Currently reading: MG6 first drive - exclusive
Shock verdict: "New MG6 is borderline best in class to drive"

The MG6 will go on sale in the UK next year, and Autocar's chief road tester Matt Prior has had an exclusive drive of the Longbridge-developed car.

Contrary to what many people think, the MG6 - or Roewe 550 as it’s called in China - is a clean sheet design, and not based on a shortened Rover 75 platform.

See the MG6 test pictures

The Roewe variant went on sale in China last year, and has already sold 100,000 units. The MG6 will be on sale in the UK from the start of 2011, with final assembly taking place at Longbridge.

The good news is that not only was the 6 largely engineered in the UK, but it will also be sold here on a Europe-exclusive chassis set-up, honed and tweaked on the roads we tested it on. As a benchmark, we took a Ford Focus Zetec S along on the same route.

The roads are in and around mid-Wales, and are some of the most challenging and demanding in the world. If a car works here, it'll work pretty much anywhere.

Climbing aboard, there's a shock. The 6's cabin may be a belter by Chinese standards, but it's not on a par with better European cars. There are soft-touch plastics and a dark ambience, but it's a bit austere and the design looks flat in places. It's a pre-production model, but it could use finessing by a few notches.

Moving off, I reckon the gearchange on the five-speed manual and NVH levels could (and I believe will) be improved too.

The only engine at launch is a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol, though diesels and other petrols will follow. It's a reworked K-series and - although it meets Euro5 emissions levels - accelerating away from a couple of roundabouts as we head west, it gets a little strained higher up the rev band.

What the MG6 does do, though, is drive well. And I mean really well. MG's head of chassis, Andy Kitson, admits the Focus has been the firm's benchmark for ride and handling. The MG6 has a rare blend of suppleness and poise.

The steering is still hydraulic rather than electric, and apparently it's slower than the Focus's, but it doesn't feel it. Kitson says there's still a little work to do on the valves to alter the feel at straight ahead but it's not bad now. And once there's a little lock wound on, it's excellent.

Then there's the ride. Hopping to and from a Focus reveals that the Ford's cabin suffers less vertical intrusion over bumps, but it's obvious this is the car MG has benchmarked. In its poise and agility I'd even say the MG6 is superior. It feels more neutral than the Focus, with a pivot point further forward; the Ford in comparison feels led more by its front.

The MG grips tenaciously before eventually letting slip from the front first, and it changes direction superbly. It is comfortable, tool greater vertical inputs into the cabin aside, there's no crash, even over bad bumps.

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Fact is, the MG6 is already (and there's still tweaking to do) borderline best in class to drive.

Is that enough? Probably not on its own. But it's also spacious and expected to be priced competitively.

If all goes well there's scope for up to 150,000 vehicles per year to be assembled out of MG Birmingham, even in its current size.

Read the full test drive story in this week's Autocar magazine (7 April 2010).

Matt Prior

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nick80 11 April 2010

Re: MG6 first drive - exclusive

Is it just me, or is the centre console design ripped off a BMW?

Symanski 10 April 2010

Re: MG6 first drive - exclusive

ordinary bloke wrote:
chairman of BMW, Bernt Pischetreider (?), laid into the factory and workers at MG/Rover's launch of their best car in years, the 75. His criticism at that launch (part of his company, don't forget) effectively killed sales stone dead

I don't think that would have made much of a difference. An ordinary bloke on the street wouldn't have been aware. Rather it's if they like the look and their perceived impression of the car that will attract them in to the showrooms.

At the time of the 75's launch I did sit in one and was impressed by it's space, comfort and quality of finish. It was for a generation or two older than I, but it was impressive.

Symanski 10 April 2010

Re: MG6 first drive - exclusive

peachyjohn wrote:
build in the u.k

No, it's shipped over in a kit form and finished in the UK. Think of them fitting the wheels to it! That's what they do with the TF.

peachyjohn wrote:
it is a british brand

In name it was a British brand but is no more.

The best way to think about this is that Daewoo started with an old Astra design before starting with their own designs. Did this mean they were Vauxhall? No. They were a new company. Eventually they built up their own reputation. These Chinese cars we just don't know how well they'll last in the UK; they've still to build their own reputation.