Bad copies, cheap imitations, cut-price knock-offs. Those are but a few of the derogatory descriptions that were bandied about when the first wave of Chinese-made passenger vehicles were introduced to the local market a few years ago. But despite derision from some quarters, the East has much influence in the automotive world… Geely procured Volvo, India’s Tata bought Jaguar Land Rover, SAIC effectively saved the MG brand from extinction, and so forth… Well, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover seem better for it, and so does Morris Garages.
The MG3 light hatchback, which was recently launched in Mzansi, is anything but a clone: priced to compete with budget superminis, but styled to the compare with the Peugeot 208 and Kia Rio, to name just a few, the Chinese newcomer’s designed in Longbridge, UK, assembled in China (although models for South Africa will soon be imported from Thailand), and it is very distinctive, as well as attractive.
The Style model I drove is packed with specification – including leather trim, a stitched multifunction steering wheel with audio and cruise control toggles, Bluetooth-compatible audio with USB and auxiliary inputs, hands-free telephony and a smartphone dock, heated door mirrors with electrical adjustment, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers as well as reverse parking sensors.
An impressive number of standard features is expected from an unheralded imported newcomer, of course, but what I like most about the MG3, apart from that cute budgie-beak nose, sporty bumpers and sills and those handsome 16-inch black alloys, is that the newcomer’s relatively spacious cabin feels solidly made and comfortable. Yes, the plastics are mostly of the hard, shiny variety but there are softer surfaces on the door cards and nice-to-have features such as an oddment space atop the dashboard, ISOfix mountings and front passenger airbag deactivation.
Not only is the MG3’s driving position sporty, but the hatchback’s sure-footed handling abilities and engaging steering feel back up that notion. Unfortunately the 78 kW 1,5-litre petrol engine, which is mated with a five-speed manual gearbox, performs ably rather than eagerly and the shift quality is slightly vague. The test units supplied to CAR further relayed creaky, but not alarming, suspension noises, which was a pity, because the early, Chinese-sourced model felt well-packaged otherwise. It certainly has an endearing character to it…
At R179 000, the MG3 1,5 Style is an attention-grabbing flagship model, but the entry-level model, which should be available soon, should offer excellent value at around R150 000. That model will offer air conditioning, electric windows, manual headlamp levelling, gear change economy indicator, 4-speaker audio system with USB and AUX sockets, rear wiper, body colour door mirrors and bumpers, high mounted stop lamp, driver and passenger air bags, side and curtain airbags, a three-point seatbelt for rear middle seat, and full complement of electronic safety systems (ABS, EBD, CBC (corner brake control), EBA and ESC (electronic stability control).
All MG models have a 3-year/100 000 km warranty with a 2-year/60 000 km service plan, including free AA Road Side Assist for 12 months. In the case of the MG3, however, a tyre repair kit is offered and a full-size spare wheel is optional.