Road Impressions

The MG Maestro 1600

Immediately after trying the MG Metro Turbo I was able to sample that much-discussed L/O 8′ 23/4″-wheelbase, 2,127 lb. Austin Maestro, in MG guise. So much has been written and is being talked about British Leyland’s latest car that there is no need to be verbose, even supposing the space were available. So let me say that BL seem to have got this car, which is so important to them, just about right in all those areas that customers for a spacious, medium-sized five-seat hatchback are likely to regard as important.

The Maestro is very spacious, its load-carrying assisted by the divided, drop back-seat and the self-lift tailgate with low sill. There is a generous area of Triplex glass, in a body that would have once been called a four-light saloon (or hatchback). The seats are likewise of generous size, and comfortable. The Metro amenities of plenty of stowage space, well-placed switches, two stalk controls and a chunky shape are there — the Maestro could be termed a grown-up Metro. The switches for the electric window-lifts for the front doors are on the leading-edge of the door-bins (the rear door windows are handle-controlled), and the five-speed gearbox of those models with the R-series overhead-camshaft 1.6-litre engine has a gate with reverse (very easily engaged by depressing the lever) dog-legged to the left, fifth speed out to the right. The gearbox is by Volkswagen and is only average, with a baulky bottom gear.

The Maestro differs from the Metro in having coil-spring instead of Hydragas suspension, independent all round, but retains rack-and-pinion steering, geared four turns, lock-to-lock, which was a bit vague but adequate, with good castor-return. The MG Maestro has those “hot-cross-bun” cast-alloy wheels, shod with the excellent Pirelli P8 tyres (175 /65 x 14). Its engine, transversely mounted to drive the front wheels, although in normal usage no f.w.d. influences intrude, has two dual-choke 29 mm. Weber carburetters and electronic ignition and develops 103 (DIN) bhp at 6,000 rprn from its 1,598 cc, 76.2 x 87.6 mm. power unit. The close ratio gearbox and spoilers also characterise this MG and acceleration of 0-60 mph. in 9.6 sec, with a top speed of 111 mph, give this version long /ego, performance indeed in keeping with the honourable badges. A comfortable ride, effective servo, dual-circuit, disc / drum brakes, and a roomy if “plasticky” interior, make this an easy car to come to terms with, and good value at £6,245, especially remembering that those alloy wheels (the appearance of which personally I do not care for), head-restraints, rear-window wash-wipe, radio, and a rear parcels-shelf are standard equipment.

There remains the Smiths digital instrument panel, computer and voice synthesis. The computer was easier to use than others I have been confronted with; if you dislike the persuasive aural instructions the girl’s voice can be switched off, and I suppose the with-it instrumentation need be not more off-putting to modern MG drivers than were the gold-hued instruments of the pre-war 2-litre and 2.6-litre MG saloons, one of which, a 2-litre Tickford dh coupe — AMO 604 was chosen as his company car by Laurence Pomeroy when, in 1937, he left the Motor Industry to join The Motor as its Technical Editor. But the inch-high digits of the MG Maestro’s speedometer can be distracting but certainly no driver of one of these cars will have any excuse for not knowing his speed! The mph readings can be converted to kph ones at the press of a button, and, from 5 mph, change for every one mph. of speed variation. Trip mileages are left to the computer, the speedometer having just a six-figure total mileage reading. The “round-the-corner” bar-graph tachometer and similar heat and fuel gauge are in keeping with the modern image the Maestro is so anxious to foster and I had no special objection to them, apart from having to rely on the half-full mark on the fuel gauge until I had learned how many “bars” represented what. The tachometer has warning marks from 5,400 r.p.m. to 6,000 r.p.m. The heater is worked by three vertical slides with another for the three-speed fan. Panel-lighting can be dimmed only with the car’s lamps in use and is too bright in daylight, especially those huge ever-changing speed indications! The Lucas Unipart headlamps are reassuringly powerful. The centre part of the instrument cluster is occupied by the warning and cautionary lights and, surprisingly for such a computerised car, there is a manual choke, with the warning light as part of its control-knob.

The floor being deep, I would have liked a rest for my left foot. The dip stick is behind the engine and the oil filler masked by the big MG-badged air-cleaner. The test-car had the sun-roof and central door-locking that are normally extras costing £259 and £180, respectively. The MG would have benefited from mud-flaps behind its front wheels and there were minor rattles and thumps at times from the region of fascia and driver’s door. The fuel tank holds 11.75 gallons and checked on a 350-mile run from Wales into Somerset, Devon and back, taking in the M4 and M5, petrol consumption was 30.6 m.p.g., improving overall to 32.3 m.p.g. In conclusion, I rate the MG Maestro as competent but without much “character”. But I hope its computerised “gimmickry” will not be held against it, because on the whole I enjoyed trying it. — WB.