The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is often true when it comes to cars. Drop £180k on the new Lamborghini Huracan, for instance, and you get a stylish supercar with a 602bhp V10 and an interior festooned in leather and all sorts of special bits. At the other end of the scale, if you buy a Dacia Sandero for around £6000, you get a car, and that’s pretty much it.
With that in mind, when I took the keys to an MG3 - a Sandero alternative with prices starting at just £8399 - for the week, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of fun. After spending some time with the car, though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that despite wearing the oh-so British MG badge, it’s not really a British car. MG Rover died off in 2005, and no one came along to rescue the manufacturer. Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) bought the rights to the MG brand, and now produces the MG3 and MG6 in China. However, the design and engineering work takes place in the old MG Rover factory in Longbridge, UK (which SAIC now owns). It’s here that final assembly takes place using knock-down kits shipped over from China.
It’s once you step inside that you notice some more obvious clues to this car’s low price.
From some angles it looks like a mutated Skoda Fabia, and the slab-like wing mirrors are a little horrid, but it’s a nice shape overall. Plus, there are some nice little details like daytime running lights and MG badges in the light clusters.
It’s also well equipped. Our ‘3Form sport’ test car costs £9549 and comes with a respectable spec list which includes electric windows, heated electric mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels and hill hold assist. The £9999 3Style, meanwhile, adds cruise control and parking sensors to that list. Spec something like a Ford Fiesta with similar kit levels, and you’ll pay a few thousand more than that. There are even graphics packs and personalisation options available to spice up the exterior, though some are of questionable taste…
It’s once you step inside that you notice some more obvious clues to this car’s low price. The interior isn’t particularly exciting, save for a few splashes of red, and while it’s on the whole pretty solid, there are the odd nasty bits. The steering wheel - which looks like it needs a gap in the solid lower section - has a particularly sharp edge where your thumbs naturally rest. The phone cradle also looks like a cheap aftermarket add-on, and despite only having around 11,000 miles on the clock of our test car, the red stitching on that ill thought-out steering wheel was already coming away.
It’s dated, too. Remove the number plates and give this car to someone not in the know, and they’d think they’re in a car from about ten years ago. There is a DAB radio to make things feel a little more modern, but it’s fiddly to use.
Happily, when you drive the 3, it makes up for these misgivings. The ride can be choppy at times, but the trade-off is a well-composed chassis. There’s a surprisingly low amount of body roll even when you pitch it aggressively into corners, and the reasonably sharp steering has a decent amount of feel to it.
This is massively helped by the presence of hydraulic power steering, something of a rarity at this end of the market, where cars usually have electric systems of an often unsophisticated persuasion. The front-end does tend to wash out easily while accelerating out of bends, but it’s nothing unmanageable.
The MG3 is not just fun for darting about in town, it’s also entertaining when you get it into the countryside. After being in the new Toyota Yaris recently, with its inert steering and wallowy chassis, it’s good to know there are still a few B-segment cars that can put a grin on your face even with a small amount of power.
That being said, you do have to work very hard to extract the MG’s 105bhp and 101lb ft. It comes from a 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-pot petrol, and peak torque doesn’t come in until a ludicrously high 4750rpm. This means that while 0-62mph is possible in 10.9 seconds, you’ll only achieve that figure if you thrash the living daylights out of the thing. Should you be enjoying a spirited drive, that merely adds to the grin factor, but if you’re not, it’s tiring when you just want to make decent progress.
Like the interior, the unrefined engine noise feels like the unit’s from a bygone era. It’s not especially frugal either; we’re used to lab-obtained economy figures being a tad optimistic, but the MG3’s claimed combined figure of 48mpg is especially out of reach here, particularly when you need to thrash it so often.
It’s the marriage of a good chassis and a gutless engine that got me thinking: with a more powerful lump under the bonnet, the MG would be a brilliant hot hatchback for little money. And that’s something which could well be on the cards.
Earlier this year the stripped-out ‘MG3 Trophy Championship’ concept (left) was created to celebrate MG’s 90th anniversary. It has a turbocharged version of the regular 3’s 1.5-litre engine kicking out 204bhp, with the power being fed to the front wheels via a limited-slip differential.
It may have been more about drawing attention to MG Motor’s racing efforts (the MG6 has been competing in the British Touring Car Championship for three seasons now), but it proves that the 1.5 is capable of much more power. In fact, the MG5 is already sold in China with a turobcharged version of the 1.5-litre, albeit with a less bombastic 135bhp. Crank that up to a figure closer to the Trophy’s, then dump it into the MG3’s engine bay, and you’ll have a cracking budget hot hatchback.
We think of the Ford Fiesta ST as being a bit of a bargain performance car for a shade over £17k, but a hot MG3 with almost the same power could well undercut that by as much as £3-4000.
It points towards a positive future for the reborn brand, but for us, we’ll be holding out for a hotter version
Will it happen? We’ll have to wait and see, but as it is, the MG3 is a temptingly cheap proposition. It points towards a positive future for the reborn brand, particularly if the interior quality can be ramped up, and some more sophisticated machinery developed for under the bonnet. But for us, we’ll be holding out for a hotter version; it’d be an inexpensive pocket rocket that’ll do the famous MG badge proud.