Octagon-badged hatch boasts more facets than you’d expect
Slowly and out of the ashes of BMW’s disastrous acquisition of Rover, small octagons are starting to appear. MG, the marque that apparently no amount of bad management can kill, is once more showing definite signs of life.
Nor is this MG just some opportunistic badge engineering by the marque’s Chinese owner, SAIC Motor. Although the two MGs to have gone on sale under this new management are both developments of models for the Chinese market, the MG6 can trace its lineage (and some components) back to the Rover 75, while this new MG3 was largely developed in the UK. Moreover both cars are assembled in Longbridge from CKD kits sent over from Shanghai. But while the MG6 is a convenient spin-off of SAIC’s Roewe 550, the MG3 was conceived and developed as an MG in its own right.
The raw material is not promising. This is a Fiesta-sized hatch powered by an off-the-peg GM 1.5-litre petrol engine with seemingly little to offer by way of power, performance, economy or emissions. In its strut and torsion beam suspension, there appears little chance for it to shine, either.
But in a significant way, shine it does. The first smart thing MG did was accept it had to find a way of making its presence felt in a market already overcrowded with impressive small hatchbacks. A pricing strategy designed to undercut the opposition saw to that. This means a top-spec MG3 Style with 104bhp costs more than £2300 less than the very cheapest five-door Fiesta you can buy, with 59bhp.
But its best move was giving the car to members of the same chassis team that produced the MG ZR, ZS and ZT. Back then they turned rather unprepossessing raw material into cars that, whatever their other failings might have been, attracted rave reviews for their handling. The MG3 deserves no less today.
It would be no exaggeration to call this anonymous-looking little shopping car a hoot to drive on the right road. It grips hard, darts into the apex, wriggles around its axis if you snap the throttle shut and is capable of humbling all sorts of apparently more senior equipment if there are plenty of turns on the journey.
The rest of it is good enough. I ended up doing a couple of hundred miles in the top-spec model and was pleased to find I could sit there in cruise-controlled, air-conditioned comfort, listening to digital radio or my iPod, taking calls via fully integrated Bluetooth. And all this for less than £10,000.
MG now finds itself in an unfamiliar position as significant quantities of people are starting to take a real interest in the brand once more. And I think in the MG3, they’ll find not just a likeable car, but a bargain too.
So I await its next move with interest. The chassis is crying out for more work to do and I think a turbo version of this car, with suitable visual enhancements but a price kept under similarly tight control, would be very interesting, not least because of the paucity of decent fast hatches selling for less than £15,000. In terms of the way the world now views MG, I think it could be a game changer.
Engine: 1.5 litres, four cylinders
Power: 104bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 101lb ft @ 4750 rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 108mph