The MG3 supermini is a smart-looking and very simple supermini with an impressively low starting price
The MG brand is best known for producing low-cost British sports cars in the sixties and seventies, and the modern reincarnation of the company has been building new cars since 2011. Although it has hung on to a bit of that heritage, the modern vehicles have swung much more towards the mainstream with the likes of the MG3 supermini.
It’s very cheap to buy, looks sharp and also has simplicity on its side. The MG3 is available with only one engine – a 105bhp 1.5-litre petrol – and there are five trim levels, so that’s about all there is to it. Every model takes 10.9 seconds to sprint from 0-62mph and claims 48.7mpg fuel economy.
Don’t think you’re getting a polished, modern supermini, though. It’s not without its merits, but the MG3 is far from a cutting-edge hatchback; it’s rather behind the times in several respects when compared with more established rivals.
In its sixties heyday, MG was famed for producing fun cars at affordable prices, and that’s exactly the kind of spirit the reborn company is trying to rekindle with the smart and good-value MG3.
The supermini will have a big role to play if the relaunched MG brand is to be a success in the UK. The larger MG6 family car has seen fairly slow sales since it was introduced, so the MG3 is a make-or-break model for the company, which is now owned by Chinese manufacturer Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).
With its attractive styling, spacious interior and wide range of customisation options (similar to the Fiat 500 and the MINI hatchback), the MG3 makes a great first impression. However, it's the low starting price that will appeal most: the entry-level MG3 Time costs less than £8,500, which is extremely cheap for a new car, while the next model up, the MG3 Form, is just over £9,000.
The top-of-the-range 90th Anniversary LE model weighs in at around £11,000, which is still very affordable, while remaining stock of the Form Sport and Style models costs less than £10,000. That puts the MG3 in the same league as the Dacia Sandero, which trades on a similarly low list price and a no-frills nature.
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Although the MG3 is also positioned against conventional superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and the Vauxhall Corsa, it undercuts them by a significant margin on price, plus it offers more equipment than the most basic versions of the Dacia.
All models are fitted with the same 105bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine, which is hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox – so the only choices buyers have to make in showrooms relate to the trim level and styling, as a number of sporty-looking decals and exterior features are available. That also means economy and performance are the same for every model, regardless of the trim level; MG claims 48.7mpg and 0-62mph in 10.9 seconds from every version.
Engines, performance and drive
The MG3’s suspension has been tuned specifically for UK roads and the chassis was developed by British engineers – all in the name of capturing some of the sports car characteristics for which the company used to be known.
It is indeed good fun to drive. Find a twisty road and the MG3 comes to life; the steering is well weighted and the handling is precise with very little body roll and lots of grip.
The five-speed gearbox has a slick action, and it’s relatively easy to find a comfortable driving position as there’s a decent amount of seat and steering wheel adjustment. It’s not all good news, though, as the trade-off for the car’s agility and sporty handling is a very firm ride; the MG3 thumps over potholes and rough surfaces. The rigid edge to the suspension also causes the car to hop uncomfortably over bumps, which makes it feel rather unsettled.
Given the low price, the MG3 works for those wanting hot hatch-style handling on a tight budget, although the lack of comfort and refinement is a serious drawback.
Worse than the bumpy ride is the dated and outclassed 105bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine. A lot of rival superminis now use low-capacity petrol turbos, which typically offer a good blend of power and economy, but MG has stuck with a rather old-fashioned naturally aspirated unit, which doesn’t really score on either count.
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You have to push the engine very hard to get much out of it, and all the power is right at the top of the rev range, so you need to really work the gearbox and the rather spongy accelerator pedal to achieve any meaningful performance. The MG3 claims a 0-62mph sprint time of 10.9 seconds, which isn’t bad for a cheap supermini, although the pace doesn’t really match the agile handling – and the need to floor it all the time becomes a drag on the motorway.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
As the MG3 is only available with a single, old-fashioned petrol engine, it’s no great surprise that fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions lag behind those of rivals. Official fuel economy stands at 48.7mpg and it emits 136g/km, which means the car sits in road tax band E – so buyers will pay £130 a year in VED.
With the exception of the Dacia Sandero, these figures don’t compare well with rivals in the supermini market. Most competitors occupy lower tax bands and have superior fuel economy – as do many larger and more expensive cars, for that matter. And that’s if you achieve the economy figures MG claims; in our tests in mixed driving conditions, we’ve returned only around 35mpg in the car.
The MG3 doesn’t have any technology to help improve its efficiency, either; there’s no stop/start system, low-rolling-resistance tyres or brake energy recovery, for example. While these features don’t necessarily come as standard on every other new supermini, it isn’t hard to find rivals (albeit more expensive ones) with them – and significantly lower running costs as a result.
This is the one area of running costs in which the MG3 does well. Thanks in part to its rock-bottom list price, every model sits in insurance group four, which is very low indeed, so annual premiums are likely to be incredibly cheap. The entry-level Dacia Sandero is in group two, but this is an extremely basic car; once you’ve moved up a trim level or two, you’ll be looking at higher insurance group ratings than for the MG.
Residual values are a concern – our experts predict that the MG3 Form Sport will retain just 37.2 per cent of its list price over three years. It stands to reason that models from less established brands such as MG don’t hang on to their money as well as more popular competitors. The saving grace for the car is the low list price, which means that even if it does lose proportionately more value than rivals, there’s less money to shed in the first place.
Interior, design and technology
First impressions count, and the neatly designed, five-door-only MG3 doesn’t look like a budget car. The styling is attractive and it’s well proportioned, so it stands out much more than rivals such as the anonymous Dacia Sandero and much more common superminis like the Ford Fiesta, the Vauxhall Corsa or the Volkswagen Polo.
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Neat details include the high-mounted tail-lamps, LED daytime running lights and curved A-pillars, which are similar in appearance to the MINI hatchback’s. The long wheelbase and short overhangs also give the MG3 a sporty stance on the road. Plus, you can have fun picking from a wide range of personalisation options, including bold decals, colourful door mirror covers and lots of wheel choices – although adding extras will affect the overall price.
Inside, the car is equally stylish and a little more individual than most conventional supermini cabins. The seats are also supportive and comfortable – not quite enough to offset the hard, bumpy ride, but they do the job well.
Sadly, cheap materials and inconsistent build quality undo this initial good impression. The plastics are hard and low rent, the switches are flimsy and the small buttons on the stereo and air-conditioning controls are fiddly. So while the appealing looks and youthful customisation options are a strong point for the MG, the poor cabin lets the side down.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Even though the MG3 feels cheap inside, the generous equipment tally helps to compensate; you certainly get a lot for your money. The entry-level MG3 Time comes with the likes of USB and aux inputs, plus all-round electric windows, on top of the LED daytime running lights, which isn’t bad for a car that costs well under £9,000.
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The next model up, the MG3 Form, also looks good value, as it includes a six-speaker stereo with DAB, Bluetooth and smartphone and iPod integration. There’s also air-conditioning, electric heated wing mirrors and remote central locking. It’s just a pity that sat-nav isn’t available.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
If you want a spacious five-seat supermini that costs less than £10,000, the MG3 is well worth looking at. The cabin is packed with lots of handy storage, including decent-sized door bins, a big glovebox and a lidded cubbyhole on top of the dashboard.
At 4,018mm long, 1,729mm wide and 1,507mm tall, the MG3 is relatively compact, especially when you consider the amount of space inside. It’s smaller in every respect than its chief rival, the Dacia Sandero, but then that car is large for a supermini.
The MG is bigger than the Ford Fiesta, which is the best seller in its class, and ever so slightly smaller than the Vauxhall Corsa, but of course both these cars are more expensive to buy. It’s also a lot larger inside than similarly priced models from the smaller city car segment, while top-of-the-range Style versions come with useful parking sensors.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
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The MG offers generous rear legroom, while access to the back seats is boosted by the five-door-only layout. Many supermini rivals are available in three or five-door bodystyles, with the latter usually carrying a price premium. MG also includes electric rear windows as standard with all models.
If it weren’t for the Dacia Sandero, which has a huge 320-litre boot, the MG3 would have the edge in this class on luggage space for the money. It offers a 285-litre load bay, which falls between those of the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta – they provide five litres more and five litres less space respectively. But again, you have to remember that the MG costs quite a bit less to buy than either of these rivals.
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Fold the rear seats flat (they split in a 60:40 configuration), and the luggage capacity increases to 1,262 litres, which is streets ahead of the Corsa and the Fiesta, and also 62 litres more than in the Dacia Sandero – so that’s worth remembering if you plan to use the extra space. The downside is that you lose 29 litres if you go for the space saver spare wheel option in the MG.
Reliability and Safety
It may be early days for the MG brand in its current form, but both seem to be proving extremely popular with customers. The company finished in fourth place in the manufacturers’ chart of the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, and that followed a highly impressive ranking of third when the resurrected brand made its debut in the poll in 2014.
The MG3 is doing exceptionally well, too. It finished 10th overall, which is a great result, and drivers particularly rated its handling, comfortable seats and in-car technology.
Yet while the car is scoring points with owners, it’s behind the pack when it comes to safety. A Euro NCAP crash test rating of three stars is a concern; it’s well below par in an age when many new models achieve five stars.
The fact that six airbags, stability control, hill hold assist and tyre pressure monitoring come as standard does little to offset worries about the MG3’s crash safety failings, and it seems that there’s more to the apparently poor build quality and cheap-feeling materials inside the car than meets the eye. For example, the MG3 scored 20 fewer points in the adult crash protection test than the Skoda Citigo, which is a much smaller car.
The MG comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. That’s the same level of cover as its biggest rival, the Dacia Sandero, although it isn’t difficult to find superminis or city cars with longer warranties. The Kia Rio and Kia Picanto have seven-year/100,000-mile deals, while the Hyundai i10 and Hyundai i20 are offered with a five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty. So are the Toyota Aygo and Toyota Yaris.
MG’s CARE3 fixed-price servicing deal gives you three years or 45,000 miles of check-ups for £550. Plus, buyers have the option to extend the warranty, with six levels of cover on offer, ranging from four years and 60,000 miles to five years and 100,000 miles. The most expensive package costs £629.