The first new car of MG’s Chinese-owned era, the MG 6, now has a turbodiesel engine. The 50mpg motor, which joins the range alongside the 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol, starts from £16,995. CAR drove the MG 6 DTi in mid-spec SE form to see if China has a contender, or an also ran.
Is the MG 6 endowed with a competitive new diesel engine?
It’s nothing revolutionary, if you’ll excuse the pun, but it gets the job done. MG claims the 1.9-litre common-rail motor will return 53.5mpg and spit out 139g/km of CO2: those are 15.8mpg and 35g/km improvements versus the petrol MG 6. However, those numbers are easily bettered by the rivals: a Skoda Octavia 2.0-litre TDI achieves 68.9mpg and 106g/km, while a Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi hits 57.7mpg and 124g/km.
The new engine pulls strongly from about 1700 revs, though it growls like an overworked cement mixer from mid-range, and the redline should only be approached with a set of Peltor ear defenders in place. But performance is sufficient: with 148bhp and 258lb ft on tap, the diesel 6 reaches 62mph in 8.9sec – 0.5sec slower than the (115kg lighter) petrol model, and is reined in by the same 120mph limiter.
Despite the variable rate turbocharger technology designed to improve throttle response, the engine suffers from a dead spot of turbo lag at low revs that’s too easy to fall into while working the long-throw gearlever around the six-speed gate.
Once you’re on boost, the 6 has all the torque you’d expect of an everyday turbodiesel. It’s relatively quiet at motorway speeds – you can thank the long gearing for the unobtrusive engine. At 70mph, you’re barely pulling 1800rpm in sixth gear. However, the intrusive tyre roar will have you reaching for those Peltors again.
Is the MG 6 any good to drive?
As we found with the petrol version we tested in 2011, the 6 is pretty handy dynamically for a Chinese car. It's partly based on some ancient Rover 75 bits in the front subframe; MG's UK PR and Events Manager Doug Wallis explains the relationship thusly. "At the MG Birmingham site at Longbridge we have two parts of the company – MG Motor UK [handles] sales & marketing along with car assembly. Our sister company (SMTC UK) is the European engineering and design base for our parent company SAIC Motor. The Design Centre (which is just seeing a huge expansion to double it in size) will become the fifth largest in the UK. Alongside that sits the Engineering Centre where around 300 UK engineers are based and we have a six-unit Engine Test Cell facility. Final assembly on the lines is completed here and every car off-line goes through a storm wash here and around our small test track, which includes pave road and adverse cambers. It leaves the factory with a UK VIN plate."
Fully independent suspension makes for decent handling: the front end grips tenaciously in corners, the handling is pretty neutral and the 6 corners with decent composure. But it's compromised by awful, synthetic-feeling steering: despite being hydraulically assisted, it has all the lightness and vagueness of a badly set-up electric rack, switching randomly from light to heavy to light again, all in a single corner. The brakes are puny too, with far too much pedal travel and less bite than an earthworm. The ride isn't great either, jarring noticeably over crests and crashing into dips, with the suspension's clonks and groans transmitted into the cockpit. With its tyre roar, lack of mechanical refinement and engine vibrations transmitted via the steering wheel, the 6 diesel is well off the pace for NVH.
Is the MG 6 really a credible family car contender then?
Although it’s helped by a new engine, the roomy 6 doesn't cut it in the quality stakes.* The dated-looking cabin is fashioned from unappealing looking, cheap-feeling plastics, particularly the hard-to-use handbrake (squared-off, and far too stiff to engage). The driver's seat doesn't feel like a car's but like a saggy sun lounger, with an oversized cushion that smothers the frame and spills down to your heels. Rear bodywork panels gaps were noticeably inconsistent, and the (standard on all models) climate control screen had a readout so dim that deciphering it felt like an optician’s eye-test.
But at least the MG 6 DTi is a bargain, right?
At £18,150 for our SE-spec test car, the MG 6 is pricier than the Skoda Rapid (£17,850 in 1.6 TDI Elegance trim), which offers similar space but less power. A 2.0TDI Octavia offers like-for-like power, more space, and far higher quality, but costs £20,140.
You can get into a diesel MG 6 for £16,995. Given that all models impressively get dual climate control, tyre-pressure sensors, alloys, four airbags and electric windows as standard, that’s the one to go for: like Dacia, it's best to use the car's low-cost trump card and stay cheap and cheerful...
Poor quality, unattractive design and sub-standard brakes, steering and refinement make up the swarm of flies in the MG 6’s ointment. Throw in the lack of a Dacia-style compelling price tag, and you have a diesel car that's not up to the best from Europe, Japan and Korea. Until MG comes up with a more compelling driving experience and price, the 6 will rightly remain a very rare sight on British blacktop.