Mint coloured wheels, vinyl wraps, wide-open-throttle launches, children tugging their parents’ arms and pointing as we drive by, mountain roads carved up with glee, necks breaking at the local shopping centre during a photo shoot.
Sounds like a standard Tuesday for Chris Harris piloting the latest and greatest supercar for a new season of Top Gear, but what I described above is exactly what Mitchell and I experienced during a weekend with… Wait for it… an MG. Not a classic two door open top roadster often seen as the automobile of choice for the grey hair and cardigan brigade, this was a modern MG you’ve probably never even heard of.
When Clinton Hicks of Brisbane MG threw Mitchell and I the keys to the brand new 2017 MG3, it was fair to say we had no idea what to expect. The MG3 quietly arrived on our shores back in early 2014 alongside the MG6 sedan to little fanfare. It seemed MG themselves focused their marketing on the bigger, more powerful, more expensive MG6, and left the micro-segment challenging MG3 out in the cold. What a shame that turned out to be, because this little car took every preconception we had at Gears and Beers about the revived MG brand, and stuffed it down the garbage in a swirl of fluoro colours and genuine mechanical grip.
“It’s just outside when you leave, you can’t miss it” Clinton said, as we walked towards our very first ever weekend test car. We saw what he meant by not missing it. There she sat in all her glory, mint coloured aftermarket wheels, up-rated tyres, pink side mirrors, coloured stripes and a rainbow vinyl roof decal that might as well have come straight from the closest “Vote Yes” campaign. Except this time you don’t tick a little box for equal civil rights, but rather you check the ‘Candy’ decal option offered by MG as a way to accessorise your pride (no pun intended) and joy; as MG say “bring out your me”. It should be noted though that the mint aftermarket wheels were a dealer fitted option (circa $1000 including tyres) by Brisbane MG.
The chuckles between Mitchell and I from our first impression subsided rather quickly when we realised that all these colours actually worked really well together. Coupled with the larger wheels made the MG3 a bit of a looker. The bright colours are no doubt helped by the fact that the MG3 in its own right is, in my opinion, a handsome little hatch. The MG3 throws itself to the top of the pile in the ‘looks and style’ department when compared to its competitors (think Nissan Micra, Holden Barina & Mitsubishi Mirage).
So is the little MG3 the classic case of all style and no substance? The answer to that is a resounding NO, far from it. After spending several days zipping around town and along our favourite spaghetti-esc mountain road, we were left stunned at how capable the MG3 is when driven with vigour. After all, a quick glance at the performance figures doesn’t exactly get the heart racing; 78kW @ 6000 RPM and 137Nm @ 4750 RPM isn’t earth shattering. However it’s the way the little 1.5L motor goes about making that power is what counts. The redline is just under 7000 RPM and given how high up the rev range this peak power sits, means you must rev the MG3 out every single time you wish to move anywhere. To even keep up with traffic from a set of lights requires a 4000 RPM clutch-dump and a 5000+ RPM shift into second. While this might sound like awful hard work I can confirm it’s actually an immensely fun way to go about your daily commute, especially if you’re of the car enthusiast persuasion. That power, or rather the lack thereof, forces the driver to always be conscious of the gear they’re in and, in most cases, requires a gear change to keep the car in the power band. Basically, you must race this car 99% of the time you’re driving it, which in my opinion, is one of the MG3’s hidden charms. Rowing through the gears like Vin Diesel in the latest Fast and the Furious movie makes anyone feel like a boss, don’t even try to convince me otherwise!
You might think the engine characteristics I described above are my favourite thing about the MG3, but you’d be wrong. Wrong like drinking beer through a straw. No, the absolute best part about the MG3 (and Mitchell agrees) is way it handles being flung around a corner. I’ve driven several other new cars from the $15k -$20k price bracket and they’ve all delivered a completely soulless experience; akin to a washing machine on wheels. I am happy to report that the $13,990 MG3 is the polar opposite of this, relatively speaking.
The sweet spot for the MG3 is when you’re driving it at 7 or 8 tenths through a series of bends. This is totally fine, given you can’t realistically go any faster on the street without playing Russian Roulette with your life. At 8 tenths the little MG3 morphs from a humble commuter car into an MG of old, the clock spins backwards to the days of yesteryear. When the brand churned out classic sports cars like the MGA and its predecessor the MGB. The steering becomes alive with ‘feels’ when you load it up in a corner, and the front end grants you your every wish. At no point does the front wash out, at no point is there a sudden loss of grip or feel, you can set your apex and entry point anywhere you want and the MG3 will happily abide. Taking a series of S-bends at speed is actually rewarding, not terrifying like so many of its competitors. Pick the right line (and right gear) and the MG3 will carry genuine speed through corners, just like a true sports car. The front end of this car is very well sorted and brings a sense of confidence to spirited driving, it may be hard to believe but I say this with absolute certainty.
That’s not to say the MG3 is not without its failings, nothing in this life is. While the front suspension package is bang-on the rear is like its runty little sibling; immature, crass and uncooperative when asked to play nicely during spirited drives. Instead it sits in the back and constantly asks “are we there yet?” until your blood boils. All the composure and competence of the front is lost at the rear, which gives up the ghost much sooner. It really holds the MG3 back from being a near-perfect driving package. If MG ever ditch the accountant-approved torsion-beam rear for a proper independent rear end, it would do a world of wonders.
Another aspect of the MG3 that rubbed me the wrong way was the air-conditioning. The air-conditioning seemed to only have two settings; Fiery pits of hell, or the North Pole. Even going up by 1 level on the temperature knob would be enough to trigger such a seismic shift, leaving Mitch and I to endure either sitting in a fridge or a sauna every time we took a drive. Roll the windows down and fat-arm it instead I say!
The MG3 also has a feature whereby all the doors lock once you take off. Nothing wrong with that, except the doors do not automatically unlock when you eventually arrive at your destination. This means your passengers will be constantly locked in, or locked out, much to the frustration of all involved. The only way we could find to end the ordeal was to push a tiny button hidden amongst the air-conditioning controls. EVERY.SINGLE.TIME we wanted to get out. The troll is strong with this one…
In reality however, these shortcomings are pretty minute when you consider the package on offer here. A small, good-looking car that’s easy on the wallet and holds its own during a spirited drive. What more could you want? Starting at $13,990 drive away for the ‘Core’ model, I feel many people will cross-shop with second-hand offerings. In my opinion though, there’s no comparison. Mainly because the MG3 is backed by a 6 year unlimited kilometre warranty and 6 years roadside assist. Outside of Kia, and the odd special deal by Honda, nobody in the business stands behind their product like MG are. Heck MG are statistically willing to stand by you longer than your current partner, no need for Dr. Phil in this relationship.
If you’re in the market for an entry-level commuter car, but also have a yearning for something with a bit of soul when the road begins to mimic pasta, I strongly suggest you check out the MG3. Mitchell and I were shocked at how good the package MG has to offer here for such a low price. Check the ‘Candy’ decal option box and you’ll also experience supercar-esc attention from all who lay eyes on your rainbow coloured hatch. Thanks MG, what an absolute bloody hoot this is.
Light-hearted, entertaining but still informative, ‘A Weekend With’ is a new feature article series by the Gears and Beers Automotive Podcast! Whenever we review a car an article like this will accompany it. So grab your favourite beer, a comfy chair and enjoy our laid-back take on automotive journalism.