MG Motor has relaunched in Australia, so is the MG 6 Plus a strong enough proposition to establish the brand as a permanent player in our market?
You have to stop and wonder why Chinese auto giant, SAIC Motor, would re-launch the formerly British MG Motor brand in Australia with a range of vehicles that includes the 2017 MG 6 Plus – which was pulled out of the UK market last year due to poor sales and has only had one minor facelift since production began in 2010.
MG Motor felt the MG 6 Plus could still be competitive in the small passenger car segment in Australia, but can this ageing model live up to that expectation? The small and medium car segments in Australia are strong and competition is fierce... and with the MG 6, it kind of feels like we're being fed leftovers.
The MG 6 failed to strike a chord with buyers in its historical heartland, however its sibling the MG 3 managed to find a following so there's always a chance the MG brand will resonate with some in Australia... and so far it seems to be finding a niche. In February 2017, 108 MG badges found homes, including 90 MG 6 Plus examples.
The MG 6 Plus was launched here late last year, alongside the small MG 3 hatch, and the GS SUV has since joined that pair. At 4651mm long, 1827mm wide and 1472mm tall, the MG 6 Plus straddles the small and medium segments in size but is listed as a small passenger vehicle.
It's available in three trim-levels, the Core, Soul and Essence. The Core is priced at $21,990 before on-road costs, the range then steps up to the Soul at $23,990 and the Essence is $25,990.
When you look at the entry-level price-point, the MG isn't among the cheapest. The top-three sellers in the segment, the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 ranges all start lower than the MG's $21,990, as does the Skoda Rapid. It's the same price as the base model Holden Astra, while the new-generation Honda Civic sedan is only $400 more and forking out an extra $500 would secure the new-gen Subaru Impreza sedan. Plus, the Volkswagen Golf range starts at just under $1000 more.
So, cheap, it is not.
Of course, unlike the MG 6 variant line-up which steps up in $2000 increments, most of the other brands mentioned top-out at a much higher price but they also feature more bells and whistles. The Skoda Octavia sedan would be the closest entry-level medium competitor at $22,990 for the 1.4 110TSI Ambition.
The size and spaciousness of the MG 6 is one of the key selling points for the brand and the fastback style does have a certain sense of style and presence thanks to its somewhat elegant exterior design.
Our test car is the top-of-the-line Essence and has optional metallic paint and illuminated door sills, bringing the as-tested price to $26,689. Exterior features include auto-levelling Xenon headlamps with adaptive front lighting system. Rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights are standard on both the Soul and Essence. LED daytime-running lights and tail-lights are standard across the range, as is hydraulic power steering and 17-inch steel wheels.
Safety-wise, ABS brakes with EBD, Corner Brake Control, Emergency Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Program, hill-start assist, front driver and passenger airbags plus side airbags and rear curtain airbags are all standard on every variant.
The MG 6 has a 1.8-litre four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine (hence the big turbo badge on the boot) which produces 118kW and 215Nm, teamed with a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Not that you're likely to test it out, but the 0-100km/h sprint time is a claimed 9.9 seconds. As pointed out in our pricing and specifications article, the MG 6 Plus actually offers one of the gutsiest drivetrains around the $20,000 price point.
On paper, the MG 6 offers a relatively attractive prospect. All have heated front seats (though the dark grey interior colour is the only option), leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, rear air vents, push button start, cruise control, start/stop, paddle-shifters and rear parking sensors. Only the Essence gets front sensors and a rear-view camera, and satellite navigation is standard in the top-two specs which also feature an 8.0-inch display.
The Essence offers the driver and front passenger six-way electrically adjustable leather seats with manual lumbar adjustment. The seats have a bit of shape to them and are nice and wide; the leather however feels thin and is not taut over the seat base side bolstering.
Cheap, hard, scratchy plastics abound and the dials feel a little flimsy. Visually, the dash and centre stack are neatly and tidily laid out and there are handy storage nooks but the tactility of the materials doesn't exude quality.
All have CD, USB, MP3, radio, auxiliary and Bluetooth connectivity taking care of every personal preferred method of entertainment. The touchscreen is tucked away under the hood of the dash which is great for reducing glare, however the system is basic and lags well behind offerings from other manufacturers including Mazda and Hyundai.
The rear-view camera isn't crisp on screen, and the camera itself is positioned at a really odd angle. It looks almost straight down which is virtually useless because you don't see anything until you're about to hit the object behind you.
On the topic of things that aren't clear, the air-conditioning display has a misty, cloudy sheen when it should be crystal clear. It's like the factory ran out of transparent plastic and decided that slightly opaque would still be acceptable. It's not. Glancing down to check the temperature makes you wonder why your vision is blurry.
The instrument cluster has a tiny multi-information display which is hard to read purely because of its size. And don't even get me started on the way the speedometer was marked-up. I'm assuming the break in the inside line points to the relevant speed, but the white lines in between the numbers complicate things. At times I had no idea how fast I was going and couldn't keep my eyes cast downwards for long enough to figure it out. Speedos should be intuitive and never, ever confusing.
In the second row there is a good amount of space and two adults will be comfortable. The outboard seats are nicely shaped, leaving the centre seat back protruding a decent distance and making it not the most comfortable place to be for a third passenger. The sloping roofline impacts a little on headroom, but knee and elbow room are well catered for. Again, the leather is a little naff feeling.
The boot is impressive, offering 429 litres of space. That expands to 1379L with the rear seats folded down. The boot covering is a stroke of genius, making it easy to clean any mess – think sand, mud, broken eggs – and difficult to lose small items through cracks. Big tick there.
Out on the road it's a mixed bag. Some of the best bits about the MG 6 come to the fore but, conversely, some flaws are highlighted too.
The steering is quite heavy at low speeds and feels inconsistent in the way it's weighted, with no rhyme or reason for the unpredictable feeling. You can feel the road through the steering wheel, it nibbles away over the changing surfaces but at least you can't say that it doesn't have an involving feel. Noise is a bit of an issue with tyre roar infiltrating the cabin.
Sharp impacts can be unsettling, with the front suspension crashing down over jagged edges. However the suspension is overall remarkably good, making for a comfortable ride over bumpy or corrugated roads and on the highway, with excellent damping and great body control.
The MG 6's 1.8-litre turbo engine is one of the more powerful in class but fails to reach its potentially enjoyable full capability because of the transmission.
The gearbox behaves as if it's been out for a long lunch. The six-speed dual clutch slurs its way through the gears, constantly wanting to reach for a higher gear. It feels confused and busy which doesn't make for an enjoyable driving experience. The engine can also be a little noisy under hard throttle, too.
Again, there's a flip-side. Out on the highway once travelling at a constant speed and no longer hunting for the right gear, it's quite a comfortable cruiser. It responds well, accelerating at-speed to overtake and even the steering seems to prefer galavanting along a highway over urban duties.
The claimed fuel consumption is 7.8-litres per 100km, but during our time with the car we recorded a figure of 11.9-litres per 100km.
Another strong point for the MG 6 is its ownership package. MG Motor Australia offer a six-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with six-years roadside assist which is one of the best deals currently available.
For those that feel an affinity with the MG brand and its rich history, you may be able to find enough positives to talk yourself into overlooking its flaws. It's spacious, the boot is practical, the suspension and body control is good and the engine/transmission combo performs well at highway speeds.
However the steering feels odd, the rear-view camera is a joke, the speedo confusing, the quality of cabin materials questionable and there is no extra safety-tech like blind spot monitoring or AEB available. It's worth bearing in mind the MG 6 Plus scored a four-star ANCAP safety rating, too.
When you look at the current standard of its competitors, the MG 6 is lagging so far behind that SAIC Motor would have been better served to wait patiently and launch a brand new product. On that note, personally, I'd like to see SAIC really try and reinvigorate and reinvent the brand as its own. The new GS SUV has just landed here and let's hope it showcases the future of the brand for Australian consumers.
At the end of the day, the MG 6 Plus just doesn't stack up when you consider price, equipment and finish, and there are far better options on the market at the moment. A $17,990 price for the base-model may have been more appropriate, and more likely to attract a more substantial foundational customer base to the brand in Australia.