Engine: 1.9-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual
Power: 150 PS at 4,000 rpm
Torque: 350 Nm at 1,800 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 53.5 mpg
CO2 emissions: 139 g/km
Top speed: 120 mph approx
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 8.9 seconds
Price: from £16,995 (hatchback “S” model) rising to £21,195 (Magnette saloon version)
As car launches go, the introduction of the MG 6 last year was about as low-key as it gets - and sales targets were modest too. Even the arrival of the saloon version, the Magnette, as an alternative to the five-door hatch, didn’t cause much of a stir but the potential significance of the MG 6 could not be ignored. First, its arrival marked the beginning of a small-scale revival of car assembly at the old British Leyland – originally Austin – site at Longbridge in Birmingham that was operated by MG Rover until it went bust in 2005. And it was the first MG product to be produced under a powerful new owner, SAIC of China, which scooped up what was left of MG Rover after it failed. Although SAIC is still an unfamiliar name in the UK, it is the eighth-largest car-maker in the world; it has annual sales of over US$67 billion, and last year it made about four million vehicles – more than twice the output of the entire UK motor industry.
But while SAIC is big, it owes much of its size to joint ventures in China with Volkswagen and General Motors, with cars produced to its own designs under its own brands, Roewe and MG, accounting for a much more modest 250,000 or so units. MG’s UK design centre at Longbridge plays an important role in developing those cars, including the MG 6.
The MG 6, as originally launched, was pretty good on the fundamentals, with well sorted ride and handling, decent performance from its 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine, generous cabin space and smart looks. But there were drawbacks too. The single petrol engine option was unattractive to CO2-driven tax-conscious business users, and there was only a five-speed gearbox. Interior trim and detailing were also criticised; some of that criticism was a bit overdone, but there was certainly room for improvement.
Now MG is offering a diesel engine in the MG 6 that goes a long way to boosting the its prospects. The new engine offers strong and quite refined performance – that’s hardly surprising given that it turns out 150 horsepower and 350 Newton metres of torque - and it’s paired with a new six-speed gearbox. There’s fuel-saving stop-start technology as well, and electro-hydraulic power steering also saves a bit of energy over a hydraulic system. If the new steering set-up gives away anything in sharpness to the old – a common side-effect of such a switch – only the most sensitive of purists are likely to notice; ride and handling are still strong suits for the MG 6, even with the slightly heavier diesel engine on board.
Cabin quality too, is a lot better than it was on the early petrol models; the overall design of the interior, and in particular the dashboard, is much the same as before but it appears that some materials have been changed and parts retooled, and the overall effect is now perfectly acceptable, even attractive.
Even with the arrival of the diesel option, the MG 6 is still going to be selling in comparatively small numbers - in fact, that appears to be part of the plan. MG still needs to strengthen its dealer network, parts back-up and other infrastructure, and is wary of over-extending itself. Nevertheless, the company’s future plans are starting to become a little clearer; as well as making the MG 6 more interesting to company car drivers, the new diesel engine is also the key to a planned return to continental Europe. That, apparently, is likely to happen once two new models that are in the pipeline, the smaller MG 3 and MG 5, come along. Slowly but surely seems to be the motto. It may take a bit of time, but MG may yet be a mainstream car brand again in Britain one day.