An excellent all-round package for the money, civilised and good to drive, too

Even a short while ago, the idea that MG Motor could directly benchmark one of its cars against a Volkswagen, not merely as an ambition but as a serious attempt to match and even better the model in question, would have produced reactions ranging from acidic cynicism to full-on mirth.

But study the look, content, price, spec and price again of this MG 4, then take a drive, and your mind will be duly adjusted. This car is more than competitive, more sophisticated than anything MG Motor has offered to date, decently enjoyable to drive, very well equipped, civilised and priced to make you look twice.

Guy Pigounakis, MG Motor’s commercial director and industry veteran of more than 40 years, calls the MG 4 a ‘disruptor’, for offering vastly more for less. He’s particularly pleased with a residual value forecast that enables an especially competitive PCP, starting at £300 per month.

Market essentials such as these, along with a now-extensive dealer network and a seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty, provide the bedrock from which to launch a model that Pigounakis expects to swiftly become MG Motor’s best seller. These days that will make it quite a big seller too, the company’s UK sales swelling near-unstoppably.

The essence of the MG 4 is an all-new modular scalable platform that will see service across parent company SAIC Group’s own-brand models, potentially achieving massive volumes. The MG 4 is the first SAIC product to use a platform notable for a slender battery pack that occupies almost the entirety of the wheelbase, a compact, rear-mounted motor and a 50:50 weight distribution regardless of battery output.

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Of which there’s a choice of two, the base 51kWh pack of the £25,995 MG 4 SE teamed with a 168bhp motor to deliver 218 miles of range and a 7.7sec sprint to 62mph. The £28,495 SE Long Range provides a 64kWh unit good for a 281-mile range and a slightly slower surge to 62mph in 7.9sec, while the range-topping £31,495 Trophy serves the same statistics with usefully more kit.

Not that the standard SE goes short, providing a floating 10.25in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-compatible infotainment screen, a DAB radio, a data-packed 7.0in driver information screen, an extensive suite of electronic driver aids including radar cruise control, lane keeping and traffic jam assist, five driving modes and four levels of regenerative braking.

All this is packaged within a style notably more contemporary than you’ll currently find in an MG Motor showroom, if a little generic. That said, the short rear overhang, elaborate rear lights, floating roof and heavily sculpted, black lower bodywork produce a look more athletic than the Volkswagen ID 3’s.

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The dashboard is more striking too, its strong horizontality broken by the twin floating screens and a steering wheel rim flat at both top and bottom. If the cabin is a little gloomy – seats, carpets, door cards and headlining all dark as night – it’s nevertheless pretty spacious, especially against the electric superminis that the MG 4 competes with on price. Boot space is less clever, but the false floor allows tidy stowage of the charge cable, and the folding rear seats are split.

Such practicalities are soon forgotten when it comes to the driving. Merely getting in ignites the twin screens, drive-away readiness is achieved by pressing the brake. Swivelling an almost comically large rotary knob resembling a high-end 1970s amplifier volume control selects drive, and you’re off, in silence and enjoying a ride that rounds off sharp bumps to comfortingly good effect. If you’ve recently stepped out of an ID 3, you’ll also notice less road noise, a smoother ride and slightly sharper performance. Of which there’s plenty, given that this is a family hatchback, with enough in-gear zest to make overtaking a satisfyingly brisk experience.

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As with most of the more affordable (or less unaffordable) EVs, the instant torque’s surging effectiveness begins to taper off past 70mph, but few hatchback buyers will be bothered by that. Those after a pokier MG 4 can look forward to the sportier dual-motor version coming next year, which is good for sub-5.0sec 0-62mph dashes. The motor’s instant torque certainly gives the traction control system plenty to do if you cane the MG 4 through a roundabout, and lifting off produces entertainingly strong tuck-in. Driven less provocatively, the MG corners with some panache and plenty of grip, this the benefit of that long, slim, low-mounted battery pack, the 50:50 weight distribution and very limited body roll.

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Demandingly lumpy B-roads are met with excellent body control, little bump-thump and good stability, and if there’s strong side-to-side rocking over sudden camber changes, the MG 4 is undoubtedly its maker’s most entertaining five-door yet. To that end, you can alter brake pedal effort, steering weight (though not feel, of which there’s little to none), throttle response and regenerative braking intensity via the infotainment screen and the ‘custom’ selection of five driving modes (normal, sport, eco, snow, custom) if chosen via one of the steering wheel’s shortcut buttons. Although it’s a faff to do this compared with the simple paddle system of the Kia e-Niro. The sport and eco modes also intensify the regen effect in a more accessible way.

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The MG’s infotainment screen is also a mild challenge, the lack of a ledge on which to rest your wagging hand, and the small virtual buttons that are your targets – a disappointment from a company that likes majoring on tech. Other negatives include the jutting ledge that carries the transmission knob, whose hard edge your left knee soon tires of rubbing, and the apparent inability to turn the car off should you wish to do that and remain in it, perhaps for a nap. Powering it down requires you to get out and lock it. But when you get in again, a seat sensor turns the screens, and air-con fan, back on. Hmm.

Despite these issues, the MG 4 offers a great deal, especially for the price. It’s more agreeably engaging than the ID 3, more sporting, better to sit in, better to look at and substantially more affordable. It’s much roomier than its supermini rivals, too. The finish is pretty good for the price, even if subtle cost savings such as the lack of grab handles, a rear seat armrest and sill tread plates contrast with the soft-feel upper fascia, leather-edged steering wheel and those floating screens.

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MG Motor MGs are already a common sight on our roads, and this keenly priced, stylish, roomy, swift and very capable hatch guarantees that they will become more plentiful still. If you’re still doubtful, consider that this long-range 281-mile SE costs £350 a month, a 260-mile Volkswagen ID 3 £564 and the much smaller, 222-mile Vauxhall Corsa-e £430. That’s a comparison that should prove disruptively attractive.

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