Deep Below The Surface Of The Water In A Glass

A little while back I had a trawl through the press releases from a variety of manufacturers. I mentioned MG in passing and now I return to look at what they are selling right at this moment.

2018 MG ZS: Youtube

Having come back from the dead, MG has been transformed into a maker of inexpensive hatchbacks with no identifiable MGness about them at all.

Older readers will probably have an image of MG as a maker of inexpensive sporty cars (the MG roadster is the archetype). Less old readers may recall the dark days of MGified vehicles which amounted to trim variants of existing Rover cars (e.g. the MG ZS).

Now owned by SAIC, MG is situated in a high-cost country which is cutting itself off from Europe ** and it (the car company) has a rather low-rent image. This little presentation reveals the key facts that a) the MG3 costs about 8K, b) the MG ZS starts at twelve and a half, c) the MG GS costs fifteen thousand and d) the range is mixed up visually and pricewise.

Never mind that let’s jolly well and for goodness’ sake have a sprinty gander at their range and thoughtfully nibble some selected second opinions.

2018 MG3: source

Starting at the very bottom of MG´s range, for under nine grand Sterling you can get an MG3 (the name suggests other MGs in a conventional range may have been planned or reminds us of the one which died off e.g. the mid-range MG6 and the saloony MG 7). The styling was related to the MG6.

The MG3 is a revised version of the Chinese-market MG3, launched there in 2010. The present version appeared in UK showrooms in 2014. The car is an interesting 3,999 mm long and it weighs about 1100 kg, give or take. It has two available engines, a 1.3 petrol and a 1.5 petrol.

For two years MG made the car in Longbridge, England, but the cars now come from China. MG push this machine as low-cost transport and also as a car with a large range of personalisation options, Mini-style. They claim a million variations are available which means possibly no two are alike.

There are four flavours of MG3: 3Time, 3Form, 3Form Sport and 3Style Plus. The 3Style Plus manages to cost a shade under 12K. The MG3 boasts a 45 litre fuel tank. The price spread is thus three thousand or so from base model to the top version. That’s not so much, is it?

The word on the pages of the automotive press is not that good. WhatCar??? says, among other things: “The MG3’s 1.5-litre petrol engine has to be revved hard to get it going, but because it revs so slowly, progress always feels laboured and overtaking requires plenty of planning. Even worse, you’ll also have to make plenty of gearchanges simply to keep up with traffic.”

They go on to declare that while grip is good, the ride is not and the vehicle has heavy if accurate steering. Overall, it gets only two stars of five across the board. TopClarkson (as it then was in 2016) gave the car 5 out of 10 even though “it handles really well” (ibid).

Autocropley is more charitable. For a beginning, they think it looks alright: “The pen strokes and proficiency of about 60 designers and 300 engineers vault the first critical hurdle with room to spare: the 3 looks good.” And on the inside: “Between material quality, space, equipment and even a peppy sort of style, there is very little to find serious fault with here and quite a lot to like.”

When it comes to driving, things deteriorate: “… the drivetrain feels underdeveloped in a tactile sense. The gearchange is a little limp and imprecise and the clutch has an unpleasant dead fraction of travel right at the top of the pedal. It’s enough to make you wonder, for the first few miles, if you’ve engaged the clutch fully every time you come off the pedal.” The ‘Crop concludes by praising the MG’s driving engagement despite the rough engine, mediocre materials and choppy ride. Rule Britannia!

2018 MG ZS: parkers

At last we now reach the middle of MG’s hierarchy, the recently-launched ZS, a kind of cut price Qashqai. It does look like a nicer car than the others and is not made in Britain. The grille seems to be borrowed from Mazda (the way the brightwork of the grille touches the lamp and seems to be tucked under the body-in-white).

The Telegraph isn’t impressed:Designed by a team under SAIC design director Carl Gotham, this isn’t a bad-looking car, although it is utterly generic of these mid-sized SUVs”. There are three versions of the ZS: Explore, Excite and Exclusive, priced from 12.5K to 15.5 K. The car is 4500 mm long. There are two engines, a 1.0 litre three-banger and a 1.5 litre four pot, both burning lovely petrol. GM dub the car “premium economy.” Isn’t premium economy just an oxymoron?

The Telegraph says this about the interior of the ZS: The interior is large and feels airy and pleasant, even if the fabrics and materials feel slightly odd; the seat material particularly feels unpleasantly slippery, although the leather on top models is fine. The driving position isn’t bad, but the steering wheel adjusts for rake but not reach, which leaves the MG feeling rather like a Seventies Alfa Romeo.  says this about the performance (the 1.0 litre three pot, note): “Ultimately, it’s not quite as well polished as it could be – there’s a noticeable degree of turbo lag when you first floor it and then a sudden rush of power as it comes on boost – and the six-speed auto needs some work to refine the shifts. But, all-in-all, it’s not that far off the competition.” The Australian site does note that the quality level is rising compared to earlier MGs.

Though not noted for its interest in cars, the Guardian has reviewed the ZS. They say this: “It’s roomy for a car that markets itself as “compact”. The cabin is spacious, there’s good head room, knee room and elbow room. And the boot is gigantic. It’s quite pleasant to sit in and the top-spec model comes with leather seats that would never argue are premium grade, but are unexpectedly classy.” Overlooking how dead the MG name is, the Guardian judges the ZS as being good value family motoring marred by a notchy, clumsy gearbox.

2018 MG GS: Autocar

We turn now to the very top of MG’s range, the GS. Like the MG3, the car is made in China (though assembled in the UK). It broke cover at the Shanghai Motor Show in 2015. It measures 4500 mm (like the ZS) and if you want to buy one you´ll need to pay fifteen thousand pounds. There exist three cars in the range: Explore, Excite and Exclusive. To reach Exclusive you’ll have to pay about five thousand more than the base model (a price spread of five thousand pounds, therefore).

The styling has something of the octagonal about it, which is probably appropriate. Apart from that, there is not much to latch onto. It’s plain and bland. It has a similar front bumper theme as the MG3 but there is one less panel gap over the grille. Apart from that vague resemblance the two cars haven’t much in common at all (and the same goes for the ZS too).

The GS has two motors: a 1.5 and a 2.0 (which is pleasantly straight forward). Autocropley rates the GS half a star lower than the MG3 though. Autocropley likes the appearance: “Rounded corners, raked pillars, a high beltline and a relatively shallow glasshouse are all well deployed here, making the GS distinctive and dynamic-looking – and not at all, on first acquaintance, like a plain budget option.”

On the dynamic front the story is not so cheery rosy: “MG’s interpretation of how a crossover ought to conduct itself leaves something to be desired – because it doesn’t ride very comfortably at all.

One odd thing about my canter through the not-very-extensive range is that initially I thought the ZS was the top of the vast MG tree until I checked prices and dimensions.  Why did I have the wrong impression? It is presented as the third car at MG’s website. We read left to right. It looks much bettter than the others.  All that says car three is top of the range. But when I got to the prices I realised the best looking, best made car is the middle ranker. The naming convention is also off. Without being able to say why precisely, ZS sounds a lot fancier than GS (with respect to fans of the excellent Citroen that bore the same letters).

I really did think the ZS was top of the range, and it’s not. That counts as something of a communication failure, I think.  The range comes across as very much one in transition. The MG3 is both namewise and visually related to the dead MG6 (the 3 is the oldest car). The mid-range ZS is the newest and best made but looks like a range topper (of some type) while the similarly-sized MG GS costs the most but looks like a) it’s made by someone else and b) is part of a visually heterogenous range of products.

If MG can hang on I presume the range will be ordered visually, pricewise and dimensionally.  Will it only ever consist of smallish hatchbacks? Or will there be a sportscar or saloon of any type? And will any of the future cars have any realistic sporting credentials because none of these cars do.

There are enough excellent British industrial designers. MGs are supposed to be British. Why are the cars so generic as if the industrial designers were hobbled somehow?  As I see it, the British input is something of a fig-leaf. It’s nice for UK designers to have a job – it’s less good they turn out such unremarkable objects. That’s the parent company’s fault. I am sure the pen-wielders have better ideas on their sketch paper. MG should use them.

Another little point is the questionable nature of spec designations: Explore, Excite and Exclusive, for example. These are supposed to coyly indicate some level of progression (Exclusive is the top level) yet two of them are interchangeable. It could be Excite, Explore and Exclusive. The MG3 has 3Time, 3Form – also interchangeable names. Mercedes has similarly vague designations and so do others. Perhaps the time has come to ditch giving spec levels a name as they are neither informative nor memorable.

People plainly don’t want to show off how GL or GLE their car is so it might be best simply to list the trim levels as 1,2,3 etc on a web-page and nothing more unless one wants to mark out a particular and meaningful sub-model such as GT or GTi.

Note: the MG6 ceased sales in the UK in 2016. The Wikipedia page in English does not mention this dramatic fact.

** Not that important since MG don’t make much in the UK, I have learned. I wonder how many customers imagine they are supporting UK industry by buying MG? A Honda Civic is more British than any of these MGs.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “Deep Below The Surface Of The Water In A Glass”

  1. I wish MG would just stop – at least in Europe. In truth, it hasn’t amounted to much as a marque since -ummm – 1963, with a brief resurgence thanks to the MGF. Funny how that car now seems to be largely disliked, when at the time of its launch it was lauded on a number of levels for some innovative thinking. As ever, its real-world problems were poor execution of interesting ideas, including an under-developed engine. I had one for 3 years and liked it a lot – although a 2.0L Ford Focus was a nicer drive overall.

    Of the current crop, I quite like the look of the MG3, but it looks more like a Suzuki than an MG.

    1. None of them are stellar: what was the point of buying all those designers? Or the MG name? SAIC needed only to go on a hiring spree which would have been much cheaper than taking on the existing group of employees. What with Rover and MG being such a troubled group, I expect those designers who stayed in the Midlands either had unbreakable social/family connections there or were not confident they could work in another firm elsewhere.

    2. @Richard Isn’t the reason they bought into the designer team to try and preserve some britishness or at least eurocentric sensibility to the new products ? I seem to recall Geely did the exact same thing to save Volvo (they kept the Swedish teams) and that worked out pretty well for them. Nevertheless I do agree that the results so far leave much to be desired. I Don’t mind that they bought the brand, at least it’s not dead. And for those who’d rather see a dead MG than current MG I’d say who’s to say a new CEO or team won’t be able to turn it around in the future and offer cars that are more in line with what’s expected of the marque. It’d be harder to do that if the brand was already dead. The current phase could just be viewed as a bad spell, a transition of sorts. A lot of car makers have a shameful period in their closets anyway.

      As an aside, I follow relatively closely the Chinese market. The market is really diverse and interesting. I’m hoping future DTW articles will review some chinese designs or cars. I’m aware Chinese car design is very controversial, what with the never-ending copies they churn out and the often awkward original designs but I think it is genuinely evolving at a fast pace and they showed real progress at the various motor shows they attended in the last year or two. They’re hopefully on their way to harness a ‘Chinese factor’ in car design that will give them a distinct flavour. I think we can already see this type of work in some of their unconventional grille treatment for example where they try to use China-specific motifs. In any case it’s that freedom they have when it comes to design that I find exciting. They don’t have those heritage manufacturers like we do in Europe, US or Japan with a long tradition and an understandably restricted margin of maneuver when it comes to style, they can go wild and a lot of them are and it’s an exciting time for car design.

  2. “People plainly don’t want to show off how GL or GLE their car is so it might be best simply to list the trim levels as 1,2,3 etc on a web-page and nothing more”

    I think KIA have adopted that approach. Clever people, those Koreans.

    1. Still early days for European sales. However, 2017 sales in China of nearly 135,000 cars shows the brand is progressing very nicely

  3. The truly odd but here is the suggestion that a missing steering wheel adjustment makes a car comparable to a 70s Alfa. If only! Why not relate it to an equally equipped and contemporary Dacia Sandero?

    1. The Telegraph people must have long memories. And yes, it is a funny reference given the Dacia Sandero exists now. Maybe the Telegraph does not bother with such humdrum cars.

  4. I am more fascinated by the people who buy these MGs than the vehicles themselves. What possesses folk to pass over the cash?

    If one goes back several decades to no-name white boxes or tins in supermarkets with only the product type printed on the label, to use a Cadillac theme I dared greatly and bought a box labelled CORNFLAKES. They were cheap but dreadful. Undeterred, I tried many no-name products. They were uniformly awful, except for one. Crisps. Yes, apparently peeling spuds, thin-slicing then, setting them afloat on a sea of boiling fat to swim to the other side, giving them a quick shake to recover valuable excess oil and then dosing them with salt, is an almost impossible process to bugger up. Who would have guessed that after sampling BEANS that resembled grainy coarse chewed-up polystyrene? Now supermarkets have own-label products which are sometimes reasonable that compete with national brands . Few no-name boxes now litter the shelves, actually none but large packets of crisps (big bags of chips we call them) still sold as No-Name, for good reason as mentioned above.

    So what is an MG? Is it no-name or supermarket own brand? It appears to be no-name but with the marketing genius of an actual label purchased from a defunct company. Brilliant!

    I have yet to read a glowing review of these Chinese cars, whether assembled in a shed from knock down kits by day labourers in Birmingham, or imported whole and ready to rumble. Motor Trend visited the Brum “factory” a few years ago and were unable to work out how any money could possibly be made assembling a few cars that way, while 300 Brits slaved away in the adjoining building designing roof liners, air vents and specifying seat foam grades for MG in China. It appeared to be a make-work project, a scheme to lend credibility to MG’s Britishness for marketing schemes back home.

    So who are the pioneering customers purchasing MGs in the UK? People apparently convinced to hand over thousands to Fred without a showroom for new cars of dubious merit at best. Do they take a test drive and then declare, “Yes, that’s the car for me! It’s wonderful!”? Have they not heard of Dacia? Did they test drive anything else or consider secondhand Japanese? Have they searched out reviews on MGs and been knocked out by the effusive praise? Are they ornery folks bound to rebel and willing to stake mounds of dosh on being different? Are they people who haven’t yet heard that MG is Chinese and believe the brand is still British: “Grandpa’s old Magnette was brilliant, you know!”? Or are they attracted by no-name pricing alone? The enquiring mind needs to know. Lastly, how’s the warranty, spare parts and service situation?

    With MG sales ballooning to over 1100 in March alone, and over 4400 last year, the word must be getting around: these knockoff beans taste great! They must taste like crisps then. Major manufacturers beware …

    I understand an all-out marketing assault is planned for Cyprus and Portugal next.


  5. I thought you might have included in the article, the(possibly?) only exciting news to come out of MG since the chinese bought the name. That of course being the e-motion concept of last year. As for the current range, just can’t see a compelling reason to buy any of them over the better alternatives out there…

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