Thanks to Chinese backing MG has returned on to the car market but the cars have gone more mainstream. The brand started with outgoing MG6 but after slow sales it was down to the MG3 to help push sales up. I have been driving the latter this week – the model tested was the ‘3Sport’ trim which is priced at £9,899. It’s no doubt a cheap car, but can it be cheerful as well?
Unlike the Dacia Sandero the MG3 is a good looking car, it’s fun, vibrant and is sure to appeal to young motorists. When I drove the car others mentioned it looked like a more expensive car so it looks like MG has started on the front foot. The outside has 16-inch alloys wheels, a sporty stance and a rather oddly-shaped chrome tailpipe.
The MG3 offers a wide range of personalisation thanks to a flexible colour choice – 10 in fact – and graphic packs are available to make the car even more unique. For example you could have a union flag on the roof or even RAF decals if you really want to stand out from the crowd.
Wing mirrors can be personalised as well with a choice of five colours and a choice of interior trim is available but even that cannot hide the hard plastics that are used in the cabin. This is a cheap car though so it would be foolish to expect a premium interior and although there are lots of hard plastics the inside isn’t too bad in my opinion. The leather steering wheel adds a sporty flair with red stitching and features stereo control functions on the left and nothing on the right – this is where the cruise control would normally be but you’d need to buy the range-topping Style to gain that feature.
Space and Comfort
The MG3 does pretty well on the space front but not so much on the comfort – I’ll get on that in a bit. Step inside the cabin and you’ll be greeted with a good amount of space in the front and enough headroom to accommodate taller drivers. The steering wheel has height adjustment only but even so I found it easy to get a comfortable driving position.
Space in the back is also generous and I was surprised by how much was on offer. There is plenty of headroom and legroom – even if someone was to sit behind a tall passenger. The back is more than suitable for 6ft plus occupants thanks to ample headroom and legroom, making the rear suitable for long journeys.
The boot is not class-leading with a capacity of 285 litres but it’s around the same amount as its rivals. However, the Dacia Sandero is able to boast a boot of 320 litres but the MG3 should have a boot big enough for general use. The 60/40 seats can be folded down if you need more space and by doing so the rear will offer 1,262 litres of space.
The MG3 is a comfortable car to begin with – the fabric seats were more comfortable and supportive than I was expecting, but things change once you get on the move. The ride is with no doubt firm so even on the smoothest the roads the ride will be busy and bumpy. As mentioned the seats are supportive and they do help to take some of the sting out the ride but they are simply not able to do enough to take your mind of what is happening beneath you.
What’s it like to drive?
The MG3 has very clear good points and bad points – let’s start with the good stuff. The MG3’s chassis was developed for UK roads and as a result the handling is fantastic. At no point would you expect a car this cheap to handle like this but fair play to MG, it has managed it. Present the MG3 with a winding road and the car comes to life, there is plenty on grip on offer and very little body roll.
There is a price to pay for all this lovely handling though – the ride. Its firm to say the least and even on the smoothest roads it will find bumps and imperfections making the car feel unsettled. Potholes are best avoided as hitting one is likely to cause a loud thud and a possible trip to the osteopath.
The car makes use of hydraulic steering as opposed to electric so it provides a nice weight and a real sense of what the front wheels are doing. I did find it a bit numb on the straight and narrow plus it’s a bit heavy for slow town driving or parking but it does work well when the going gets twisty.
What doesn’t work well however is the engine. There’s just one engine to choose in all the MG3 models which is a 1.5 litre naturally aspirated petrol that offers 105bhp. That may not sound too bad on paper but on the road it feels dated and sluggish. Most hatchbacks nowadays have small units with turbochargers which offer a blend of performance and economy but with the 1.5 litre engine doesn’t fare well in either department. The 0-60 time is 10.4 seconds but you get the sense it’d rather not get to 60 at all.
When you put your foot down you get a sense you are forcing the engine against its will to provide some performance and it feels like you’re trying to get a moody teenager out of bed. There is very little power to be had at the lower end of the rev range and the ‘power’ doesn’t kick in until around 5,000 revs. By this time the engine is shouting at you and your ears start to bleed. The engine noise isn’t too bad on the motorway however but you will need to plan overtaking manoeuvres in advance.
To keep the power at an optimum level requires the gearbox to be worked often which wouldn’t so much of a bad thing if it was pleasurable to use – which it isn’t. Yes, the gearchange is accurate enough but the gearstick feels low rent and it makes a nasty clunking sound every time you change gear. Every gear change brought a grimace on my face but thanks to the stereo, I was able to drown the clunkiness out.
The MG3 may be cheap but it’s able to offer a good level of kit. The model tested is the 3Sport and equipment includes 16” alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, electric windows, manual air condition, DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity, USB and aux ports, leather steering wheel with red stitching and stop/start function.
If you want to save more money you can opt for the 3Form trim level which is priced at £9,599 and offers a similar amount of equipment but you will lose the alloy wheels and body sills but I’m sure you can live without that. The top of the range 3Style adds cruise control, rear parking sensors and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers.
The 3Time model is the cheapest of the lot with a price of £8,399 but it doesn’t have the same level of equipment as the others and it doesn’t even come with remote central locking! It does have front and rear electric windows, LED running lights and USB/aux connections so it does have some creature comforts.
The 1.5 litre engine not only fails on the performance but its economy is nothing to write about either. Around town I was able to get around 30mpg which isn’t exactly a fantastic figure in today’s world of small, turbo-charged units. The engine does have a stop/start function although I found there was much difference when I turned the system off although it may make of a difference on longer journeys with more traffic.
MG claim the car will reach a combined MPG figure of 48.7mpg but in practice I was able to squeeze out just below 40mpg on a route of varied roads. The MG3 emits 136g/km of CO2 emissions which puts it in an E tax band meaning it will cost £130 a year to tax. Not only does the MG3 lag behind its rivals in terms of performance but it’s behind the time in regards to economy as well.
The MG3 is without question a cheap car that offers a good level of equipment and superb handling but it’s not without its drawbacks. The naturally aspirated 1.5 engine really lets the car down and it makes the performance feel dated. Thanks to it’s lack of turbocharger and rev-hungry nature it means the economy is rather poor as well. The ride is not much better and could prove to firm some to deem comfortable.
The MG3 certainly has potential though but its lacking the refinement, quality and performance of its rivals but at least it is cheap. The MG3 could be the perfect car for young motorists who are looking for a funky looking car that’s cheap, well-equipped and fun to drive in the corners.
The MG3 will have a fair few rivals, two of which are the Dacia Sandero and the Ford Fiesta. The equivalent Sandero is around £1,000 less, plus you can choose to have sat nav but the bland looks may be enough to steer buyers towards the MG3.
The Fiesta is currently the best-selling car in the country and is a benchmark for small hatchbacks to aspire to. It too can offer a good level of handling plus it will being higher refinement and economy but the equivalent model will cost around £4,000 so that is something to bear in mind if you are on a budget.
Car Obsession Rating: (3 / 5)
- Cheap to buy
- Well equipped
- Fun styling
- Great handling
- High levels of personalisation
- Lethargic rev-hungry engine
- Firm Ride
- Clunky gearchange
- Poor economy