Two 2 litre MG saloons

The original title of this piece was to have been 'Three 2 Litre MG Saloons', for the month of June saw the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the MG SA. 'Three MG Saloons' was one of those bright ideas which does not stand a great deal of examination for MG is now merely the name given to the quickest Austins and no amount of stretching could really include the distinctive SA in the same article as the Montego and Maestro.

MG enthusiasts tend to agree that the marque is not what it was but never agree on the point at which it ceased to be what it was, if indeed, it ever was. Owners of chrome-bumpered MGBs flash their headlights at each other but tend to cut rubber-bumpered cars. Still, cars are yet sold with MG badges while other marques such as Riley and Triumph have disappeared as our national motor industry goes through a constant process of rationalisation and name changing. ARG's Group B rally specials nary the MG badge and so too does the stunning MGE-XE concept car so perhaps there may be 'real' MGs once more in the future.

When I first drove the MG Montego Turbo I found there was a lot to like about it It offered an excellent equipment package, something which ARG has clearly learned from the Japanese. It was smooth and comfortable and the turbo installation had been well put together unlike the peaky little engine in the Metro Turbo. The great problem was when it came to putting its power through the driving wheels. When 150 bhp and up 10 169 lb ft of torque (at 3,500 rprn) was fed through the front wheels the result was torque steer on a massive scale. The car never felt comfortable, the steering was always unduly nervous and the car had a tendency to change direction when power was suddenly applied or dropped.

Since last November ARG has introduced a package of modifications in five stages designed to eliminate the steering and general stability problems. 'My' can had apparently not had all of the modifications but even so was greatly improved. Having to modify a car once it's in production in order to make it acceptable is not a satisfactory state of affairs and it recalls the bad old days of BL where early customers were too often guinea pigs The trouble is, though, that ARG is not a large company and in completely revamping its model range in what is, in current motor industry terms a very short time, has meant that the engineering staff has been greatly over-stretched One gets the impression that there are conflicts within the company where those who design, those who sell and those who produce and ensure quality control are forced to make compromises which really suit no one party.

If the cart drove was much improved compared to the one I drove a year ago, it was still slightly twitchy during acceleration and breaking, and in even moderate crosswinds when driven quickly It soon became apparent, though, that there was no underlying visciousness. the steering might feel nervous but the car never tried In turn round and bite. In damp conditions, contrary to expectations, it was fine for the tyres were clearly slipping just enough to ensure a straightforward take-off It is my understanding that one of the five points of improvement involved consultation with Michelin over the footprint of the 190/65 tyres fitted, while most of the others were minor geometry alterations.

Given the degree of improvement, I'm happy to accept assurances that cars now reaching the showrooms have had all their vices eliminated but can only write about the actual example which was offered for test

In every model range there are cars which have outstanding integrity. For my money, the best Montego is the 1.6 Estate and quite a number of senior ARG men agree with that assessment. There are other high-points in the range too, and I have to say that overall, I'm quite a fan of Montego, but I reckon that by turbocharging the '0' series engine, ARG has gone too far The package is unbalanced It has excellent performance. 0-60 mph in 7.3 seconds and 126 mph maximum speed There is little turbo lag, the engine is smooth from about 1,800 rpm with a second wind at about 3,000 rpm. The progressive power assisted steering is both light and precise and the ride is extremely comfortable.

There's all the equipment you'd expect at £10,980, pile carpets. central locking, electric windows, special seats with 'turbo' writ upon them, headlight washers, sun roof, courtesy light delay etc. and, mercifully. the 'Turbo' stickers on the side have shrunk since the original, loud, proclamation of a year ago. Discretion is the better part of brisk motoring. The trouble remains, though, that the Montego is not naturally an £11.000, 126 mph car and nothing will make it one. It happened that driving a familiar country route I found myself in company with a chap in a 2 litre Montego HL who clearly knew the road and who enjoyed his motoring. I pulled over to let him by and then followed him for 25 miles. In keeping up with him over twisty sections I was having to drive a little less hard, but then I never felt that I wanted to drive 'my' car really hard My extra power meant I might take 100 yards from him over a 1,000 yard straight and could close up on hills, but over that 25 mile route I might really have gained only half a minute.

I doubt if I was having more emoyment than he, my car was certainly much more expensive to buy and run (I returned an average of 28 mpg over more than 1.000 miles) arid I don't think that there was a great deal more status value in driving a car which is claimed to be the 'fastest accelerating 4-door 2-litre production saloon of its kind in The Montego Turbo remains, though, a pleasant machine in which to cover long distances on good roads at speed It is, perhaps, a rising executive's express but is not really a sporting car.

The Montego was replaced by an MG Maestro 2.0 EFi which was mine for more than a fortnight. When I first drove one on its launch 18 months earlier, I'd liked the car very much. Those initial favourable impressions did not prepare me, though, for the realisation which struck me about halfway through the test which is that, all factors considered, the MG Maestro 2.0 EFI is probably the best performance hatchback on the market.

It doesn't have the sheer driver appeal of the Puegoet 205 GTi, it doesn't have the performance of the Renault 5 Turbo or the Honda CRX-16. the status of the Golf GTi, or the sharp lines of the new Escort XR3i In fact, it's not a clear leader in any one area except the more mundane one of interior space. As a package, though, it's superb and again I was interested to learn from senior BL executives that it is widely regarded in the company as the outstanding car in the Maestro range.

At a basic price of £8,049, it offers space and comfort, quietness, five door practicality, 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, 115 mph maximum and an engine which gives 115 bhp and 135 lb ft torque at 2,800 rpm Like the Montego, it has Honda's first rate five speed gearbox Inside and out. the Maestro has a high standard of finish and equipment. With tinted glass, central locking, electric windows and alloy wheels as standard, and with power assisted steering costing just £200 over basic, 'my' example had a list price of £8,249 which, I suggest, is a very keenly priced motor car.

On the road it feels 'of a piece' with a very good ride, crisp handling and good brakes (ventilated discs at the front) The torquey engine is smooth and relaxing and feels at least as good as that in the Golf GTi.

ARG has learned not only the abilility to package a car well but to provide it with good ergonomics. The interior is similar to Montego which is to say that everything falls easily to hand apart from a couple of switches which are obscured by the leather-trimmed 'sports' steering wheel. The days of the all singing, all dancing, digital read-out and voice synthisiser seem to have been quietly forgotten. ARG originally introduced them to make the point that it could be a leader in technology and was a firm to once more be taken seriously.

This car does not need gimmicks to draw attention to its worth, it's a vehicle of immense integrity. It's a practical and economical (33 mph overall) hatchback with more space for family and luggage than any of its rivals and it is also a car which offers a great deal of driver satisfaction. It's nimble across country and its flexible engine is relaxing on long motorway trips.

Past acquaintanceship, albeit brief, meant that I expected to like this car. I did not expect to be quite as sorry as I was to hand it back —M.L.