MG is back in SA. Ryan Bubear drives the MG6 Fastback 1.8T Luxury...
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Brands. They're often incredibly difficult to define, but boy do they mean a tremendous amount to the car-buying public.
A mainstream brand is often forgiven its foibles simply by virtue of the fact that it is popular. And once a brand gets a negative image, justified or not, it takes a tremendous effort to shake. But it can be overcome. Just look at Hyundai: once looked down on as "just another" Korean manufacturer, and now producing some of the best all-round, value-for-money vehicles on the market. A similar case could be made for Kia.
As far back as its inception in the 1920s, the MG marque has been held in high regard. As long as it was producing rollicking two-seater open sports cars, whether the Morris Garages name fell under the banners of British Leyland, Rover, or even BMW, all was rosy. And, of course, it was British.
These days, the MG name is Chinese-owned. And there is, for now anyway, but one model on offer — and it's not exactly a sports car. Now, before you write off the latest MG as a poor-quality Chinese knock-off, consider this: we were pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of its first all-new offering since Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation took the reins. Sure, it has its shortcomings (what doesn't?), but it also boasts a few striking details, and specification levels are excellent. And it certainly looks unique.
Fastback or saloon?
We are, of course, talking about the mid-sized MG6. It's available in either fastback or saloon form, across three trim levels. The fastback is essentially a five-door hatch, while the saloon is a four-door sedan. The range starts at R229 900 and runs through to R269 900. We had the mid-spec Fastback Luxury on test.
All models are powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol unit, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. This engine provides the front wheels with 118kW and 215Nm, and MG claims that the 6 can hit 100km/h from standstill in about 8.4 seconds. While this is unlikely to coax out your inner drag racer, it is more than spritely enough for the typical, everyday commute.
The MG6 makes more power than its direct competitors, but it also uses a fair bit more fuel. We struggled to match the claimed average fuel consumption of 7.9 litres per 100km, and ended up with a figure of about 9.3 instead.
The gearbox is not the most precise — and could benefit from a sixth cog — but it is by no means unpleasant to operate. The clutch, on the other hand, takes plenty of getting used to. Pulling away smoothly in first, and even changing up to second sans embarrassment, takes a fair bit of practice as the clutch has a tendency to grab, and grab pretty hard. This, of course, makes stop-start traffic even less fun than usual... But, it can be mastered.
In terms of design, the MG6 Fastback is a mixed bag. From some angles, it really is rather pretty. Its profile is particularly striking, and its "face" quite distinctive, if a bit VW-ish. However, it also reminds one of a few models from years past, including the Renault Laguna and even a certain Lexus — especially in white. Yes, this "rental car" colour doesn't do the MG6 justice, and it looks far better in the metal with a splash of metallic paint.
Yes sir, it comes standard
Specification levels are decent, even on the entry-level model, which gets ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, four airbags, air-con, on-board computer, audio system (with CD/USB/auxiliary), electric windows, electric mirrors, and fog lamps. The mid-range vehicle we had on test further featured a multi-functional steering wheel, cruise control, and rear park distance control. Bluetooth is standard only on the range-topper, which also comes with climate control, automatic wipers, automatic headlights, auto-dimming interior mirror, sunroof, leather, electrical seat adjustment up front, heated seats, and rear parking camera. So, plenty of kit...
The key slots into the dash to the left of the steering wheel, and doubles as a start button. Push and hold the key, with the clutch depressed, and the 1796cc powerplant springs into life. A couple of other unexpected details reveal themselves once the rain starts to fall: the windscreen wiper reduces its speed when the vehicle comes to a stop, and automatically resumes its previous setting when you pull away. And with the front blades going, the rear wiper is automatically activated when reverse gear is engaged. Small details, yes, but such things make a marked difference in terms of day-to-day living with a vehicle.
However, the handbrake is ergonomically iffy, and the driver is forced to reach over towards the front passenger's thigh to use it (which only becomes a problem when you're not all that well acquainted with said passenger)... perhaps it was designed for China's left-hand drive market. Thankfully, all models benefit from a hill-holder function that allows this weakness to be largely ignored. Good.
In terms of perceived quality, the interior is better than most would have expected. The dash has a pleasing flow to it, the dials and central screen look modern and are easy to read, and most materials used are more than acceptable. But on our particular test vehicle, a frustrating vibration — likely from an air-vent in the dash — made itself known each time the needle approached 2000rpm.
The suspension soaks up most undulations with ease, yet doesn't suffer from that soggy feeling when taking corners at speed. In fact, the ride has a decent mix of comfort and surefooted handling, and is stable at higher speeds too. The steering is well weighted too.
The MG6 comes standard with a three-year or 80 000km warranty and a three-year or 90 000km service plan, with intervals of 24 000km. At present, there are ten dealers in South Africa, with MGSA saying there are plans to introduce more in the future.
The question that keeps popping up, however, is this: why would one buy an MG6 over a Ford Focus or a Hyundai Elantra? It's a difficult query to answer, with the established Focus now quite competitively priced (the mid-spec model comes in at R233 290, although admittedly with a 1.6 naturally aspirated engine) and the Elantra winning both hearts and awards.
Where the MG6 holds the advantage though is in terms of space, grunt and specification level. It's far roomier than its competitors — the boot swallows 472 litres — and has a fair bit more punch too. There are also far fewer on the roads — with a Focus and Elantra parked on pretty much every second corner — so if exclusivity is important to you, it has the edge there too.
But is that enough? Can the MG6 be seen simply for what it is — a decent-to-drive, spacious family vehicle that shows that the marque has promise — and transcend the brand snobbery that once favoured it?
Only time will tell...
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.