Neither good enough nor cheap enough – not by a long chalk. That’s an accurate summary of the outgoing MG 6 – MG 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.
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.