Accept a few compromises and you'll have an involving budget performer

What is it?

The first all-new MG to come to the UK market for sixteen years – and today, now that MG Motor UK Ltd has announced prices, is its first day of official sales. This is the MG 6, driven in the UK in final production specification for the first time.

Although it’s part-assembled by SAIC in China, this new MG has been designed and engineered in the UK by the 300-strong staff of SAIC’s Longbridge technical centre. It’s body-in-white under-structure, panels and interior are sourced and screwed together in China, but the car’s chassis, engine and transmission are fitted at Longbridge, Birmingham.

Chinese-owned MG Motor UK Ltd is hoping that British connection, together with the warmth of feeling that it believes still exists for the MG brand in the UK, will attract people who might otherwise buy an entry-level five-door family hatchback like a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra to try the MG 6.

Aside from that, they say, the new hatchback should sell as a value proposition. Priced from £15,495 for an entry-level ‘S’-spec car, rising to £18,995 for the equipment-laden ‘TSE’-spec car we drove, the MG 6 is between £1500 and £3000 cheaper than a like-for-like Ford Focus or Skoda Octavia. Being over 4.6-metres long, it also offers a little more cabin- and luggage space than a conventional C-segment option.

What’s it like?

There are two burning questions to answer here: does it look and feel like a low-rent, Chinese-built car on the inside, and secondly, does it drive like one?

Settle in behind the big, leather-trimmed steering wheel of the MG 6 and, at first, you certainly don’t feel short-changed. The overall appearance of the fascia is modern and reasonably appealing. The leather’s soft and well-stitched, the instruments a bit over-stylised, but readable. And you get loads of equipment as standard: electric windows, air con, alloy wheels and USB connectivity on entry-level cars, and sat nav, heated electric leather seats, cruise control, reversing camera, Bluetooth and 18in wheels on range-topping TSEs.

You sit high in the MG 6 by the latest standards, and the particularly tall may find their forehead in close proximity to the header rail. With only a limited amount of reach adjustment on the steering column, you may also find your knees a little close to the dashboard if you’re long-legged. This 6ft 3in tester had no lasting difficulty getting comfortable though.

Take a closer inspection of the cabin and you’ll begin to see areas where it doesn’t quite hit European standards of material quality. Although the dash roll-top is tactle and slush-moulded, the plastics of the lower fascia and door cards are hard, a little shiny and easily scratched. Although the car’s major switchgear – indicator arms, air conditioning and headlight controls – are substantial enough, buttons for the stereo and cruise control are more flimsy, their fit-and-finish more variable.

Nitty-gritty considered, this isn’t a cabin that’d ever get signed off on a Skoda. It’s not awful; just a bit thin and disposable-looking in places. That said, the car’s certainly spacious in most respects: there’s more headroom in the back than in the front, weirdly, and decent knee- and foot-room too, as well as bootspace to burn.

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And what about the driving experience? All MG 6s will, at first, come with the same 1.8-litre, 158bhp turbocharged petrol engine, five-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive. Suspension is via MacPherson struts up front and ‘Z-axle’ multi-links at the rear.

Those ingredients make the MG 6 a spirited and willing performer – albeit one with a few rough edges. A close-ratio six-speed ‘box would make it feel quicker, but even with just five forward ratios, engine power is enough to make the MG forge forward with plenty of authority and zip, and its delivery is flexible too.

Better still is the MG 6’s chassis, which is quiet and supple, yet still controls body movements tightly. It’s clear that a great of MG Motor UK Ltd’s effort has gone into creating a convincing compromise between composure and sporting feel here, and it hasn’t wasted that effort. Hydraulic steering assistance allows for plenty of steering feel too.

Should I buy one?

If you want a handsome-looking, zesty family hatchback for a great price – and you don’t mind running a relatively thirsty, high-CO2 petrol option instead of the default-for-fleet diesel – you should certainly try one. It’s not often that cars from the budget sector deliver so much athleticism and driver involvement.

You’ll have to accept a few compromises, mind. The MG 6’s engine is relatively raucous at high rpm, its cabin quality is below par in places; it does feel like a cheap car here and there.

But not so cheap, we suspect, as to discourage you if you’re a bargain-hunter and you like the idea of owning what’s a perfectly competent and surprisingly stirring car for less.

If MG can keep making cars like this in China, and can improve its act in a few key areas, we say bring ‘em on.

MG 6 1.8T TSE

Price: £18,995; Top speed: 120mph (limited); 0-60mph: 8.4sec; Economy: 35.6mpg; Co2: 184g/km; Kerb weight: 1495kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1796cc, turbocharged petrol; Power: 158bhp at 5500rpm; Torque: 159lb ft at 1750-4500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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MGSportsandRacing 17 May 2013
ronmcdonald 28 March 2011

Re: MG 6 1.8T TSE

PRODIGY wrote:

Dying your hair to match MG's launch colour - now that's dedication.

asciimo 27 March 2011

Re: MG 6 1.8T TSE

The pre-production car tested by Autocar is probably an evaluation vehicle where the interior isn't yet finalised for British versions. Looks very much like a direct replacement for the 2nd generation Nssan Primera to me, (which I suspect is very similar in size to the then D-segment cars,) albeit with softer edge styling.

MG's owner will probably not worry too much about European sales volume, as long as it's not too low. British assembly is not an economic decision as much as a marketing one just to demonstrate to the brand conscious Chinese living around Shanghai in the rich Eastern seaboard that their foreign-branded cars are judged to be at least as good as those made by the German and Japanese. Objectively speaking, it should easily be better than the Buick-badged Daewoo and the PQ34-platform VW Lavida.