2019 MG 3 review: Quick drive

A short spin around Shanghai's racetrack

What is one thing any new buyer of the updated 2019 MG 3 will not do with their car? Take it to a race track. So here we are then, at a race track about an hour and a bit out of Shanghai with a range of new MG vehicles, including the updated MG 3.

From the outside, it's certainly a better proposition than before. Where the old one looked a little too edgy and sharp without reason, the new design is more cohesive, with familiar flowing lines one would find on rivals such as the Suzuki Swift and Mazda2. The entire front face has been redone and the rear is one step closer to a Honda Jazz.

However you look at it when it comes to its exterior design, the Chinese company has moved up a step but it's really on the inside where there have been the more notable changes.

There have been substantial modifications to the dashboard and instrument cluster, with the integration of a nice 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system on the higher spec models. There is also a new steering wheel.

It feels more premium than before (but then, what wouldn't in comparison?), but we are talking about a car that currently has a starting price of $13,990, so in terms of value-for-money the updated MG 3 seems well and truly on the ball.

The powertrain has also been updated, with the 1.5-litre 'Plus' petrol engine boosting outputs from the current model's 78kW and 137Nm to a new 88kW at 6000rpm and 150Nm at 4500rpm. Perhaps most importantly for our market, the MY19 MG 3 will finally ditch the manual-only option in favour of an Aisin-sourced automatic transmission as standard.

Now you probably want to know how many gears it has (four), but to be perfectly fair on the car, given its powertrain and output, the four-speed automatic actually does a rather decent job of extracting its potential. Let's put it this way: we would rather be driving this MG 3 with the four-speed automatic than a continuously variable transmission.

We jumped inside and turned it on; the MG 3 is not a sports car or even a sporty car. Regardless of what colour option you pick for it, or what sporty body parts the company wishes to fit the vehicle, it remains a solid city car and not much else. This is a car that weighs about 1100kg without the driver, so add one or two passengers and the powertrain begins to struggle.

Out on the race track, we found the MG 3 lacking in dynamic ability. The steering, the brakes, the cornering ability... it was all okay, but if anything, driving it at speed and in anger highlighted how far the Chinese brand needs to go in order to compete with its Japanese and European rivals. It struggles to get up and go, and it certainly doesn't inspire much enthusiasm.

In MG's defence, we also drove the updated MG 6 and MG 6 hybrid and found both to be a significantly better driving experience, so we can see the progression the brand is making.

Nonetheless, there is a level of finesse that is lacking in the MG 3's core dynamic competency. No one buying this would ever bring it to a race track or drive it in anger, so, as a city car, we suspect it will do its intended job fairly well. We couldn't necessarily tell you if it rides well or otherwise – given the super smooth surfaces we drove it on – but it felt supple and supportive. The seats were comfortable and we found the seating position and steering wheel easy to get accustomed to (even without telescopic adjustment).

The MG 3 will happily accommodate four adults. It does have enough room front and rear to do so and, if you have young kids, the ISOFIX child-anchor points in the back will be of great use.

Of course, if the MG 3 had a safety rating of five stars, we would say here 'the car is not exactly best in class for any one particular attribute, but given the price, we couldn't think of a better first car or second runabout'. Alas, that is not the case. With a three-star safety rating that will carry through with the updated model, the MG 3 remains a choice on the fringes.

In saying that, with six airbags, electronic stability control, reversing camera and parking sensors, the MG 3 is certainly a choice that is on par, if not better, with a second-hand car from five years ago. And given the seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, it's hard to make a case not to buy it if your alternative isn't new. It's also worth noting that the safety score for the MG 3 is poorest for pedestrian protection, and actually not too bad for adult and child protection.

We would, however, caution that this is primarily a car for urban commutes. We suspect it will not be an enjoyable experience on Australia's vast highways or country roads.

The new MG 3 launches in Australia around August and we will bring you a more in-depth review once we have driven it on local soil. For now, though, if you're looking to buy a car for around 15k, the little MG might be worth the wait.

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