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The MG6: To Drive, Not to Savour

Chris Haining June 6, 2016 Featured, Reviews 14 Comments

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“MG – Since 1924” This is the phrase that appears when you first switch the sat-nav on in the “British” marque’s more recent machines, as well as appearing on several MG promotional campaigns. But what good is a storied brand name if it means nothing to the market?

That octagonal badge has graced the bonnets of some truly great cars, that’s for sure, but the surviving MG enthusiasts and loyalists are no longer the most influential element of society. Few young folk have a clue about the past work of Morris Garages, and in all honesty none of its occasionally glorious legacy has any real connection to the MG of today apart from by name.

There are myriad name brands out there fighting for attention and, for MG to be a success in this day and age their products have to have a USP. A specific appeal. When I drove this latest version of the MG6 I think I found it, but is it buried too deep for anybody with an open chequebook to discover it for themselves?

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It’s easy to be dismissive of the MG6 and its place on the UK car market. This isn’t the MG of historic Grand Prix victories, nor is it the MG of badge-engineered ’80s shopping cars with bodykits and red seatbelts. This is an MG which exists as a trademark only, a recognisable name under which the Chinese giant SAIC can win Western market share. That said, final assembly of the MG6 from a knockdown kit (or, really, the installation of an engine and some wheels, plus that MG front panel) occurs in a much-reduced Longbridge plant, former home of Austin Rover.

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It’s not an unattractive car, but it is one which relies on its (Alfa 156 aping?) nose for any sign of identity. There is nothing at all innovative in either the basic proportions or the treatment of the metal surfacing, nothing much to sow the seeds of any particular corporate design language. If MG and SAIC were aiming for “perfectly OK” then they’ve nailed it. The only thing that will not do is the chrome-plastic trim between wheelarch and door which presumably intends to ape some kind of air vent. It’s purely cosmetic, it’s horrible, it doesn’t need to be there and I had to summon quite a bit of resolve to not pry it off with a credit card and throw it in the gutter. After stamping on it a few times first.

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I have little doubt that the Chinese product development squad who fine-tuned the interior for the latest MG6 were mightily proud of their creation, and they have at least successfully ticked many of the boxes obligatory for a car to be even the least bit competitive. The kit roster is up to scratch, on paper, with the TL model boasting dual zone climate control, a pair of heated, electrically adjustable, leather coated front seats, plus the a rear view camera. That in itself is connected to the proprietary MG Touch 7″ infotainment system, which I didn’t play with so can neither celebrate nor condemn it.

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Sadly, even if it was quite heart-stoppingly wonderful the screen looks terribly awkward mounted at one end of a quadrilateral secondary bezel that in no way matches the rest of the dashboard. In appearance this edifice looks oddly familiar, as if a 2005 E90 BMW 3 Series dashboard was captured by communist forces and then replicated using materials rejected by China’s second worst manufacturer of plant pot holders and spatulas. It’s unremittingly black and hard to the touch, and if you rap it with your knuckles it echoes like an infinite cave. So much so that I actually rather enjoyed rapping it with my knuckles and did it on a near continuous basis during my session behind the wheel.

Ergonomically it all works rather well, though, with only the centrally mounted controls for the traction control and boot release finding themselves a little lost by the driver’s elbow. The other controls fall readily to hand and are all where you’d expect them to be. I found the instrument cluster itself somewhat annoying, though, being housed in an enclosure shaped like a particularly poorly managed moustache, and succumbing to that popular cutesy styling trait of having the numerals arranged in a manner that some of them end up upside down. What is point when this achieves neither style nor function?

IMAG6160Additionally, while the image above clearly shows seven individual segments in the messy LED fuel gauge, the engine temperature gauge appears to only have lights half way up the scale. The points between start-up and normal operating temperature are present, but what on Earth happens on the dial if the car decides to do an impression of an Old MG and boils up in traffic? Then again I suppose being kept blind from warnings and living in blissful ignorance isn’t so bad.

You must perform an unintuitive charade to start the engine. The key, a joylessly shaped lozenge of cheap, shiny plastic so light and hollow I was worried about it floating out of my pocket and into space, also acts as a start button when pushed fully home in its slot. Even the MG PR girl rolled her eyes when she was explaining it to me, as if to admit that it’s a terrible idea and she knows it. It doesn’t have a terribly positive action, so you push it in and eject it again several times before you figure out that you hold it down while the engine cranks and release it when ignition has taken place. A start button would be about 300% better. Or a conventional key (these have been proven to work quite well).

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Let the 1.9 litre diesel engine (they call it DTi-TECH and tell me it’s improved) spin to life, release the loathsome but inevitable electronic parking brake and you can see if the disappointments continue to mount up once the vehicle is in motion. Then prepare yourself for mental anguish as the way the car drives and feels apologises sincerely for the gross misconduct of its interior and styling.

My expectations were somewhere near the floor, certainly no higher than my ankle, yet hustling the MG6 around Millbrook’s Hill Route was a total pleasure. As I set off from the compound my first pleasant discovery was that MG hadn’t gone for brutal, unyielding chassis settings under the justification of “sportiness”. The ride is firm, but only so much as to feel controlled and tied down. High frequency bumps like expansion joints and potholes are initially damped by the fairly deep tyre sidewalls and what makes it through to the cabin is very well contained, leaving not much for the primary ride to do apart from keeping the car on an even keel. Hey, there’s always that Rover 75 if you want something smoother.

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The engine sounds busy, but is enthusiastic for the task and not as overwhelmingly intrusive as you might expect at speed. It also seems to get on very well with the six speed manual gearbox whose ratios feel well spaced, and a there’s a very reasonable shift action when it comes to making cog choices. The clutch weighting matches the gear selector perfectly, either by design or happy accident; that is to say direct and obedient but with a hint of mush at extremities of travel. And, you know what, exactly the same can be said about the steering.

The wheel is old fashioned in its fairly large size, and has a thin rim but it feels quite pleasant in your hand and helps to create the impression that there’s more information on offer through it than there actually is. The steering is more direct and precise than communicative and never really feels as if it’s commanding the rather un-sporty Goodyear EfficientGrip tyres to bite into the corners. But perhaps I’m asking too much. As it goes the MG6 had absolutely no trouble dealing with Millbrook’s rapid-fire series of corners, cambers and climbs. In fact, such was my surprise at how well the MG6 dealt with my demands that I soon found myself grinning, and it was with glee rather than sarcasm.

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Everything about how this car drives is on the good to very good side of average. Once you’ve stopped looking, prodding, poking and rapping the hollow dashboard with your knuckles (still entertaining) and actually got the thing moving, you realise that the function is so much more impressive than the form. It’s just such a shame that the physical product will probably put people off before they take a chance to see what it can do.

If ever there was a car which needs to be more aggressively marketed it’s this one. A muscular campaign needs to be hatched, one which focuses on the MG6’s killer attributes; the way it drives and its relatively meagre price. It occurs to me that there is one particular demographic that loves both of those characteristics- the youth market.

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The task now is how to win them over. “Since 1924” is possibly not the right way to do it- people’s grandmothers have been around since 1924 and I know mine wouldn’t be top of the list if I was choosing company for an exciting back-road blast, nor would I seek her buying advice when selecting a family car. Nope, Kids want fun, they want image, and they don’t particularly want to spend much money achieving either of them. I reckon that link with the past should be temporarily severed, at least until the MG of today has built up a new fanbase.

A decade ago MG Rover took the grandma-special Rover 25, painted it bright yellow and smothered it with big wheels and jaunty plastic mouldings and then sold it to young adults as the MG ZR. And, against everybody’s expectations, it actually did quite well. It was cheap, it looked sporty and it actually drove pretty well.

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The MG6 would seem like a really good platform to start with for that kind of operation to work again. If you listen to any of the radio stations which pander to the demands of young ears, you’ll be reminded that neither quality and pedigree are necessarily what kids are looking for. Lyrics? who cares if they mean anything. Instrumentation? Who gives a rats cock? Make it loud, make it memorable, make it immediate and make it relevant. The killer hook is everything; something needs to jump out and attract the attention. If it captures the imagination it’ll go viral and quickly become flavour of the month. Rising stars burn brightly and then tend to be replaced in short order with something newer, something different.

That’s all the MG6 needs; a moment in the sun. Once that Killer Hook has been released and brought fickle, newness-craved customers on board, MG can work on ways of keeping them and perhaps adding to their ranks. They just need that sudden, unexpected download chart success first. Market the MG6 to people on the strengths of what it can do rather than what it is. Align it to appeal in the in the same way as fast food, sportswear, 1980’s midi-systems made from chipboard which went really loud and had lots of flashing LEDs on them, reality TV, supermarket tabloids and lager.

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The MG6 does everything that a quality product does, but for less and without the quality. It’s the perfect vehicle for people who think that Instant Coffee is OK, people who got rid of their Hi-Fi and bought an iPod dock. Folk who are happy with Queen Latifa’s American re-imagining of the French film Taxi. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that. There’s a whole load of people out there for whom art is a completely alien concept.

I’m not even being scathing when I say that MG should actively court these people, after all they’ll have the upper hand pretty soon if they haven’t already. Image has long overtaken quality in the “what people want” stakes. Maybe one day BMW and Audi will look back and laugh at the fact that they used to waste time and money making their cars nice to touch and behold.

(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2016)

  • “…the MG of badge-engineered ’80s shopping cars with bodykits and red seatbelts.”

    Look, if the MG6 has failed to maintain such standards, just say so. Don’t tease us with a series of interior shots which carefully exclude even a hint of its belts.

    • Vairship

      Well, it has purged all color from its interior, apparently. Apart from the cheerfully lit warning lights, which I’m sure will carry over from previous generations of MGs.

  • Citric

    Reminds me of a Hyundai Elantra from the ’90s. Does a lot of stuff wrong, but enough right that you wonder how long it’s going to take before they figure out the rest.

  • Sjalabais

    Good analysis and very entertaining text. But how young is ‘young’? I mean…I might see myself in that demographic, but buying a new car? One that, despite its low point of entry, is destined to have a second hand value of a slightly nicer 1:18 MG of a different vintage?

    • Not reaaaally young, of course. I’m talking “first grown up family car” age. Whatever that means.

      • Vairship

        Kind of a Modern Gentleman, then…

  • dukeisduke

    What does “MONO” mean in regards to the a/c system?

    • Defeats the dual zone and adjusts the passenger side in sync with the driver.

      Also, it makes early Beatles releases sound better.

  • Madoc

    “Harrumph, there hasn’t been a proper MG since The War, you know. Quite.”

    • This is the first time I’ve heard the UK General Strike of 1926 referred to as “The War” but aside from that we’re in complete agreement. They never should have moved from Alfred Lane. After that, ditching their Morris Oxford badge for that bizarre octagonal abomination was simply the last straw. Don’t even get me started on their abandonment of bullnose radiators.

      https://c3.staticflickr.com/5/4076/4823584386_d8bd8f17f3.jpg

  • CraigSu

    From what little I can see of the overall car it looks like a Vauxhall. That’s not a compliment.

  • desmo

    If the chinese were clever they would buy a dead american brand (badge). For example Tucker or Oldsmobile or Nash. And then sell these things for $ 9999.- at Walmart. This would be innovative. If they really wanted to rock the auto market they should call it “The Donald – America First Edition” (with a large american flag all over the bonnet).

    • JayP

      To be honest – MG has (or had) a lot of brand recognition around the world… making sports cars. The original plan to refresh the MGTF and bring it to the States would have at least sold in the SmartCar numbers. I’d been tempted too.

      But it flaked and MG makes this thing, Rover is Roweerer.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    I think Volvo keys work the same way. Or at least used to a few years ago.

    I didn’t even know you can still buy a new MG.. Apparently this one still has hydraulic steering, and only comes with a diesel engine.

    Just had a look at the MG3 configurator, and i’m pretty sure it’s the only car with a factory option of a roof full of smiley faces.