Day 1: The MG3 has a nice key. This is important, it creates a good first impression. Its big brother, the never-popular MG6, has the most cacky, flimsy fob in history so it’s nice that MG has learned from this mistake and given its new small car a nice, substantial flick key. The good impression isn’t spoilt by the car itself which looks nice, in a generic, last-generation Hyundai sort of way. The flappy door handles are old fashioned but the alloys on this car have a matt inner bit, a polished outer face and proper, intricate MG badge. They look expensive. You can have your 3 plastered in all sorts of stickers and contrasty bits if you like. I probably wouldn’t. The only bit of the outside I don’t like is the exhaust, which is too small and rectangular to work as the design feature it strives to be. It’s reminiscent of a robot’s anus.
Day 2: A trip to Warwickshire. The MG is noisy on the motorway but the stereo isn’t bad at distracting you from this. It’s a very neatly integrated bit of kit, it has standard DAB and Bluetooth streaming, and at night a little illuminated red line marks its perimeter. All in all, a neat job. You’d say the same of most of the interior. Some of the plastics are hard but the design and texturing do their best to stop you noticing. The electronic temperature control display, based around a stack of blue and red bars, is groovy too. It’s different and it makes you feel like they’ve made an effort.
They’ve made an effort with the chassis too. This is a very amusing little car. The ride is firm but the damping feels grown up and expensive. The steering, which is needlessly heavy at parking speed and goes weirdly light in a straight line, gets better when you’re acting like a helmsmith. There’s even some sense of the grip and conditions being experienced by the front wheels. The MG3 has hydraulic rather than electric power steering which probably helps. The only weak link is the engine. It’s okay short shifting through town. It’s okay when you’re trying to burn off all its petrol in the countryside. But it feels tight chested and lazy in between those two extremes. It’s a car in which you need to change gear a lot. Fortunately, the gear change is pretty good. The MG website makes much of this car being ‘fun’. On this afternoon’s showing, they’re not lying.
Day 3: I need to collect A Big Thing from a nearby shop. Often when you put the seats down in a small car you see all manner of half-arsed trimming, lazily stapled into place. Surprisingly, the MG3 seems to be properly put together in places you rarely see. It feels like they’ve spent a few quid to make it more satisfying. It has damped grab handles too, and the electric window switches are on the door when the cheap option is to bung them between the seats so they don’t need moving for left- and right-hand drive. Even the cubby cover on the top of the dash has a nice texture and smooth action. It wouldn’t get kicked out of VW’s quality bed for badly designed farting. The only let down is the driver’s seat in this car which sometimes creaks.
Day 4: Britain is gripped by WIND CHAOS this morning. The MG3 seems to cope perfectly well with a firm breeze. Mind you, so do all the other cars on road.
Go over to my mate Gareth’s in evening. His 13 year old son has a look round the 3 and decides it would appeal to old people because the dashboard is simple. Later he decides it would actually be good for young people because you can have a phone dock on the dash and stickers all over it. He also points out that there’s loads of room in the back. He’s right on many counts.
Day 5: Queuing in traffic on the North Circular a dude in a beanie hat driving a new Audi A3 hoots at me from the next lane and signals for me to wind down my window. ‘I thought MG was gone?’ he shouts. ‘They’re back!’ I reply in a slightly-too-jaunty way. It feels like we’re stuck in the start of a very bad advert. ‘This is their new car,’ I continue, trying to bring my voice down an octave. The bloke cranes forward from his gangsta lean to have another look at the 3. ‘That’s looks a’ight,’ he says. ‘Yea, it’s a’ight.’ And with that, he is gone.
As it turns out, all is not a’ight with the MG3. The low tyre pressure warning light has come on. The cause turns out to be a ruddy great screw embedded in one of the front tyres. Damn.
Day 6: I didn’t take the 3 home last night because I couldn’t be bothered farting about with the can of expanding foam in the boot. It’s only when a man comes to get the car I discover there is no can of expanding foam in the boot; the MG has a full size spare. I don’t know how they’ve crammed that in and left a decent boot. Actually, maybe I do. A lot of the engineering was done at Longbridge in Birmingham. Maybe they’ve still got the packaging manual they referred to for the Mini and the Metro. Unlike those cars, the 3 isn’t actually built at Longbridge though. MG was claiming part assembly in Britain but now says demand is such they’re bringing them in fully built from China. This isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s the future. Recognisable brand name + Western design and engineering + Chinese factory = profit. It’s a model that works in electronics and increasingly we’ll see it with cars. Knowingly or not, MG is ahead of the game here. And if the cars keep turning up feeling as simple but well made as the 3 then it’ll be fine.
Goodbye: The MG3 is gone. Shame. It’s a amiable little car. The engine needs to be more zingy, and indeed less thirsty, but the rest of the car is perfectly decent and capable of being cheerily entertaining when the mood takes you. I’d have one over a Micra, a Corsa, a C3 and many other second division supermini also-rans. If it was competing head on with big hitters like the Fiesta and the Polo it might be found wanting but it’s not because even this, the top model, is less than 10 grand. And for that money, it’s a very likeable bargain.
The car talked about here is an MG3 3Style. It has a 1.5-litre engine making 105 horsepower, giving a top speed of 108mph and a 0-62 time of 10.8 seconds. In this trim it costs £9999.