What's it like?
Tested here is a 1.5-litre automated manual with optional two-tone paint – China’s top-of-the-range specification. The MG’s deep flanks, shallow glasshouse, back-swept grille and sizeable rear lamps make it quite distinctive, especially with the two-tone paint, but the end result looks close to a Skoda Fabia and threatens to date over the next 18 months.
The same applies inside, where you find an unfussy-looking dashboard whose neatly spare style is undermined by easily marked, hard-to-the-touch plastics that are well adrift of the standards set by Volkswagen, Ford and many others, and never mind the unusual ice-white finish of some interior components. But the driving position is good, despite the column’s lack of reach adjustment, and the cabin is generously scaled.
Another plus is the MG’s robust aura – a good thing, given China’s bold driving style – and its civility at speed. The chassis shows promise, too, although it clearly needs calibrating for European tastes.
Positives include plenty of grip, limited roll and good stability, but the electric power steering, although free of tactile artificiality, is overlight, feel-less and curiously short of precision, the MG’s trajectory quite often needing mid-bend corrections. Push it hard and a tightening of line can be achieved with the throttle, which is promising.
Ride quality was hard to determine on SAIC’s paper-smooth test track, although a solitary hard-hit ridge did provoke some steering kickback. The brakes could use more bite, too. So, more work needed here, then.
The MG’s automated manual is among the better of the breed for small cars, but the standards are low. There’s some hesitancy on take-off, full-throttle changes thump a bit and the ’box is slothful during manually triggered shifts under enthusiastic driving. At less frenetic speeds, it’s acceptably smooth.
So is the engine until you reach the high 5000s, but the lightly strained sounds heard here fade slightly towards 6000rpm and beyond. Work it hard and the engine is brisk, although impeded by leggy gearing.
Should I buy one?
The MG 3 needs a fair bit of refining to meet European standards, but there’s clearly a sound car here, and it has potential to play the modest entertainer like the MG 6. Two-tone paint and white cabin decor are far from enough to disguise the fact that this is a robust, budget supermini whose presentation falls well short of the class best.
It will need clever upgrading and keen pricing to succeed, but it’s not without appeal.
MG 3 1.5L AMT
Price: £14,000 (est); Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: na; Economy: 55.4mpg (combined); CO2: na; Kerb weight: 1150kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1498cc, petrol; Power: 107bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 84lb ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd automated manual