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3: Still the magic number?

15th November 2018

With MG Motor continuing to enjoy impressive year-on-year growth, its supermini offering needs to remain at the top of its game – does the new MG3 have enough to give an edge over its rivals?

 

When the MG3 launched in 2013 it had a lot to live up to, following on from the hugely popular ZR, it’s fair to say expectations for the 3 were high.

The 3 quickly became a strong seller for MG: loads of personalisation options, a great selection of colours coupled with a low price meant that plenty of customers headed to their local dealer to opt for the ‘mini MG’.

Five years is a long time in the automotive market – even more so in the ultra-competitive B segment, where the MG3 rubs shoulders with the likes of the MINI, Ford Fiesta and VW Polo.

So the MG3 is back, fresh-faced for 2018 and beyond. But what’s it like?

The devil’s in the detail

Upfront, the most obvious change is to the 3’s front and rear. The 3 now features the same family grille first shown on the ZS, bringing it in line with the E-Motion concept, the China-market MG6 and the recently launched HS SUV.

In photos, the front perhaps looks a little awkward, almost as if the headlights (which now incorporate daytime running lights) are too large for the car, but in the metal it works – the new lamps, combined with the fresh grille and large MG octagon, really bring the car together and make it feel like a much more premium proposition.

At the back, a larger MG badge replaces the old item, while the boot handle has been moved down, allowing the panel to be smoothed off, leaving something reminiscent of the Skoda Fabia. The rear lamp clusters have been redesigned, with the reverse lamps being moved lower down in the unit. Similarly the rear spoiler has been updated, and the lower bumper has been widened to incorporate the rear reflectors and foglamps. The squared-off exhaust pipe has been deleted altogether, with the pipe now hidden from the rear view.

Top-spec models, like the one tested here, come with 16” diamond cut wheels, while options include an all gloss-black wheel, also in 16”.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Like the rest of the MG range, the 3 is now offered in ‘Explore’, ‘Excite’ and ‘Exclusive’ trim options. Explore, the base model, starts at an impressive £9,495, while the Exclusive, which MG says will be the best-seller, comes in at £12,795, with finance options on the 3 starting from £149 a month.  Since the brand’s relaunch in 2007, MG have leaned heavily on the value offered by their cars and with such keen pricing and impressive levels of kit, the new 3 looks set to continue that tradition. MG haven’t stopped there though again, following the precedent set by the ZS, the MG3 now also comes with a seven-year, 80,000 mile warranty. A warranty that Sales and Marketing Manager Daniel Gregorious was keen to point out, is fully transferable with the car.

There’s a choice of six colours, with Hello Yellow, White and Silver carried over. New to the range are Spiced Orange (as seen on the ZS and GS), with Laser Blue and Ruby Red being new. As you’d expect with the 3 there are plenty of personalisation options, with new designs including the standout ‘Houndstooth’ stripes and the new MG logo roof.

Inside, the improvements continue, as MG have done away with almost everything from the previous 3. At first glance, the only hang-over from the 2013 3 is the instrument cluster – everything else is new. So what does that mean? Well the most obvious addition is the new eight-inch touchscreen. It looks similar, if not identical to the unit found in the ZS and incorporates DAB radio, reversing camera (with rear parking sensors) and, in another first for MG, Apple Carplay. For those of you not familiar, Apple Carplay is the system that allows you access to items such as music, navigation and messaging apps. It’s largely controllable with the voice assistant Siri, meaning there’s no need to fumble with buttons to make a call, or select navigation destinations. Cleverly, text messages can also be responded to vocally as well. For those of you without an Apple device, the system supports Bluetooth audio, meaning that your phone is safely and legally connected, and you can stream music from your phone without any need for cables. Like an increasing majority of cars, the MG3 does without a CD player.

There are also new heater controls, again seemingly lifted from the ZS. Another item that’s made the move from MG’s compact SUV is the steering wheel, which is trimmed in leather, and as fashion dictates, is flat-bottomed.

The seats offer considerably more lumbar support that the old items, and it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. The controls are intuitive and the layout is clutter free. The touchscreen is straightforward to use and you can quickly get to grips with it. Comparing the new 3 to previous generations of MG shows just how quickly the design and quality of the cars is improving. All of the switchgear has been improved in appearance and quality. Some will point at the hard plastics that top the dash or doorcards but surely the main talking points should be about the way the car drives, and most importantly, does it live up to the likes of the MG1300, Metro and ZR that have gone before it?

On the road

So far this roadtest has been able to focus on what’s new in the 3, but as we move to head out on the road, things become much more familiar.

Just like the previous model, the 3 is a decent companion across the twisting B road on the route MG provided for our road test. Snaking around the outskirts of Coventry, we encounter pretty much every kind of road the 3 is likely to tackle in the UK. And it remains genuinely engaging to drive – the steering is responsive and the car feels well planted through the bends. It can feel a tad harsh over rougher surfaces but it’s never unpleasant and as an overall package, the 3 is good fun.

Under the bonnet, the same 1.5 litre engine from the previous model remains, albeit uprated to comply with the latest emissions regulations. It’s mated to a five-speed manual, so existing MG3 drivers will know exactly what to expect.

It’s somewhat surprising that the 1.0, 3 cylinder turbo from the ZS hasn’t been offered in the 3, especially as many of MGs rivals are already offering three-pot power options in their superminis. There’s no option of an automatic gearbox either, so customers who prefer an auto will have to look elsewhere in MGs range.

The 1.5 is willing enough, however and encourages the driver to get involved with the car and work to build up the power and then maintain it between the corners – it’s honest and engaging, something that can’t often be said of considerably more expensive rivals. In that respect it’s reminiscent of the MG Metro, keep the 3 on song and in its powerband and you’ll be appropriately rewarded.

Is it worth it?

The MG3 has always been a compelling package and the revised car only adds to its appeal. It looks great, has stacks of kit and offers tremendous value for money – value that is only increased by the addition of that fantastic seven-year, 80,000 mile warranty – a warranty that should inspire confidence in customers, but also improve the car’s second hand-value.

The new interior brings the car bang up to date and makes the inside of the 3 a pleasant place to be, and support for the likes of Apple Carplay means that gadget geeks will feel at home straight away as will keen drivers, likely reassured by the 3’s decent handling and competent road manners.

The only sticking point is the lack of options in terms of powertrain. The 1.0 from the ZS, and its automatic gearbox, would have made a very welcome addition to the range, and widened the 3’s potential customer base considerably.

That said there’s so much for the 3 to be commended for – be it value, level of kit, personalisation and the way it drives.

It’s cheaper than the likes of Vauxhall’s Corsa, more stylish that the Dacia Sandero and more fun to drive than both.

It seems then, that 3 is still very much the magic number.

Tech Spec

2018 MG3 Exclusive
Engine: 1498cc DOHC VTi-Tech
Transmission: 5 Speed manual
0-60:10.4 seconds
Top Speed: 108mph
Insurance Group: 7E
Price as tested £12,745