Piers Ward05 September 2013

First drive: MG3

A perfectly acceptable supermini strangled by a poor engine

What is it?

It's MG's entry-level hatchback, a Fiesta-sized supermini with loads of personalisation options and a bargain-basement price.

Personalisation options? That sounds cheesy...

Dead right. Most of these are NOT cool. The graphic packs cost up to £225 and you can spec things such as emoticon stickers on the roof, or a decal that looks like a tyre burnout. Doubtless the marketing types thought these would help the 3 appeal to the youth buyer, but it all seems way too try-hard for our liking.

So if I avoid those, what do I get as standard?

Quite a lot. The base car starts at £8,399, but we'd avoid that one because it's too basic. The real value lies in the mid-spec 3Form - awful pun aside - because it starts at £9,299. And for that you get iPod connection, DAB radio, aircon, Bluetooth and steering wheel audio controls. The top-spec 3Style - what is it with these names? - adds parking sensors, cruise control and posher alloys. And that one is a pound under 10 grand.

Sounds encouraging. But presumably it gets a tiny engine?

Not really. It's a 1.5-litre petrol, with 105bhp and 101lb ft. 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds, which is competitive with rivals. On paper, all is well.

On the road, though, all is not well. This engine is a dog. The torque curve is peaky so you've got to rev it to feel like you're making any sort of progress. And as soon as you do that, it gets harsh and raspy.

It's not even especially eco. Combined fuel economy is 48.7mpg and emissions are 136g/km. When 3-Series saloons are trundling around with under 110g/km, that is seriously poor.

Oh dear. That doesn't sound good. Is the chassis any better?

Yes. And that's the great shame with the MG. The chassis is crying out for a better powerplant. The steering is direct, there's loads of grip and good body control - this thing is a hoot to drive.
Our only caveat is that the ride is a tad firm, but we'd sacrifice that for the way it corners.

So should I bother?

It depends what your priorities are. As far as cheap motoring goes, the MG3 is right up there with the best that Dacia can offer. It drives well, it's got all the kit you'd want, it makes sense.
But that engine is a real deal-breaker It strangles what's otherwise a perfectly acceptable supermini.

5/10

Piers Ward

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