MG is back with the new 6 hatchback and saloon, a sort of Focus/Golf/Octavia rival with a sporting bent and prices to make you look twice. The MG 6 1.8 Turbo TSE reviewed by CAR costs £18,995, but you can have the same blown 1.8 in humbler S spec for £15,495.
Those are pre VAT increase prices and will be held for the launch period, claims MG. Expect prices to nudge up in the next few months, as they were set before showroom tax crept up from 17.5% to 20%.
So we'll buy the MG 6 because it's cheap and built in China?
Touché. The new MG is well priced with a strong spec (our TSE packs leather, 18in alloys, sat-nav and electric everything; all models have twin climate control, electric windows, alloys, tyre pressure sensors, four airbags), but we're here to find out if the MG 6 is good enough to warrant the Morris Garages badge.
This is an important moment: until now, nothing's changed since the Chinese picked up the bones of MG Rover after the tumultuous collapse in 2005. Sure, we've had the rebooted MG TF, but they've only sold a couple of hundred roadsters a year while the masterplan was cooked up. There's been much talk of the Chinese manufacturers assaulting the European market - and here's the first visible proof.
They're downplaying the launch, and initial launch aspirations are modest, but make no mistake: the launch of the MG 6 marks a watershed in China's automotive industry. MG is owned by SAIC, which builds 80% of the 6 at home before shipping over for final assembly in Longbridge, Birmingham, and China's biggest car maker has serious long-term ambitions for Europe.
The MG 6 is a harbinger of things to come?
Yep. That svelte style, which somehow manages a fine balance of Euro sensibility with just a few suggestions of eastern promise (those piercing headlamp details, a hint of Mazda 6 from the side), suggests that future MGs will possess style and competitive engineering.
The MG 6 is essentially a new car. The front sub-frame is related to that in the old Rover 75, since it means the same pick-up points can be used on the Longbridge line and in Shanghai; and the fusebox is an old Rover unit, too. The K-series engine has been hugely fettled by the Chinese, but this 1.8 is essentially an upgraded, turbocharged K. Everything else is new.
MG 6: the road test review bit
Once you've stopped ogling the outside (and you will, particularly in the burnt orange of our test car - see our full photoshoot in the May 2011 issue of CAR Magazine), you reach for a key and you're immediately disappointed. It's a cheap, shiny block that doesn't have the heft of rivals from the Ford or Volkswagen empires. Almost immediately, you spot other fit and finish problems: the leather you sit on looks more related to chemicals than cows; some of the cabin trim feels like it hasn't a full grain; and some of the switchgear, especially the steering wheel buttons, has a hopeless action. The trip computer was barely usable. MG claims this is a late pre-production model (don't they all? But we should allow this fledgling start-up some slack).
The MG 6 is an interesting half size, mimicking the Octavia's neither-Focus-nor-Mondeo segmentation. Like the Skoda, there is consequently oodles of space inside. You really can fit four big grown-ups in here and those rear seats are comfy. The boot is big at 498 litres, trumping the 350 litres in a Golf or Focus (385), though trailing the massive Czech's 585 litres.
MG 6 Turbo: that brings back some memories...
That badge does remind us of some well-known Maestros and Montegos, but we should manage your performance expectations here. The 6 isn't that fast. The raw figures say 120mph (limited to lower the insurance rating!) and 0-60mph in 8.4sec, but the truth is the 6 Turbo feels slower than that. This is quite a heavy car. You'll need to stir the gearlever to make good progress - a pleasurable affair since the change is positive of action if a touch long of throw.
We suspect faster versions will be in the pipeline (we know a V6 will fit under that bonnet), as well as cheaper ones to take the shine off the Octavia's £13k starting price. But this is a good launch product: the dynamics feel really well resolved. I had an MG ZT 190 and there is a similar feel to the MG 6 - hardly surprising since many of the same chassis engineers developed the front MacPherson struts and multilink rear end.
The ride is well judged: there's a Ford-like firm damping, with just enough pliancy to take the jag out of bumps, and body control is first rate. Traction is good too, with nary a flicker from the electronic aids. The steering is hardly alive with feel or laser turn-in, but it's just as responsive and precise as buyers in this class would expect.
One black mark on the MG 6 is a lack of diesel at launch; a new SAIC-built derv comes in 2012, when left-hand drive production is scheduled. Until then you'll have to put up with the 184g/km of CO2 produced by the 1.8 turbo.
The MG 6 impressed us. Dynamically, it's a big success. This is good news. If it had missed the spot, and trampled over the MG heritage of making accessibly priced sporting cars, that would be hard to fix.
As it is, the only question marks remain over the poor fit and finish in certain isolated areas, in particular the operation of cabin switchgear. If you excuse these details and believe MG when it promises to fix most glitches before launch, the 6 feels well made, precise and of competitive quality in this class. We're inclined to believe them: the HVAC heating controls swivel and click with the best of them, so there's no reason to believe they can't fix the wonky controls.
On that basis, it's hard not to judge the new MG 6 a success. In many regards, it combines nearly the space of an Octavia, with a drive comparable to a Focus or Golf, at prices to make you think twice. With that badge behind it, the MG is surely in a stronger position than a new Chinese start-up. This initial effort suggests the reborn MG could be a dark horse.