Motoring review: MG3 – A Chinese rescue of a British car brand?

 

1.5-litre petrol engine; five doors only
On sale now, priced from £8399

In my book, anyone who gets a new car first time round is thoroughly spoilt. When you can snap up a 60,000-mile Fiat Punto for the price of a family return to Edinburgh, why splurge thousands on a tin can your teenager will, in all likelihood, shunt into a lamp-post within the year? I may be speaking with the bitterness of someone who spent five years grinding the gears of a Morris Minor, but on the other hand, at least I lived to tell the tale.

Now, though, there is a car for the style-conscious little Jonny with a new licence. It’s the MG3, a cute four-door hatchback that looks like it’s screeching round the Nürburgring when standing still, but doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere when your foot’s flat to the floor. This car is all about looks, and there are, according to MG, “millions” of customisation options. There’s only one engine choice, a 1.5 litre unit offering a meagre 101 lb torque. It’s about horseplay, not horsepower. The one I drove was Newton black with cut glass 16” alloys and a red double Sebring stripe going the length of the body work. I know, get me.

The 3 is the second offering from the resuscitated MG brand, which was bought by a Chinese consortium in 2005 and is gradually vrooming back onto the market. Their first offering, the MG6, will go down in history like the unicorn – a powerful large saloon that sold in such small numbers, one day we’ll ask if it ever existed.

The much smarter idea with the 3 was to create a high-spec hatchback with a seriously affordable price tag. In the age of the Dacia Duster, this was a canny move. The range starts at just £8,399. The press car came with all the extras: sexy leather interior, cruise control, hill control, DAB, bluetooth an iPod dock and a fat little sound system, and still only cost £10,836. Admittedly, the engine pulled about as well as my Morris Minor, with as much noise. But who cares when you can drown it out with your own in-car Ministry of Sound?

MG has had a sorry time since the Abingdon factory closed in 1979. Now, the Chinese may have come up with just the formula to rescue this very British marque. They build the parts nice and cheap over there, then assemble them here at Longbridge. This means they can flog the finished product here and abroad as a British product. The Chinese are mad for them: MG3s are selling like rice crackers in Shanghai.

The MG3’s wow factor is not its performance. And for all the optional stripes and alloys, it’s not the aesthetics either - it looks like a chubby kid in a track suit. No, what’s good about the MG3 is that you’re getting a brand new four-door hatchback, which is safe, well-built, and can transport four grown adults in leather-clad comfort, for under ten grand. And best of all, you’re buying British. Sort of.

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