The MG SV has been worked on for nine years by three different manufacturers. If time spent in development is directly proportional to the quality of the product, it ought to be the best car we’ve ever driven.
It began life with de Tomaso, went into production briefly as the Qvale Mangusta in 2000 but was hauled back into a darkened room when Qvale was bought by MG later that year.
Four years of concepts, rethinks and a total carbonfibre reskin followed; it was only last week that we finally found ourselves holding a set of MG keys, looking at an SV and an open road.
The temptation is to jump in, belt off and see just how good nine years of thought can make a car. But the SV is so arresting to look at that you can put the driving off for another 10 minutes just to walk around it. It looks exactly like what MG needs it to be; a hero car, festooned with outrageous details which can be toned down and echoed on MG’s humbler offerings.
When combined at full volume on one car, the result is monstrously aggressive and quite unlike anything else on the road. But you could never describe it as pretty and, prompted for specific criticisms, we’d identify the amount of air in the wheelarches, which seems to shrink the 18-inch OZ rims, and the very un-sports car-like gap between the ground and the front air dam.
The mad detailing distracts your attention from the SV’s very conventional three-box profile and a roofline which, at 1320mm, is only a little lower than a BMW M3’s; the sports and supercars it’s aimed at sit at least 100mm lower still.
You can get in and out easily, and there’s masses of headroom, light and visibility, but the driving environment is a bit saloon-like and can’t match the drama of the exterior.
The windscreen and dash are both very upright, and the excellent Recaro chairs adjust commendably low, but leave you with no view of the long prow. An electric seat-height adjuster raises the chair should you be sitting too low, but it lifts only the rear end of the seat, to tip you towards the dash.
And you may be surprised to find racing harnesses to strap you in place, part-compensation for the absence of any airbags. The dials and dash aren’t exactly 85 grand’s worth to look at either, and the interior build quality is the usual low-volume Brit sports car stuff, despite much of the SV being made in Italy.
There are flashes of perfection in the shutlines between the doorsills and the dash and the exposed carbonfibre panels, and the surface of the body is impressively smooth. But there are terrible lapses, too, not to mention the all-pervading smell of glue. But there’s little point comparing the build quality of cars like the MG and TVR with Porsches; the former could produce several new models each with the interior budget of the new 997.
The MG’s failing is that, unlike a TVR, it doesn’t do anything sufficiently exciting inside. It also suffers from the inheritance of the drop-top Mangusta; the area behind the seats where the roof once went is now a reasonable luggage area, but the worryingly small 56-litre fuel tank and battery leave only a couple of awkward spaces under the bootlid.
The SV’s all-alloy Ford quad-cam V8 is available in two strengths. Both are built by tuner Sean Hyland in Canada; the SV produces 320bhp and 301lb ft and the R, tested here and bored-out to 5.0-litres, makes 385bhp at 6000rpm and 375lb ft of torque at 4750rpm.