No matter how much MG might cling to their British origins, every time you step in to the MG3 you’re reminded by an SAIC logo on the window that you’re driving one of Shanghai Automotive’s cars.
Not that its Chinese parentage should concern you. If anything, having the backup of the world’s 12th largest car builder behind you is a good thing. It’s been nine years since you’ve been able to buy an MG-badged supermini in the UK, and if it needs a bundle of Yuan to keep the brand alive then so be it.
Fortunately there’s more than a blank cheque book on offer from Shanghai, as the 3 was designed and engineered in the UK, even if it’s built overseas. Yes, MG will tell you the final assembly is done in Birmingham, but that’s really nothing more than bolting the engine in to place in a corner of the old Austin Rover factory.
Once all the parts are where they should be, the end result is a distinctive and funky looking hatchback. Bigger than you might expect, the clean-sheet design has echoes of the Skoda Fabia about it, but definitely offers a unique style in a market of otherwise me-too small hatchbacks.
That can be boosted by the addition of sticker packs that turn the MG3 from a stylish hatchback to, depending upon your point of view, something especially funky or an eyesore. A simple set of roof stripes might work well on some cars, but you can also specify tyre tracks running across the bonnet, shards of glass on the roof, and even 44 yellow, pixellated, smiley faces.
Step inside and there’s a lozenge theme running through the car that, with stretched ovals everywhere you look. It’s not the most stylish interior you’ll ever see, but the guys at Longbridge have taken the time to create something distinctive, and everything is clearly laid out.
Slap bang in the middle of the steering wheel sits the classic MG octagon logo, acting as either a link to the companies glorious past or, if you’re like me, reminding you of how it all went wrong and how this could be nothing more than a marketing exercise.
If you did think like me, you’d be wrong. The MG3 is a cracker.
It’s worth breaking all normal road test rules here and saying that in just about every area it’s easy to find a car that does things better. The Ford Fiesta is better to drive, the Volkswagen Polo is better built and the Alfa Romeo MiTo is better looking. Kia beats it on warranty, Dacia on price and Toyota on economy.
But all of that counts for nothing, as the MG3 is very much more than the sum of its parts. Granted, the engine, despite being a new design, is some way off the best in class. It’s a large 1.5-litre unit that produces 105bhp, but you need to work it very hard to actually access that power. That would be fine on a B-road blast if you had a mellifluous engine note and a slick gear change, but the MG fails to provide either of these.
All that work counts against the car’s economy too, the official figure of 48.7mpg being nothing but a mystical figure plucked from the stars. Back and forth to Silverstone, I managed around 36mpg, which compares unfavourably to most supermini’s.
The MG3 has three aces up its sleeve though. First of all, it’s a remarkably refined car to cruise the motorway in. Noise levels are a little higher than you might wish for, but with DAB radio and a good set of speakers, you’ll never notice. It’s also surprisingly comfortable, the suspension ably absorbing the long undulations you find down the M11 and doing a good job of separating you from the road.
Secondly, it’s a hoot to drive! Somehow the MG engineers have devised suspension that not only manages the motorway with aplomb, but also forces the tyres to stick tenaciously to the tarmac even under severe provocation. The front end is sharp, almost clawing at the road as you turn in to a corner, while the back end obediently follows without issue.
Get the engine revving to find the power and it pushes you along the road faster than you expect, almost in spite of its 105bhp, rather than because of it. Brake hard and it grinds off the speed in an orderly fashion, with no scrabble or weaving.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the MG3 has price in its favour. When was the last time you saw a car advertised with its maximum price, rather than ‘price from…’ and a lump of small print explaining that the car you’re looking at is actually twice that price?
The top spec MG3, the 3Style version tested here, is £9,999. For that you get 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, automatic windscreen wipers, reverse parking sensors, air-conditioning, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and more.
It’s not a bargain basement car though. Detail touches abound, such as tiny MG logos built in to the headlights. There’s a distinctive square exhaust pipe, purely because it looks good, and hockey-stick shaped front LED lights when a horizontal bar of light would have done the job just as effectively.
It’s all unnecessary, but the fact it’s there makes you feel better about it, knowing that somebody spent time in the design studio thinking about how to improve your life tiny bit by tiny bit.
There’s an emotional attachment to the car that’s missing from its competitors. They may be technically better options when playing Top Trumps one-upmanship with your friends, but the MG3 makes you feel better.
If you want soft-touch plastics, homologous design and cutting edge technology, then the myriad supermini options from the regular brands will do you fine If you want some personality and some emotion, at least take a look at the MG3. It might surprise you.
Engine: 1.5-litre DOHC VTI-Tech four-cylinder petrol
Top speed: 108 mph
0-62 mph: 10.4 seconds
Power: 105 bhp / 106 PS
Torque: 101 ft-lb / 137 Nm
|Official combined mpg: 48.7 mpg
Road Test economy: 36.9 mpg
CO2 Emissions: 136 g/km
VED Band: E / £130 per year
Insurance group: 4E
Kerb weight: 1,155 kg