Cheap, feature-packed and comes with an excellent warranty backed by a brand that is on a massive surge... But there's a catch.
MG is rapidly growing in the Australian market, and a lot of that has to do with the brand’s simple and honest offerings, with an industry-best seven-year warranty plus a rich list of standard equipment across its ever-expanding model line-up.
But while the MG ZS SUV remains the best seller for the Chinese brand, the MG 3 is only 20 unit sales behind in the first three months of this year, and the brand as a whole is selling more cars than Jeep, Peugeot, Skoda and Mini in 2019. Not bad for a brand that is still in the establishment phase and expanding its dealerships' footprint.
The point is, MG is here to stay, and it’s proving its worth with increasing sales every single month.
Back to the MG 3, which is the cheapest car in the portfolio with a $15,990 drive-away price. The car we are testing here is the top-spec MG 3 Excite (yes, the naming structure can be a little more exciting…) for $17,490, and for that you get a pretty decent amount of spec.
Actually, even standard across the whole range, the equipment is pretty decent and includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, a four-speaker Yamaha Digital Sound system, tartan-patterned cloth seat trim with contrast stitching, and 15-inch alloy wheels. There is also a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors.
If you pay the extra $1500 to get ‘excite-d', you’ll get a slightly sportier bodykit and 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels atop the base specification, along with pleather/tartan-patterned seats in place of the basic units, and a six-speaker audio system with USB input and what the company calls 'Yamaha 3D Sound Field Digital Processing Sound' – which is probably just a fancy way of saying ‘not a crap stereo’.
We found the interior to be a surprisingly pleasant place to be considering the pricepoint. There’s a lot to be said about the use of colours and materials to break up the cabin. The seats themselves are a peculiar shape that may not provide the best back support for some, though we found them comfortable enough for short drives. The rear will happily fit two large adults, or two child seats, with a fair bit of headroom and reasonable leg room for average-sized adults.
The infotainment really does outshine plenty of its rivals, with a top-notch screen with a super-high resolution and easy-to-use interface. Compare it to what Honda offers, for example, and this feels a generation or two ahead.
The reversing camera is also pretty decent, though we did notice that it’s not very good at adjusting the white balance. So, if you’re coming from a dark place into a light place (e.g. out of a dark garage into the sunshine), it will overexpose the picture at the start and not adjust as the conditions change.
We were also impressed by the switchgear and even the movement of the air-conditioning vents. The buttons feel good and the general tactile sensation is above average with rather high-quality material. In saying that, there are a lot of hard plastics everywhere, even places where it supposedly should be soft such as the armrests. We did also notice some gaps around the interior, such as that between the door handle and the armrest. Little things, but overall we felt that the car was relatively well put together and nothing was flimsy or overly cheap.
Perhaps the nicest part of the interior is having a digital speedometer and the European ‘inspired’ steering wheel, which is an almost direct clone of what you’d find in a Volkswagen Golf GTi. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t offer telescopic adjustment.
Another aspect of the MG 3 that really surprised us was the excellent sound insulation. It’s ridiculously quiet inside, which is extremely peculiar for a car in this price range.
From a mechanical side, the MG 3 is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine making 82kW and 150Nm. That less than impressive might is transferred to the front wheels using a four-speed automatic transmission, and the company claims fuel use of around 6.7L/100km on the combined cycle. In our test that was closer to 8L/100km, but for good reason.
You see, that 1.5-litre engine isn’t exactly providing fast-paced acceleration. In fact, it’s actually rather average when it comes to performance – if you drive it normally. If you drive it hard and keep your foot basically flat to the accelerator, the MG 3 will do a great job of keeping up with traffic and merging on to the highway, but you will need to be a lot more aggressive with the engine, which then affects the fuel economy.
If you spend a lot of time in inner-city areas or suburbia, the power and torque are more than adequate. But if you do a lot of highway kays, especially in the country, you might find the lack of torque a bit of an annoyance when it comes to overtaking.
We would actually rate the transmission because it’s not a continuously variable (CVT) system, and therefore offers a much nicer everyday driving experience. Yes, it will kick down gears very frequently in order to get the car to the desired speed, but we can only imagine that it would be even worse with the whine that a CVT would offer.
The ride is a little on the firm side, so around town it can be a tad crashy if you find a pothole or a poorly surfaced road. But, find a smooth surface and the slightly harder ride means much better handling that you’d probably accept. It does have a bit of body roll around bends, but for its intended purpose it’s above average and delivers the goods.
Nonetheless, given the type of car that it is, we would probably prefer a slightly softer ride and a slight compromise on dynamics. Even then, it’s a pretty decent offering for inner-city commutes.
So now we come to the elephant in the room, safety. Of course, if the MG 3 had a safety rating of five stars, we would now say something along the lines of 'it’s 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 as a runabout'. However, that is not the case. With a three-star safety rating (Euro NCAP only), the MG 3 remains a choice that needs much consideration before committing.
To be fair to the car, it has six airbags, electronic stability control, reversing camera and parking sensors, so from a passive-safety perspective it doesn’t fall too short. It’s more that it lacks modern features such as autonomous emergency braking that may be of concern to some.
But then, the MG 3 is certainly a choice that is on a par to, if not better than, a second-hand car from a few 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 semi-reasonable for adult and child protection.
Overall, the MG 3 remains a solid choice for those looking for a reliable, well-backed small city runabout that will serve its purpose diligently. If safety remains a concern, then there are plenty of alternatives, but considering its popularity, plenty of buyers seem to think otherwise.