Road impressions

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The MG Montego EFi

We explained the purpose behind the MG Montego in the May issue and since then the Austin / Rover Group of British Leyland has allowed us a generous period on the road with this top-model 2-litre fuel-injected MG EFi four-door, six-light saloon. The Maestro has been described as a competent car, and that the somewhat larger Montego certainly is. British Leyland seem coy about its developed horsepower, but with about 117 bhp from the fuel-injection version of the O-series engine in the MG-badged Montego, performance is most refreshing, by which I mean that acceleration is highly usable (0-60 mph in 8.9 sec for example), the top speed is some 115 mph, but that the power unit is also surprisingly flexible, running down to what would once have been regarded as absurdly low rates of rotation without coming off fifth gear. It cannot be called an entirely quiet unit but it is far from obtrusive and is commendably smooth-running. Leyland are coy again about the bore and stroke of this O-series 1,994 cc engine, maybe to disguise its longish stroke (85½ x 89 mm), but it is a handsome piece of machinery, slim and efficient-looking, the distributor directly on the o/s end of the belt-driven overhead camshaft.

Honda supply the gearbox for this hybrid MG, but the new linkage may affect it; the change is rather notchy, whereas Hondas have excellent gearboxes. Power steering is an extra and when parking its absence is very obvious, and the steering (4¼ turns l to l) is somewhat lacking in “feel” when on the move. The MG version of the Montego has a slightly lower drag coefficient factor than the other models, 0.35, due to its deeper air-dam and a boot spoiler. Also in this context, the wiper-blades park with a clunk below the screen. Wind noise is very low indeed, aided no doubt by the latest window-sealing techniques and the radio aerial being ingeniously set within the o/s windscreen pillar.

The MG Montego has body-hugging front seats, and the wheel-trim for the TD styled alloy wheels and the restrained use of badges is commendable. And you get all those appreciated aspects such as driver control of boot and fuel-filler opening, and the bonnet is extremely easy to open too, although the bonnet-lid, which has to be propped up, is surprisingly heavy, even allowing for sound-damping, etc. Under-bonnet arrangements are very neat and convenient, with a sealed-for-life battery.

I never really took to the illustrated-display instrumentation in various colours, nor to the lady’s guile from the voice-instruction synthesis, although I suppose it was reassuring at my age to be told, as I started off, that “Your monitored functions are working normally”, whatever the doctor might say . . . But you could easily fool her by momentarily using the hand-brake, as after it was “off” again, she would coo a warning that it wasn’t. The onboard-computer, likewise, may give with-it folk much joy. To me its fast-changing readings from over 200 mpg to two-figure recordings were disconcerting, to say the least. Or am I being unfair? Used as intended, it must convey valuable data and the ice-on-road spoken warning is worthwhile. The speed readings in very big coloured figures were apt to distract, but can be dimmed by turning a control, but they are no more accurate, if easier to spot-read, than those of an “out-dated” speedometer. Was it a combination of these factors that made me feel ashamed to look drivers of “real” MGs in the eye, when we passed on the road?

Having said that, the Montego is a very spacious car, one with not much “character” but a lot of competence. Although this is the booted job, the back seat is “split” to enable more loading space from the 18.4 cu ft boot to be obtained. The interior is very spacious but, even so, the pedals are very mildly off-set, perhaps to obtain the usefully small turning-circle with FWD. Yet I would have liked somewhere to rest my “clutch” foot. The seat belts are soft material, to avoid chafing one’s neck it says, but should belts be worn like that? The steering has quick castor-return action, the clutch is heavy. The two stalk-controls work lamps and horn on the left, wipers on the right, and the l/h one has the lamps warning lights incorporated in its extremity(!). The steering-wheel tends to blank the two heater-levers and the press-buttons for rear fog-lamp and rear-window demisting, and to get a mileage-reading the ignition has to be “on”. A vast cubby, rigid door-pockets, and a coin holder are provided. The manual sunroof is an extra.

Reverting to the computer and voice synthesis, after 1,700 total miles it suddenly gave a warning that the brake-pads were worn out (surely not?). While its ability to tell you the day of the month and what year it is (1984 being so in keeping!), and especially the service-mileage reminders it conveys, are all very clever, it did nothing but irritate me. However, those who like these things will like the Montego . . . There are two internally-adjustable external mirrors. The boot let in a dribble of water following the downpour that ended the drought in Wales. Mud-flaps are badly needed, especially if you order a white MG like the test car!

Otherwise, as I have said, a competent car, notably fast from A to B with very little driver-effort, and good fuel-economy from the 2-litre engine with its knock-sensor and fuel-injection — the overal mpg was 33.4, which, with an 11¼-gallon tank capacity, is useful indeed. Road-holding on this front-drive, 8 ft 5 in wheelbase, saloon is enhanced by the TD wheel and rim combination and low-profile tyres, Dunlop TD SP Sport D2 180/65R 365 radials on the test-car, the spare easy to remove, as it “presents” itself to anyone requiring it. Central-locking is standardised, while cubby-stowage and boot can be locked with a separate key. The MG Montego is priced at £8,165, and represents what Leyland feel is needed to get Britain back into gear, in this family-car sector of the market. — W.B.