The MG3 is one of the cheapest superminis on the UK market, and it’s recently been given a facelift. This means it has new looks both inside and out, a new lineup and more technology. So, is the new model the ultimate underdog, or a missed opportunity?
Turning up the style
The previous MG3 wasn’t a bad looking car per se, but its front end looked a bit scrunched up and awkward, plus I wasn’t a massive fan of the alloy wheels. The new car looks more pleasing to the eye, especially in the Laser Blue paint that has been applied to the model I have here. The front end now follows a similar design to the ZS, meaning you get a similar grille, plus you also get large headlights that have a shape which reminds me of a wasp’s wing. I like that. I can’t stand wasps, though.
One of the downsides of the previous MG3 was the interior, which felt like a bit of a timewarp, as you were faced with dated displays and a low amount of technology. Yes, I know, it was a cheap car, but my point remains. The new car has had a complete overhaul and whilst there are still a fair few hard plastic surfaces in here, it’s a noticeably nicer place to be.
And anyway, I can’t grumble too much about the hard plastics as it’s like what I said in my previous MG3 review; it’d be like going to a Greasy Spoon and complaining about the standard of the food – you get what you pay for. Speaking of price, this is the range-topping Exclusive model, which starts from £12,795.
The last MG3 had quite a few trim levels to choose from (7 in total), which seemed a bit too many for a car of this price point, especially as there was just one engine to choose from. Thankfully MG has seen fit to match the new model to the rest of the MG range, meaning you get three trim levels to choose from, Explore, Excite and Exclusive, the trim level tested here.
As standard, the Exclusive is able to boast features such as sport seats, leather steering wheel, 16 alloy wheels, 8″ touchscreen, Bluetooth, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay (no Android Auto, I’m afraid), rear parking camera with rear parking sensors, cruise control, air conditioning, and best of all, map pockets! If you’re wondering why I’m making a big deal of this, it’s because it’s the only trim level to get such a luxury.
If you want to be extra thrifty, you can of course go for the Explore or the Excite. Explore is the base model, which starts from £9,495, and as you would expect, it’s spartan for features. You get an engine, five seats, four wheels, and that’s about it. No, joking side, it gives you daytime running lights, Bluetooth, a standard radio (not DAB) and electric windows.
Excite starts from £11,395, adding features such as leather steering wheel, body coloured door handles and rear spoiler, 16″ alloy wheels, 8″ touchscreen, DAB radio, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay.
What about the engine choice?
The looks may be new, but I’m afraid the choice of engine is exactly the same, meaning you have to make do with the same 1.5 litre naturally aspirated, four cylinder petrol engine that nowadays feels like a bit of relic. In fact, I’ve half tempted to rip it out and see what the Antiques Roadshow will me for it. As you would expect, it’s far from punchy; it offers 106hp and a measly 137Nm of torque, which is about the same as a food blender. What’s it like to actually drive though? Well, there’s only one way to find out.
A fun car spoilt by its engine
On paper, this engine looks far from nippy, as you’ll hit 62mph in 10.4 seconds, which doesn’t sound too bad, but it feels like it takes a lifetime – a noisy one at that. Top speed, if you have enough land spare and a tailwind, is 108mph. As you would expect from this engine, it needs to be worked hard in order to make progress and the ‘power’ is at the top end. This wouldn’t be too bad if it was an engine you enjoy revving, but this isn’t.
On the plus side, the 5-speed manual gearbox provides a nicer, more robust change than the one offered in the old car and whilst it’s not slick, it’s good enough not to be a burden. This is just as well, as you’ll need to work it often to keep on top of the performance on offer. This won’t be a car for exploiting gaps in traffic, and you’ll also need to plan motorway overtakes in advance.
Mind you, the MG3 will not be the best companion for long motorway journeys it’s quite a noisy place to be once you (finally) get it up to a decent speed. Tyre and wind noise are not afraid to enter the cabin and because of the lack of a 6th gear the engine will be rather vocal as well.
Comfort isn’t at its highest either. Yes, the ‘Sports Seats’ as MG calls them, feel comfortable when you first sit down in them, but quite quickly they begin to feel firm and unforgiving. This is not helped by the firm ride which is never settled, and will be bumpy on pretty much every surface you encounter, which is odd as MG is keen to boast the suspension has been set up for UK roads.
I thought you said this was a fun car???
Yes, that is correct. Despite its flaws, the MG3 does have redeeming features to it. The ride may be firm, but that does mean there is a good amount of handling on tap. Find a twisty bit of road and suddenly the MG3 is able to bring a smile to your face. In the corners you’ll find there is a limited body roll and also a decent amount of grip, although push hard and you’ll get some predictable understeer.
Unlike other cars in its class, the MG3 has hydraulic power steering, which helps to a satisfying weight to the steering as well as a decent amount of feedback, although you’ll need an extra bit of muscle when you parking or doing low speed manoeuvres. If you ask me, that’s a small price to pay for a car that actually gives you some proper feedback when you drive. The only drawback is that the brakes aren’t very good; they feel spongy and in all honesty they don’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Brakes aside, the MG3 is a genuinely fun car to drive once you hit a set of corners and you really get a sense there is some of the old MG brand desperate to get out, but the engine is still a big letdown, much like its predecessor. Therefore, the MG3 feels like a missed opportunity; shove a better engine in and you’ve got yourself a half decent car.
What about safety?
The MG3 is built to a price, therefore you shouldn’t expect too much in the way of safety equipment. As standard, buyers will receive six airbags, speed limiter, ABS, ESC, traction control…and that’s about it. Annoyingly there’s no option to have autonomous emergency braking, which I’m sure will disappoint a fair few buyers.
Because of the so-so safety equipment, the MG3 scored just three out of five stars from Euro NCAP, which in a class of high performing rivals, is disappointing. Adult occupancy safety was scored at a mediocre 69% whilst child occupancy was scored at a slightly more impressive 71%. If safety is a big factor for you when buying a car, you may want to look elsewhere.
Is it practical?
The MG3 isn’t loaded with cubbyholes, but it should offer just about enough space for your bits and bobs, although the glovebox is disappointingly small. There’s just one cupholder in the middle, which is a bit grating when you bear in mind the previous model offered two. The doorbins can fit a bottle in them with a bit of space left over, and there is also a small storage area underneath the centre console.
Getting a good driving position was fine for me, but some may struggle as the steering wheel only adjusts for rake and not reach, and it’s worth noting that lower spec models have driver seats with less adjustment – this model is 6-way adjustable. Even with the seat set at its lowest I still feel I’m sat a bit high, but it does make getting in and out of the car easier.
Rear space is pretty good, even when the driver’s seat in front of me has been set for my 6’2″ height. There is a decent amount of leg and knee room, plus headroom is agreeable too, making it more spacious in the back than a Ford Fiesta or a Suzuki Swift.
The boot offers 285 litres, which is a fair size for its class, but you do get a thick lip, which makes loading or unloading heavy bags of shopping a bit of a pain. If you need more space, you can fold down the 60/40 rear seats to give you 1,262 litres, which is more than what the SEAT Ibiza is able to offer with its seats down. The only downside is that the seats don’t fold flat, but that’s not uncommon for a supermini.
Will it cost a lot to run?
This 1.5 litre four pot petrol is far from cutting edge, therefore, it’s not the most efficient engine you’ll find in this part of the market. On a combined run it offers a rather average 48.7 mpg and in my experience I was getting around 41, which is OK, but it’s nothing to write home about. In regards to CO2, this engine pumps out 140g/km, meaning for the first year of VED you’ll be required to pay £205.
If you’re looking to find out about insurance group, the MG3 is 7E, which is about the same as its rivals, although the Dacia Sandero will be a bit cheaper to insure. If you’re worried about maintenance, you’ll be pleased to know you shouldn’t have too many problems with reliability, but in case you do, the MG3 comes standard with a seven year warranty.
The MG3 has got its plus points, but the engine is still a sticking point, leading this car to feel like a missed opportunity. It feels compromised and it’s frustrating that this isn’t the car it could be. Mind you, a better engine would push the price up, which would take away the point of this car.
The MG3 may not be perfect but it offers honest, good value, decent looks, as well as a decent amount of space. It’s more interesting than a Dacia Sandero too, but if you want a more polished supermini, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
Car Obsession Rating: (3 / 5)
- Good value
- Fun to drive on the right road
- Decent amount of space
- Improved technology
- 7 year warranty
- Should be a reliable buy
- Not the safest in class
- Firm ride
- Lack of engine choice
- Seats could offer more comfort
- Not the most frugal
The Sandero is the most natural rival to the MG3, given that it occupies the same area of the market – I.E. a budget supermini. The Sandero is a cheaper car to buy – albeit not by much – but it’s a bit boring to look at and I can’t imagine it will match the MG3’s fun driving dynamics. You do get a better choice of engines as well as a bigger boot, so this may be the one to have if you’re wearing your sensible trousers.
The Fiesta is the king of the supermini class and for good reason. It offers a good blend of value, comfort, equipment, safety and driving dynamics, making it a force to be reckoned with. This will cost you more money and the warranty is shorter, so the thrifty among you may want to consider the MG3 instead.
Like the MG3, the Suzuki Swift is a supermini built to offer value for money motoring for the masses. The new car is more expensive than its predecessor, but it boasts more kit, a better interior and more space. It’s more money than the MG3, but it is a better car to drive.