What is it?
The MG 3 supermini is the next step in the regeneration of MG by its owner, SAIC. If all goes to plan, it will join the MG 6 in Longbridge’s cavernous assembly halls, where the last 20 per cent of the assembly process will be performed on semi-complete kits from China.
It’s a long way from turning rolls of sheet steel into motor cars, but this is a major step forward for what was a virtually dormant plant. And like the MG 6, the MG 3 has largely been designed, engineered and developed in the UK.
What we’re sampling here is a pre-production MG 3 built to Chinese specification; a European version is also under development.
As with the MG 6, that will mean tweaks to the suspension to provide a more sporting feel, weightier electric power steering, different interior upholstery and, it is hoped, significant upgrades to the cabin quality. But the car is essentially as you see it here, and in mechanical terms it’s entirely conventional.
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.