Gareth Butterfield tests the facelifted MG3 supermini
I KNOW what you’re thinking. MG was once a British brand we all loved for its charming little sports cars and now its Chinese owners have watered the Birmingham-based badge down with a brief succession of dreary hatchbacks and SUVs.
But don’t be so quick to judge them. The MG6 that started the renaissance might have been a bit of a flop, but it was a surprisingly marvellous thing to drive – and the two current SUVs on offer are really rather good if you fancy a mud-plugger on a budget.
The highlight, however, has always been (and probably still is to some extent) the MG3. It’s a supermini, but it’s so keenly-priced you can buy it for city-car money. Less than £10,000 will get you in this sweet-looking little hatchback, and MG aren’t stingy on spec either.
It’s just had a generous facelift, which has smartened it up nicely, with a bolder, more handsome and modern front end, and some of the awkward details of its predecessor deleted from the rear.
The interior design has been lifted too, with good storage, plenty of space for driver and passenger and generally better plastics than its predecessor.
The entry-level, £9,495 MG3 Explore comes with Bluetooth, USB and aux inputs, plus all-round electric windows, on top of the LED daytime running lights all as standard.
This and its seven-year warranty puts it ahead of the Dacia Sandero, which you could say is its closest rival.
If you can, it’s best to cough up another couple of grand for the next model up, the MG3 Excite. It might be a big leap in price, but it’s good value, as it includes a four-speaker stereo with DAB and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. There’s also air-conditioning, electric heated wing mirrors and remote central locking.
True to MG’s heritage, and as with the MG6, it rides and handles surprisingly well. Don’t get me wrong, a Fiesta would run rings around it, but a car at this price really shouldn’t feel so poised and precise. It’s a genuinely fun, chuckable thing with a snappy gear-change and positive steering.
It’s not all good news, however. The biggest fly in the 3’s ointment is the engine. While competitors such as the Dacia have benefited from borrowing modern turbocharged units from relatives, the MG3 has had to make do with an under-developed, wheezy 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine. And that’s the only option.
Its 105bhp might sound plenty in a small and light car, and 10 years ago that would have put it in hot-hatch territory, but the game’s moved on way beyond this engine now.
Truth be told, there is fun to be had if you work away at that slick gearbox and it does have a decent turn of speed, but you’ll need to be revving it, which will harm your MPG. And it emits 140g/km of CO2 which means there are plenty of rivals that are more tax-friendly.
Overall though, you really can’t argue with the overall package for the price. Bargain-basement cars might not be for everyone, but it’s nice to know you can still buy a brand new supermini without necessarily having a modern supermini budget. Residual values have proven stronger than we all feared and MG does some very tasty finance deals too.
More than anything though, I like the MG3 because it gives buyers the chance to buy a cheap car without having to settle for something dull.
For the money, it’s fun and different and has bags of character. And it’s even though it’s no longer put together in the UK, it’s still designed and developed in the Midlands.
Cheap thrills from a (sort of) British car. What’s not to like?