LIVING As one of three cars on the New Zealand market under the NZ$20,000 mark, is the MG 3 worth your time? Jack Yan finds out
Photographed by the author
MG has carefully renewed much of its range into second or even third-generation models, making them more competitive each time. Its HS, the subject of an upcoming road test in Lucire, is an incredibly well resolved crossover that’s a joy to drive. But there’s one model in the range that’s only had a facelift since its launch in 2011: the entry-level model, the MG 3.
It’s true that small cars mean small profits, which means companies don’t always put as much effort into them—and MG certainly isn’t alone in having its base model stick around. Volkswagen’s Up dates from 2011, the same year as the 3 on which this one’s based, and the Up’s still going without a facelift; the Mitsubishi Mirage, by most measures an inferior car, is only a year younger.
The 3’s 2017 facelift was comprehensive and came with a revised interior, giving it more presence on the road and getting rid of some amateurish elements in the interior design (the dials’ typography comes to mind).
And it was a pretty good car to begin with, as we found in 2014, when the first 3s arrived in New Zealand. It drove like a mid-2000s Fiat Grande Punto, which was better than the last Punto that Fiat fielded until 2018. In fact, we heaped it with praise. And the market doesn’t seem to mind: Mitsubishi still moves plenty of RVRs (ASXs) off the forecourts here, and that drives like a larger 2002 Colt. At this end of the market, they don’t seem to make cars that will take handling awards; indeed, there seems to be an ever-growing gap between the budget end and the premium gap, perhaps reflecting society.
That’s acceptable given its low price (NZ$19,990—the lowest in the country, shared with the smaller A-segment Kia Morning, badged Picanto here, and the aforementioned Mirage) and long warranty (seven years). The latter is what might tempt a buyer from considering a second-hand car, a formula that has worked for the likes of Hyundai as it went from cheap import to desirable mid-market.
MG’s warranty is a comprehensive seven-year, unlimited-mileage deal, along with a seven-year anti-perforation warranty. Unlike the days of British Leyland and Supercover, MG’s standing by its product for a long time—and importantly, longer than Kia will behind its sub-$20k entry. Like Kia, Mitsubishi offers five years, but 10 on the powertrain.
We tested the base 3, the Core, with an automatic gearbox as standard; we lament the loss of the old five-speed manual in the local range, which was a perfectly serviceable unit. At first glance, a basic interior, some hard plastics, few spaces for storage in the centre console, a missing passenger vanity mirror, and seats that proved too firm to be comfortable on long journeys deducted points. But that interior is better laid out than what went before; the infotainment controls and the eight-inch touchscreen are logical, and the analogue dials are clear and make a nice change from all the digital razzmatazz. The steering wheel isn’t the nicest to feel despite the leather trim, and we seem to recall the previous one being nicer, but it’s an improvement on the old 6’s and easy to grip. It’s all perfectly functional, and you wind up focused on driving than distracted by displays. (There’s no sat-nav, so you have no excuse.)
The infotainment has Apple Carplay and not Android Auto, but it pairs with phones easily enough, and it’ll transmit music from them. The radio—for those who tune in—is somewhat compromised: we noticed it stays with the frequency rather than the station, so in cases where the frequency changes between areas, you’ll have to adjust it manually.
The silver tartan pattern on the seats and in front of the passenger is pleasant, and with the satin chrome-coloured circular air vents, the 3 has a calm ambience.
Importantly, MG hasn’t skimped on the airbags, with six for both this base model and the high-line Excite; the rear-view camera, cruise control and trip computer are all standard. Cruise control is a wonderful addition at this price, and it’s easy to operate from the steering wheel. You can also keep your hands on the wheel for answering your phone, as the buttons are easy enough to pick up. Or jump to the next musical track via the buttons on the left of the steering wheel. However, lane-keep assist and forward collision assist aren’t there—and they are on the Kia.
In other words, don’t let what’s on the surface fool you, as MG has made built in the necessities, but you don’t immediately perceive them from sitting in the cabin.
That seating position, meanwhile, is high, so those who might consider crossovers but dislike their bulk could find the 3 a ready choice as an urban runabout.
And that’s the role the 3 fills. It’s the car you take for a quick drive to the shops. Visibility is excellent, and the tall body means it’s fairly spacious for the groceries as well as rear-seat passengers. We tended to get around 40 mpg (Imperial) (7 ℓ/100 km), so MG’s claim for a combined cycle (6·7 ℓ/100 km) is about right—roughly what you’d expect from a 1·5-litre B-segment hatch. Carbon dioxide emissions is at 159 g/km—roughly what you would expect given the design’s age.
There’s more road noise than in a comparable Ford Fiesta or Suzuki Swift, more expensive B-segment offerings. The steering, despite being speed-sensitive, feels poorly weighted—too heavy for slow speeds and too light for high ones. Handling is uninspired, but the 3 does what is asked of it. They’re drum brakes down the back, which on paper doesn’t give us as much confidence as discs, but the ABS worked perfectly fine during the rainy days we had our test car.
Where it does reasonably well is the power from its 1·5 petrol unit, with 111 PS on tap, a slight improvement on the previous version of this engine. It’s more than enough for a city car. No turbocharging here to complicate matters. That four-speed auto struggles at high speeds, and you wish you could slip it into fifth to make the journey calmer.
The prominent chrome grille is smart, tying the 3 in to other MGs such as the ZS (which has recently been facelifted to an even cleaner look) and HS. People we spoke to liked it, though we felt there’s now a mismatch between the clean rear end and the ornamented front one. It endows the 3 with a more premium feel that you don’t expect from under 20 grand. The alloys look smart, even on the 15-inch tyres that don’t fill the wheel wells as nicely as the 16-inchers on the Excite. However, we come back to functional: 15-inch tyres are cheaper to replace than the 16-inch ones that the Excite has.
The 3 is a practical affair with a welcome familiarity about it. Its price means no-nonsense motoring, and it doesn’t necessarily mean no frills. The long warranty makes it all the more appealing. For every objection we had, it balanced it with another practical feature in its favour. It’s a car for those who find all-digital instrumentation and gadgets too distracting and un-car-like, and want a simple means of conveyance from A to B—it doesn’t pretend to be anything more. It’s also noticeably bigger in width and wheelbase than the Kia and the Mirage.
The question then becomes: is NZ$19,990 worth your money if it means skimping on some technology? Forget the Mirage—there’s a ‘potential’ clean car discount noted on Mitsubishi’s website and the 10-year powertrain warranty, but so little else to recommend a car that screams ‘developing markets’. You can get the tech with the Kia but you’d lose space, a heap of power, and two years off your warranty. And as that is available only on indent order now (meaning the next model up is going to cost you an extra NZ$1,000), and the MG 3 is on the forecourts, then it’s going to be worth looking at. •
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