The 2017 MG 3 falls short of the light car pack in plenty of ways.
Well, if you need to make a statement, why not cover your car with stickers? That’s exactly what has happened to the 2017 MG 3 we had through the CarAdvice garage recently.
This car has clearly attempted to arrive with a bit of fanfare – it is (un)fashionably late to the party, given the MG 3 was initially supposed to launch here in 2013 under the previous local distributor.
Now, however, the brand has come back under direct company control, and for the unaware, the MG brand is now owned by Chinese automotive giant SAIC (yeah, so that’s why we shot the car in Chinatown!).
And those stickers – including a semi-wrap on the roof and decals on the rear doors and front quarters – are part of the MG brand’s push to offer something “unique”, to bring out your “me”. The interior offers the chance for buyers to finish the MG 3 “your way” and “get noticed for all the right reasons”.
Like all things, the personalisation stuff comes at a cost. The decals on our car cost $750 (it’s worth noting that the patterned wrap on the roof had some poorly finished edges), while the colour-coded wheels cost $1150.
Speaking of price, the 2017 MG 3 range kicks off from $13,990 plus on-road costs for the base model Core, while the mid-spec Soul model is $14,990 plus on-roads. The model we have here is the range-topping Essence, priced at $15,990 plus on-roads (or more than $19K with the options on our tester). Read the full pricing and spec story here.
Sounds okay for a little car. But consider this: unlike every other light car in the segment, there is no automatic gearbox option. We asked the big name players in the segment – Honda, Hyundai, Mazda and Toyota – what percentage of the light cars they sell are manual:
So along with the stickers, the lack of an automatic transmission makes the MG 3 stand out. But not in a good way, because even during simple driving tasks you have to use the gearbox – a lot.
A 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 78kW of power at 6000rpm and 137Nm of torque at a high 4500rpm powers the little hatchback. Those outputs are decent by class standards, but the engine itself certainly isn’t.
It struggles up hills, exhibiting a severe lack of pulling power. You will often find yourself rowing back through the gears, foot flat to the floor, as there’s barely any grunt up hills – whether you’re driving at city speeds or on the highway.
If you do get it in the right gear at the right time, the engine still doesn’t offer the urge that you’ll find in rival city cars – and that was with just one occupant on board. On the flat, or down hills, you mightn’t have as many issues – but what amazed us was its ineptness at both high and low speeds due in part to the gearing of the transmission.
The clutch is light and hard to judge, too, meaning even experienced drivers will stall it or even get the dreaded bunny-hops happening. The clutch pedal offers little feel, and the take-up point is high on the pedal. It’s really not very user-friendly but the gearshift action is long and smooth.
And we didn't see great fuel use, either. The official claimed consumption figure is 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres - we got 8.2L/100km across a mix of freeway, country road and city driving.
The brakes – discs at the front, drums (!) at the rear – aren’t as responsive as we’d like. They can be slow to pull the car up, especially down hills.
It’s a shame the drivetrain and braking are poor, because the chassis of the MG 3 is actually not that bad. The hydraulic steering system is accurate and weighty – perhaps a little heavy and slow at parking speeds – and the body of the car doesn’t move around too much in corners, as it sits quite flat.
It's quite agile and communicative – you might even call it, perversely, fun – because you’re involved in the driving experience. Push hard and you’ll find the limits of the GitiComfort 228 tyres (which are 195/55 in size for the 16s of the Essence model). There’s quite a bit of road noise at high speeds on coarse chip roads, and the car’s small rear window and small rear-view mirror makes looking back a bit difficult.
The suspension is a little bouncy at the rear end, so if you hit a road join on the freeway at speed it can dip and rebound quite violently. Around town it is decent, though, which makes it all the more disappointing that the rest of the drive experience falls short.
When it comes to equipment, the MG 3 – in this specification – offers decent gear, but it’s not exceptionally packed. There are 16-inch alloy wheels and a body kit with rear boot spoiler and side sill extensions, while convenience highlights include cruise control (yeah, the cheaper models miss out on that), automatic headlights and automatic windscreen wipers. It gets LED daytime running lights, which some light car competitors don’t have.
The media system is a doozy. There’s a lower single-din CD player with what could be the most roundabout Bluetooth phone pairing system to connect a smartphone to, and there’s also an optional touchscreen satellite navigation screen on top of the dash that looks – and feels – like an afterthought.
For $1050, we’d suggest you leave that box un-ticked, and if you don’t choose it, there’s a storage caddy with USB input on top of the dash (if you get the nav system, the USB is shifted to the glovebox – but it wasn’t in our test car).
And using the nav system is a pain – reaching forward to input an address from either the driver or passenger’s seat is a task, and there are no lower controls that are easier to reach.
The seats are trimmed in what we assume is supposed to be leather (it’s not very supple), and the not-so-nice materials continue with a plasticky gear selector and shiny hard plastics on the dashboard and doors. The steering wheel is apparently covered in leather – it’s a hard, very vinyl-like leather, clearly. Some of the switches and buttons are small and hard to read as well.
Materials aside, it’s not too badly put together apart from the pillar covers that have a bit of a warp to them. And the driver’s-side electric door mirror wouldn’t adjust from side to side (and only minimal adjustment was available up and down). The electric windows, though, are auto down for the front doors.
Storage isn’t terrific – the cup holders are small and shallow, the door pocket openings are awkwardly shaped and could only cope with a 600ml bottle lying down up front, and the ones in the back are too small even for that. There is a bit of uncovered storage between the front seats, and a pair of lined map pockets in the rear. There is no flip-down cup-holder/arm rest in the back, but there’s one rear-accessible bottle or cup-holder between the front seats.
In terms of space, there is surprisingly good headroom and legroom in the back, and decent toe room as well as the transmission tunnel is pretty small. The back seat is more spacious than a Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia or Mazda 2 in the back seat. So that’s good. But the seat is quite reclined, and the short seat squab means long-legged occupants will be in a knees-up seating position.
The deep boot of the MG 3 isn’t the best in class at 256 litres, but it is better than a Mazda 2 (250L) despite falling well short of the Polo (280L), Fabia (330L), Jazz (354L), Suzuki Baleno (355L) and Hyundai Accent (370L). There is a space-saver spare under the MG 3’s boot floor.
All MG 3 models feature anti-lock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution, stability control and six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and speed-sensitive door locking. But the door locks are a pain – once you come to a stop, you have to physically unlock them to access the car from the outside. And it’s worth noting that the MG 3 scored a dismal three-star Euro NCAP crash test rating back in 2014, and the scoring conditions have only become stricter since then…
A notable omission for the MG 3 is a rear-view camera (made even stranger by the fact there’s a prevalent screen on top of the dashboard that would seemingly double as a monitor quite nicely), but it does come with rear parking sensors.
At the very least, MG is offering some peace of mind with a six-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on all new models, and there’s also six years of roadside assistance. The brand doesn’t offer a capped-price service program.
Overall, this is a car that has few redeeming features in such a busy and tight segment of the market.
Those pricey stickers may well get your attention but in truth they’re kind of like glitter on a turd. This isn’t a car we’d suggest you buy, simply because there are better, safer, more powerful, nicer, and smarter cars on the market – plenty of them, in fact, and all of them have automatic gearbox options. Maybe the MG 3 will, too, one day. And maybe it'll be a better car then. We'll wait in hope.