Review: MG3 3Form Sport- Bargain Bin or Chinese Cracker?

20140522_093911 When you read a review, be it of something you’ve watched or eaten, somewhere you’ve visited or something you’ve driven, negative reviews tend to be more interesting, more entertaining, than positive ones. They’re often more fun to write, too. If something is seriously, properly awful you can then really go to town on the most scathing, bitter account of how it took you way beyond the realms of disappointment, to the point of actually being an affront to your sensibilities. It’s also an excuse for lazy journalism, which is handy. I’ll admit this was on my mind when I approached the brand new MG3 for the first time. My writing stomach was hungry for something to really get my teeth into because it had been a while since I last drove anything genuinely terrible. I had kind of assumed that the MG would be an easy target. Disappointingly, yet gratifyingly, I was wrong. 20140522_093924 Firstly, a word about the gentleman who handed the car over to me, who deserves an immediate payrise. Typically, when you take a car out for a review the keys are given under duress. If a writer from Ludo and Draughts Monthly turns up demanding a test drive of any car they will likely be greeted with a certain disdain, where as the landed gentry of CAR magazine will be handed a gold plated key on a velvet cushion while everybody bows and curtseys. MG man didn’t really care who I was representing, all he wanted was for me to drive the car. I have rarely been so encouraged to experience a product. It felt a little like being attacked by a salesman in an electrical store, but with no threat of any monetary transaction being involved. Whether by design or by happy accident, it put me in mind that MG were showing themselves as a company with nothing to lose. DSC_5519 Speaking of design, don’t expect an epoch-defining piece of styling. The overall form is neat and tidy but instantly recalls the Suzuki Swift from the front three quarters and the Skoda Fabia from side on. There’s little originality in the basic structure, but the actual detailing is happy enough. The headlamps are slinky and up-to-date and the dress-up accessories are of a high standard on this 3Form Sport model, though the stick-on-graphics won’t be to all tastes. It’s possibly a shame that none of the current MG’s have a particularly strong corporate look. With the badges covered you’d be hard pressed to guess who built it, but then again at least it isn’t hideous or overly polarising. And the MG Logo’s inside the headlamps are very cool. I was more impressed when I got inside. Continuing on the theme of craving disappointment I was hoping for a brittle, shiny plastic edifice of horror with both feet planted in the past. Instead I found the dashboard of a nameless, contemporary small car, from which the unexpectedly high level of standard equipment shone brightly. 20140522_092643 I certainly wasn’t expecting a Bluetooth-linked DAB radio, something that even Mercedes-Benz struggle to extend sufficient generosity to include them as standard. And I was positively blown away, yes, blown away by the air-conditioning and heater controls. You have a two dials which each rotate around a fixed display, variously illuminating the appropriate number of red or blue LEDs dictated by the heat or coldness ordered up and how hard you ask the fan to thrust. It’s simple, it works well and it looks good. And better still, it appears that somebody put some thought into it. Likewise the driving position. As a passable John Cleese imitator I make serious demands on a car’s cockpit configuration, often forcing the seat right back and making endless adjustments to merely land in some kind of workable command posture. In the MG I simply slotted in and found myself in a comfortable place, one that doesn’t promote lounging in luxury but sets you up for the business of driving. It’s an assertive driving position. It makes you think that the car might be fun. 20140522_092630 Wouldn’t it be terrible if it turned out not to be? This thought was in mind as I trundled off in search of interesting tarmac. The engine had started immediately, making a completely forgettable four-cylinder hum and spinning the rev needle freely around nicely detailed “tunnel design” instrumentation. There are 106hp on tap from this game little lump, and that gameness is handy because you really do need to work it quite hard to get the most out of it. Because peak torque comes up at 4500rpm, the “fun” sector of the rev-counter is quite a narrow band, forcing you to select your gears wisely. There are five of them and they all select cleanly aside from a very slight baulk into third, which you’d probably find a workaround for after a bit of practise. The engine does start to sound a bit anxious when extended, but doesn’t get too painful. DSC_5524 I should imagine that, if you can train yourself to keep the engine spinning above the 3000 mark at all costs, good cross-country progress can be made, but this is more thanks to the chassis than the drivetrain. And this was the aspect of the MG that most surprised me. There’s plenty of grip, and for the relatively modest dynamic demands that I was making, the controls were responsive and obedient with little play in the steering or pedals and a sensible amount of travel in the latter. The most prominent impression, though, was one of weight. Is this good or bad? Well, I have to admit that I was expecting the MG to be a flimsy car and, as cars like the Citroen AX from the Victorian era will remind you, flimsiness equates to lightness, ergo entertainingly flingable handling. The MG doesn’t feel like that at all. It doesn’t dance over the tarmac like a polythene bag stuck in an updraught, it doesn’t have the party-hard feel of an original Ford Ka or, yes, let’s go there, an MG Metro. Instead of that it feels like a mature, grown-up, competent sporting hatchback. 20140522_093932 The chassis really does outclass the engine, but you learn how to make the two work together, there being enough precision on offer to promote the retention of velocity through bends; the brake pedal seldom needs to be troubled apart from on those corners where you can’t see the exit. Best, though, was how the MG responds when you throw the car’s weight from one side to the other; some budget machines (and indeed some cars who have ideas above their stations) heave uncomfortably from one side to the other, but the MG transfers its weight with nary a lurch. Everything seems totally under control. I guess that this lack of the sensation of being on the ragged edge maybe robs the MG of ultimate fun, but it doesn’t make it any less accomplished. If you’re keeping score, this latest discovery means that this presentable looking car with a well furnished, equipmenty cabin drives well and has handling which belies its small size and budget position in life. Far from the slating of a lifetime, this little car is going to end up receiving a glowing review. And this is all without taking the price into account. With all the specification that the MG3 3Form Sport VTI-Tech wears the sticker price is £9,549, though the garish warpaint and slightly more flamboyant wheels on this example bring it to £10,296. Bear in mind that this is several thousand quid less than the most basic of Ford Fiestas and the MG starts to look quite compelling. It would appear, contrary to my expectations, that MG are back with a product that makes sense. Perhaps the engine lets it down a little, but not to such an extent that it ruins the whole package. DSC_5521 In a way it’s a shame (albeit inevitable) that the NEW, Chinese-bankrolled MG are destined to find themselves lumped in with “budget” brands. But everybody has to start somewhere and the first thing that has to happen is that unhappy memories of the late days of MG Rover have to be exorcised. If we forget about the chequered past and look at MG as a new company with everything to prove, the MG3 is a good place to start. Lazy Journalists of the world will have to look elsewhere for an opportunity to sharpen their knives. (Full disclosure: An extremely persuasive MG Man forced the keys into my fist and demanded that I go out and drive the balls off his car. And I’m damn glad I did.). [Images: copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Chris Haining]

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