Shanghai twist to tweedy MG
I can safely say that this is the first MG I’ve been genuinely excited about driving.
It might be a generational thing but the tweed-trimmed heritage of MG has never really grabbed me. Neither have any of the UK’s other delightfully decrepit automotive institutions for that matter. I like retro. Don’t really do nostalgia.
But the MG6 is an intriguing thing because it comes from China. Quite literally, because it’s built there by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.
It has owned the rights to MG since 2007, following the collapse of Rover Group in 2005 and a complicated business conflict with another Chinese company, Nanjing Automobile Group, over who purchased what.
But let’s not get bogged down in that.
Next top model
Getting straight to the point, the MG6 is a new model that will go on sale in New Zealand in October.
It comes in sedan or hatchback versions, in three levels of trim, all with a 1.8-litre turbo engine and five-speed manual gearbox.
Where does it fit?
According to Kerry Cheyne, operations manager at Auckland-based British Motor Distributors (BMD), the car has been designed to straddle both the small and medium segments: “It is bigger than a Ford Focus, smaller than a Mondeo.”
In fact, it’s exactly the same size as another left-of-centre contender: the Suzuki Kizashi.
More importantly, how much?
That is yet to be announced but Mr Cheyne said the entry model would definitely be under $30,000.
“We want to be competitive but we don’t want to undervalue the brand. It’s good for the money and it’s a compelling drive: the dynamics are evolutionary. It does everything you’d expect of a modern vehicle.”
In short, it’s a medium-segment car with a 498-litre boot at something close to a small-car price.
The MG6 is the first new-gen MG to arrive but there are more on the way. Next year we’ll see the MG3 (think Suzuki Swift) and MG5 (Corolla size), with the range completed by a crossover.
The MG6 will gain a 350Nm diesel-engine option (a SAIC-developed powerplant) and, crucially, a dual-clutch transmission.
Here and now
That’s all fine. But that is for then and the petrol-manual MG6 is for now.
The manual gearbox will hold the car back in terms of sales potential but Mr Cheyne claims there is an initial wave of MG enthusiasts who will prefer it: people who might have a classic roadster in the garage but will choose the MG6 as their daily driver instead of something more mainstream.
I’m not sure how many of those people there are. I’m pretty sure BMD isn’t planning on selling hundreds of MG6s, either, so perhaps it’s not such a big issue at this stage.
The MG6 has been developed from a SAIC domestic market model called the Roewe 550, which in turn owes quite a bit to the previous Rover 75 and its ill-fated replacement.
Some bits are overly familiar. The engine is a version of Rover’s venerable old K-series unit, for example, which can be traced back to 1988.
But the MG6 is still a well-sorted, modern-feeling car. The performance is linear, the ride and handling impressive: a nice balance between chassis comfort and responsiveness.
The MG6 is very well assembled and some of the cabin materials are impressive. Still, there are a few rookie mistakes.
The manual gearchange only has five ratios and the shift quality is terrible. The key is flimsy and rattles in the dash when you accelerate hard.
The plastic trim lower down on the centre console is weird looking, as is the handbrake.
The cupholder shoots out from the dashboard at an extreme angle and gives the front-seat passenger a wushu chop in the right knee.
When you tether your Bluetooth cellphone to the car it shows up as “Handfree.” Actually, I quite like that.
Anyway, I enjoyed driving the MG6 because, despite the rough edges, there is plenty of appeal about a car that’s a little outside of the mainstream.
It’s a Chinese MG, a nice conversation piece (too few cars have that quality) and really quite good for the money. Quite good regardless, in some respects.
It’s an MG, but it will never be a Rover. Because the rights to that name are now owned by Indian maker Tata, along with Land Rover and Jaguar. It’s messy when British icons implode.
State of origin
The MG6 is a Chinese car that isn’t. Mr Cheyne acknowledges that the Chinese ownership of MG and the manufacturing origins of the car will be a talking point.
He speaks highly of SAIC, which is no surprise: “It brings a hell of a lot to the table and it will push the brand to the top.”
But the suggestion that the MG6 is a Chinese car still irks him.
“The motor industry is global. The head office of MG is in Birmingham and there are research and development facilities there: 300 people at the technology centre.
“There are three factories: two in China and one in the UK. They do final assembly of MG6 in the UK and we could take those cars but that would be a pointless exercise.
“Now, there’s no problem with being a Chinese brand,” Mr Cheyne said. “Geeley will always be a Chinese brand. Great Wall Motors has embraced the idea of being Chinese and done really well.
“But MG has been British since 1924: it’s Cecil Kimber, Speckled Hen beer and all those things that MG people love. You can’t change that. That’s the brand, even if the manufacturing is now different.”
Mr Cheyne is passionate and I do think that he makes a good point.
However, there is a problem. When I start to think of the MG6 as the latest chapter in the glorious 88-year history of a truly British brand, I start to lose interest.
What exactly is it? The first completely new right-hand model from MG under the ownership of SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation). The Magnette name signifies the sedan version but there is also a GT hatchback.
Powertrain: 1.8-litre turbo-four producing 118kW/215Nm. Five-speed manual transmission, front-drive. Combined fuel consumption 7.9 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 8.4 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? The top-line TSE tested here will cost at least another $5000 over the entry car but adds reversing camera, leather upholstery, power/heated front seats, dual-zone climate air conditioning, automatic lights/wipers, brake disc wiping function and a high-line audio system with colour information screen.
Price: $35,000 (estimated)