this tester, it feels as if the suspension and power steering haven’t been thoroughly retuned to compensate for the reduced cornering forces. So the ride is slightly over-damped over a bad surface. During hard cornering, the suspension feels a bit unyielding, overworking its outside front tyre and nudging into understeer quite early on. And the steering is erratic and over-assisted, with weight disappearing as you add lock and allowing a certain pendulousness to corrupt your directional precision.

This is not the only area where MG Motor’s UK development engineers still have work to do to bring this car up to standard, either. On engine refinement, the 6’s diesel misses the mark by some margin. It sounds clattery and harsh on start-up and under load. Despite developing more torque than the Skoda in outright terms, it’s also less responsive to the accelerator pedal than most modern diesels, with a bit of turbo lag at times.

As needless as it seems to spell it out, the Skoda is the better car here – and by a big enough margin that its higher price will be worth paying for most of those who can afford it.

MG deserves credit for getting closer to the prevailing European standard on cabin quality and making the 6 competitive enough on performance, economy and emissions. More effort and finesse are required on refinement and handling, although if you’re paying cash and you don’t have high expectations, you may not find the 6 particularly disappointing on either front.

Disappointment may be more likely to stem from what customers are asked to pay for a finance deal. MG Motor’s own finance deals have yet to be announced but, because of savage depreciation, those deals won’t show the same 25% value advantage over other like-for-like hatchbacks that the list price suggests.

Typical personal contract purchase deals on the Octavia, running over three years and 36,000 miles and starting with a three-month deposit, start at about £260 a month. On the 6, they may be cheaper, but probably not by much.

The verdict

The truth is that depreciation will hold this revised MG back more than any functional or material shortcoming, because most private car buyers take finance these days, and the ones who don’t tend to recognise a financial time bomb when they see one. It’s the problem that MG Motor UK has the least control over and the main reason why a 6 probably won’t be a recommendable new car for at least another model generation yet.

At least it’s safe to assume that, by the time this MG becomes a safe place to put your money, it’ll probably also have become more of a match for the likes of the Octavia in other ways. But it isn’t there yet – not by a long chalk. 

Read Autocar's previous comparison - Caterham 360 R versus Zenos E10 S

MG Motor MG 6 DTI-Tech TS

Price £16,195; 0-62mph 8.6 seconds; Top speed 120mph; Economy 61.4mpg; CO2 emissions 119g/km; Kerb weight 1530kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1894cc, turbodiesel; Power 148bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1800rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI Elegance

Price £22,525; 0-62mph 8.5 seconds; Top speed 135mph; Economy 68.9mpg; CO2 emissions 106g/km; Kerb weight 1330kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power 148bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1740rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

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Our Verdict

MG 6 2011-2014

Can the MG Motor MG6, the company's first all-new car under Chinese ownership, hit its mark?

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Comments
23

2 May 2015
I keep on seeing big magazine publications calling this a Chinese car because its just a rebadged Roewe 550, but that simply isn't the case. The Roewe 550 was a car that was in development just as MG-Rover went bust in 2005, once NAC picked them up (and later SAIC), they funded the project and it finally got released. It was designed and engineered in the UK, many of the staff ex-MG-Rover Employees.

A more sophisticated version was then developed at Longbridge, which became the MG6 that you see now. Both cars share parts (mostly the front frame) with the old Rover 75. Apart from the funding coming from SAIC, I fail to see how this is a Chinese car (same with the MG3). The upcoming MG GS crossover is a British design effort, too, and even uses a British AWD system (the name of the company who'll be making it for them escapes me right now). If/when MG make do on their promises to expand into Europe, then all the European model will be manufactured in the UK, too.

Apologies for the mini-rant but it drives me a little mad. Instead of constantly saying "Chinese car!", why don't we have some darn national pride and just say it like it is? The UK has a British branded volume car manufacturer again that is slowly building a reputation for good products and service.

2 May 2015
benanderson89 wrote:

Apologies for the mini-rant but it drives me a little mad. Instead of constantly saying "Chinese car!", why don't we have some darn national pride and just say it like it is? The UK has a British branded volume car manufacturer again that is slowly building a reputation for good products and service.

Oh please! Its a chinese car. A Nissan Qashqai or Honda Civic that is made here is more british than this contraption. Reminds me of the time when Indian cars were branded and sold as Rovers ....Thousands of carmakers design their cars in Britain, we don't call all of them british, do we?.....They make these in china and ship them as knocked down kits for assembly.....apparently they plan to ship these kits to Thailand as well, will this become a Thai car as well then?!.....If MG wants to make a headway in UK sales then it should lower its pricing and look at how Dacia is gaining traction in the UK market. This strategy of a chinese built car on a chassis designed 2 decades ago......then assembling it here and hoping the people see it as a british car is simply hogwash!!

2 May 2015
shortbread wrote:

Oh please! Its a chinese car. A Nissan Qashqai or Honda Civic that is made here is more british than this contraption. Reminds me of the time when Indian cars were branded and sold as Rovers ....Thousands of carmakers design their cars in Britain, we don't call all of them british, do we?.....They make these in china and ship them as knocked down kits for assembly.....apparently they plan to ship these kits to Thailand as well, will this become a Thai car as well then?!.....If MG wants to make a headway in UK sales then it should lower its pricing and look at how Dacia is gaining traction in the UK market. This strategy of a chinese built car on a chassis designed 2 decades ago......then assembling it here and hoping the people see it as a british car is simply hogwash!!

Manufacturing location is a silly way to gauge what country a car is from - because many brands, from Chevrolet to Range Rover, manufacture cars for other markets IN those markets, or send knock-down kits all over the world. You wouldn't call the Chevrolet Malibu anything other then an American car, because it was designed and engineered in the United States under an American brand-name. Same with Dodge, who are now owned by the Italians (Fiat). The Dodge subsidiary is registered in America and the cars were designed and engineered in the USA. MG Motors UK is a UK brand subsidiary, and the cars are designed and engineered at Longbrige, even engines have been designed in-house at that facility within its engine testing centre. If we followed your logic, Volvo is just another brand in Geely Automotive's vast portfolio. The only time where country of origin becomes hazy is if the parent country has little input at all such as with the Nissan Qashqai, which was designed in London, engineered in Cranfield and then built in Sunderland, China and Japan. If the MG6 was a class leader in some form, i'd put money on people like you instantly reaching for the Union Jack to fly high and proud at the marvel of British engineering - but because its average, its a product of the Chinese.

2 May 2015
benanderson89 wrote:

Apologies for the mini-rant but it drives me a little mad. Instead of constantly saying "Chinese car!", why don't we have some darn national pride and just say it like it is?

British or Chinese it's still rubbish.

 

2 May 2015
...I think it's 'adequate'. The MG 6 will have its fans - although I don't count myself amongst them - but what strikes me is how surprisingly good it is. Perhaps the British mechanicals, design and engineering have given it a head start, but have people forgotten just how dreadful early Japanese and Korean cars were? It took them decades to catch up with (and occasionally surpass) the competition. MG have achieved the same leap in quality in under five years that took over fifteen years for Kia and Hyundai. I think the next generation of MG cars are going to be a range to be taken even more seriously.

2 May 2015
Dark Isle wrote:

...I think it's 'adequate'. The MG 6 will have its fans - although I don't count myself amongst them - but what strikes me is how surprisingly good it is. Perhaps the British mechanicals, design and engineering have given it a head start, but have people forgotten just how dreadful early Japanese and Korean cars were?

Korean cars, I'll grant you that, but Japanese cars? Which particular cars are you saying were dreadful. In todays terms they were more than dreadful but you need to judge like-4-like. My father's 1972 Corolla - what was the opposition? You obviously haven't heard of the British car industry. The Europeans were just as bad, the likes of Alfa and Lancia probably the worst. Straight from day 1 the Japanese re-defined reliability, they were a game changer.

2 May 2015
scotty5 wrote:

Korean cars, I'll grant you that, but Japanese cars?

Damn this lack of editing or delete key. What I meant to say was Korean cars may have been awful but they price on their side when they first came to the UK. The Japanese brought reliability. What have the Chinese brought to the table? Their cars are take the game backwards, and THAT's the reason they don't sell. Can't see this new MG6 being any different because thanks to their initial offerings, the MG6 has a bad reputation.

2 May 2015
So near yet so far,that's what describes the MG6,it's a nice looking Car,but, looks aren't aren't going to sell it,the interior is naff,cheap in some areas,engine choice is very limited,a bad idea,most other brands have at least four,and,i know of only one dealership who sell MG's within ten miles of where i live!,and it's not there main brand they sell(Seat),like i said, so near but, oh so far far away.

Peter Cavellini.

2 May 2015
That's a brilliant way to finish the review; I trust that conclusion more than any previous AutoCar MG review! As others have stated, it's a Chinese car. We simply don't know how well it will last, and what it's second hand value would be. So the question I would put: If you only had the budget for the MG 6 would you be better buying a used Skoda Octavia?

2 May 2015
Some people need to get over the idea that MG is, in any sense whatsoever, British anymore.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

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