The MG3 supermini is a smart-looking small car with a very low starting price
In its sixties heyday, MG was famed for producing fun cars at affordable prices. And that’s exactly what the reborn company is trying to rekindle with the smart-looking and great-value MG3 hatch.
The MG3 will be a big factor in the success of the relaunched MG brand in the UK. The MG6, a larger family car, has seen fairly slow sales since it was introduced, so the MG3 is a make-or-break car for the resurrected British brand that's now owned by Chinese company SAIC.
The smart styling, spacious interior and customisation options (similar to the Fiat 500 and MINI hatch) for new buyers make a great first impression. However it's the low starting price that will attract the most new customers: the entry-level MG3 Time model costs less than £8,500, 3 Form trim is priced at around £9,000 (3 Form Sport is a little higher) and even the range-topping 3 Style costs less than £10,000. That means potential Dacia Sandero buyers might be tempted - it offers the advantages of a new car with the price of a second-hand model.
All MG3 models get the same 105bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine with a five-speed manual gearbox, so speccing your car is all about how it looks - and the wide range of decals will attract lots of young buyers, too.
Our choice: MG3 Form
Engines, performance and drive
With suspension tuned specifically for UK roads and a chassis honed by British engineers to ensure it offers the fun factor you’d expect from an MG, the hatch promises much – and it delivers. Find a twisty road and you’ll notice how well the car responds to its well weighted steering, turning in quickly and precisely with very little body roll and lots of grip.
The five-speed gearbox has a slick action, and with a decent amount of seat and steering wheel adjustment it’s relatively easy to find a comfortable driving position. However, it’s not all good news, as the trade-off for this agility and sporty handling is a very firm ride. This results in the MG thumping into potholes. The rigid edge to the suspension set-up also causes the MG3 to hop uncomfortably over bumps, unsettling the excellent handling composure.
Worse still is the dated, outclassed engine. Theoretically, its four-cylinder layout, bigger capacity and extra power should hand the car the advantage over its rivals in this price bracket. But while it delivers enough performance to leave them trailing, any enjoyment derived from the extra urge is ruined as the engine is so thrashy and strained. Plus, with peak torque at a heady 4,750rpm, you need to make lots of use of the accelerator pedal.
With a slack throttle response it feels limp at low revs, too, while the gruff 1.5-litre is a constant background drone on the motorway. As a result, the MG3’s fun factor is limited to the agile handling, which is a shame because the chassis hints at the potential for a good car.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
MG’s CARE3 fixed-price servicing deal gives you three years or 45,000 miles of checks for £550, plus there’s the option to pick from six lengths of extended warranty, ranging from four years/60,000 miles to five years/100,000 miles – the most expensive costs £629. Group four insurance is good news, but elsewhere running costs are poor. Residuals are a concern – our experts predict the MG3 Form Sport will retain just 37.2 per cent of its list price over three years.
However, it’s the engine that will really hurt your wallet. Emissions of 136g/km mean a £130 annual tax disc, we managed only 34.6mpg in mixed driving.
Interior, design and technology
First impressions count, and the neatly designed five-door-only MG3 doesn’t look like a budget car. Attractively styled and well proportioned, it stands out from the less racy city cars like the SEAT Mii and Citroen C1 with its hot hatch-like design.
Neat details include the high-mounted tail-lamps, LED running lights and MINI-style curved A-pillars, while the long wheelbase and short overhangs give it a sporty stance on the road. You can also have fun choosing from a wide range of personalisation options, including bold decals, colourful door mirror covers and lots of wheel choices – although adding options will affect the monthly bills.
Still, the MG3’s generous equipment tally means you get a lot for your money. With a leather multifunction wheel, trip computer, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, DAB radio and electric rear windows, it’s loaded with stuff you don’t always find in a sub-£10,000 car.
Plus, the interior is neatly designed with a youthful and fun look. Sadly, this initial good impression is undone by cheap materials and inconsistent build quality. The plastics are hard and low-rent, the switches feel flimsy and the small buttons on the stereo and air-con are fiddly. So while the MG’s convivial looks and youthful customising are a plus, the day-to-day enjoyment of owning the car will be diminished by the poor quality of the cabin.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
If you want your cheap, fun car to be spacious, the MG3 is well worth looking at. For starters, the deep 285-litre boot is larger than both rivals’, although if you choose the optional spare wheel, the volume drops to 256 litres. Tumble the standard 60:40 split rear seats and there’s a useful 1,262 litres of luggage space, though.
The cabin is packed with lots of handy storage, including decent-sized door bins, a big glovebox and a lidded cubby on top of the dashboard. The MG has good rear legroom, while the five-door body makes it easier to load kids into the rear seats. You also get electric rear windows and electric mirror adjustment, although only the range-topping Style version features useful parking sensors.
Reliability and Safety
It’s early days for the resurrected MG brand so it’s hard to make a judgement on reliability. However, the company returned to our Driver Power satisfaction survey with an impressive third place in the 2014 manufacturer ranking.
Of concern will be the three-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, which is unusual in an age when most new models achieve five stars. The fact that the MG3 comes with six airbags, stability control and tyre pressure monitoring does little to offset concern about the car’s crash safety failings. The adult crash protection score was 20 points behind the Skoda Citigo’s, for example.