MG out of the red?
The MG6 is the first in a new line of MGs emanating from China’s Shanghai Automotive – but it’s interesting in another way. This car uses a derivative of the K-series, known as the TCi-Tech, and considerable amounts of the underpinnings are Rover 75. Couple these facts to that badge and the fact that the cars are assembled in Longbridge, and it represents the last of the line for BL, ARG, and MG Rover. As such, it is the swansong for the mainstream British motor industry, and the question that many are asking is this: Have we gone out on a high?
It is true that we still make Morgans in the UK. Jaguar and Land Rover are thriving under Indian ownership, and the Prodrive Aston Martins are selling like never before. But the cheapest Jaguar is £33000, the cheapest Land Rover not too far behind, and Astons are very much in pools-winners territory. We still have Royce and Bentley, but only the landed can afford these. No, Britannia, she who once ruled the waves, cannot pull off the same trick on the High Street any more. We manufacture other countries’ wares – the Nissan Micra, Nissan Note, and Toyota Auris as cases in point – but there are no mainstream British brands left if we discount MG.
Those of you who bleat about it being a Chinese car which we simply nail an octagon to in Birmingham – you’re not quite telling the truth. Yes, the car arrives in CKD kit form from China, much as we exported Maestros to Rover’s plant in Bulgaria, but the MG6 dates back to MG-Rover. It had its roots in the RD/X60 project, which saw light of day as the Roewe W2 prototype and the later Roewe 550 saloon, a car noted for its digital dashboard and Cyberman’s face. A new nose job and a hatchback rear have given us the MG6 GT we are familiar with, though a saloon will be joining the hatchback from June.
Whilst derivative, I like the styling – an edgy, Honda-esque nose with a prominent MG badge melts into flanks which aren’t unlike Ford and BMW. A stylish rear offers a modern slant upon Rover and MG tails of old. The Chinese Racing Red paintwork of the test car (OK, Regal Red) wasn’t to my taste though – BRG was then unavailable. This may change in the summer – we’re told that the saloon brings forth it’s own colour palette. The 18″ alloys, standard upon TSEs, suit the shape, whilst the 17″ wheels of S and SE spec cars are a little fussy to look clean and attractive. I’m put in mind of the cloverleaf wheels of the Escort XR3, and there are faint similarities with the Wolfrace Sonics of the original MG Metro. Step inside, and there are more links to its forebears. The dashboard is not unlike that of the Rover SD1 (Though it trades walnut for aluminium effect plastic) and would not look out of place in more prestigious material. Indeed, it’s not unlike the dashboards of contemporary Jags. The vinyl used on the door cards is substandard – material one would have found in low rent seventies tin is not at home in a twenty grand car well into the third millennium.
Ergonomically, it’s fine – the driving position is comfortable, with all major controls falling to hand nicely. I’d like a leather gearknob though, in place of the cheap feeling rubber that adorns even top spec TSEs. The handbrake needs sorting, too. It may be a work of art, blending well with the centre console when released, but due to the position of the button on the underside it is hard to engage – you have to ratchet it up, as releasing the button causes it to drop and thus not hold. The ‘key’ is not so much a key, more a transponder unit with buttons to unlock the car, and which is then pressed into the dashboard to start it. There is an emergency key contained within the transponder which you may use to unlock the car, lest the batteries in the transponder fail – but you’ll be going nowhere. Don’t stall, either – turning the car off and on again would be a ridiculous thing to have to do with a queue behind you, and I cannot help but feel a conventional key would have been more sensible.
It’s huge fun to drive, too. 0-60 takes 8.4 seconds, and whilst the top speed has been limited to 120mph in order to lower insurance premiums (an impressive group 12 on the new 50 group system) there’s plenty for the driving fan to rave about. Whilst those used to light steering will need to readjust, it’s perfectly weighted for the enthusiast. The ride is firmer than I’d like but handles potholes with aplomb, and when on that deserted back road, it works well.
There is space in an MG6 GT to accommodate up to five six-footers, and space in the boot for at least another one. Alternatively the boot could hold several suitcases, and at 472 litres with the seats up there’d be space to swing a cat if it didn’t mind a few nasty knocks to the head (No cats were harmed in the writing of this review). The low angle of the rear window compromises rear visibility, however – whilst the large door mirrors compensate it does serve to make the rear feel a bit claustrophobic. I did find the high waistline compromised my usual driving style – I tend to rest my arm on the door, but this isn’t possible in a car with such a high door card as an MG6 GT – though as I’ve experienced this elsewhere it didn’t affect my view of the car.
Gripes? Well, I’ve mentioned the substandard vinyl, the poor rubber gearknob, the key, and the badly designed handbrake. You also need a degree in astrophysics to work out how to open the boot without being shown, and rear visibility isn’t great – although the TSE demonstrator I had does have a reversing camera as standard kit. I also think that as a newcomer, MG should be offering a 5 year warranty in place of the 3 years they currently show. BRG and a light interior option would be nice to have, too.
MG are not currently prepared to discuss plans beyond the forthcoming MG3 and MG5 models, with news of a European D-segment car from SAIC not forthcoming. I asked my source about the possible revival of other BMC brands such as Wolseley or Austin, but was told that the MG team are focusing solely on MG6, MG5 and MG3 for now. Staff are largely kept in the dark regarding impending projects – I’m told the GT name was unknown to staff until within a week of launch. The same happened with the saloon—by the time of my test drive in May, few were privy to the saloon’s Magnette moniker—easy enough to guess (I did), but staff were not allowed to confirm or deny it.
There are three specification levels, the GT S at £15495, the GT SE at £16995, and the GT TSE at £18995, with Magnette prices being typically £1000 dearer than the GT. One drivetrain is available – a 1.8 TCI-Tech Turbo with 158bhp coupled to a five speed manual gearbox – though I suppose you could take this out and use Flintstone power if you REALLY wanted. Residuals are predicted to be around 30% after three years – ambitious given that the last MG ZSes and ZTs, plus the Rover equivalents, barely scraped half that in trade-in value over their first three years according to Glass’s Guide. That put the last of the old MGs second only to the notoriously costly Alfa 166 – MG are aiming far higher this time around.
The car is expected to average 35mpg, although I made the display read sub 20mpg during a spirited moment. There are no real options – metallic paint at £395 is the only one, and this offers 4 colours to add to the 3 standard solid shades. Road tax, in band I, equates to £210 p/a, though the high CO2 figures means it is unlikely to be bought as a company car. Service intervals are every 15000 miles or twelve months.
There will be several ZT190 and ZS180 owners that lament the loss of a lairy V6 version – as SAIC also have the rights to the KV6, I’d like to see a 250/300bhp version with a 2.5V6, possibly a turbocharger, six speed manual gearbox, and a subtle bodykit in order to challenge Ford’s Focus RS and the Golf R32. Until this variant arrives, to call it a sports saloon – or worse, revive the legendary MG badge “GT” – is to my mind fatuous and will achieve nothing but ridicule when MG needs all the chances it can get.
Yet I like the 6 a lot despite the issues I have with it, and as a first effort from SAIC it’s rather good. It’s what MG need, and more to the point it’s what MG needed in 2005 to replace the ZS. If the Chinese can keep this up, prepare for a red invasion. Because like it or not, it’s what we’re about to get.
This article was first published in issue #38 of Monstro magazine