Will MG UK finally get it right with the XS?

By JPM Sandie

SAIC’s attempts to re-establish the MG brand in the UK have had more false starts than a sports day at a special school and late 2017 will see yet another attempt in the new XS B-Segment Crossover recently unveiled in China. I actually think this has the potential (and I’ll be using that word a lot) to make a bigger impact. As a note, the moniker for the UK market version has yet to be decided and likely won’t be XS, but we will use this name for convenience.

The first thing that strikes you – or maybe doesn’t strike you – is the styling. It’s actually relatively handsome by the standards of a small SUV.

However, the longer you look at it the more you start to recognise a Mazda-esque front, a Nissan Qashqai like side profile and a rear end reminiscent of the Renault Kadjar (- or even Hyundai overtones -Ed).

Mazda CX3, Nissan Qashqai & Renault Kadjar

In a country that still offers carbon copies like the Landwind X7 and the Zotye SR9 perhaps the surprise is that MG were as original as they were. Maybe designers for minor Chinese brands lack the confidence to design something fully original and develop a cohesive brand identity?
So it’s a decent looking car but not a hugely original design or something that screams MG to you. It bears little resemblance to the rest of the present MG lineup with its siblings lacking the large grille. The GS has been facelifted for the Chinese market recently – since the XS was unveiled – but that has now gone in another different direction. Not great for a brand that is struggling to develop a strong identity.

Moving inside, the design is far more cohesive than what we’ve seen in the 3, 6 and GS. Gone are awkward and unattractive details like dials or screens that are in cut-outs that are too big or the wrong shape.
I’m not convinced about the hoods around the instrument binnacles but there’s less wrong at first glance than with previous SAIC MG interiors. Depending on your point of view the coloured seat inserts are either a tasteful homage to the early MG Z cars or, perhaps more likely, a sheer coincidence. Chinese specification cars are also available with a large panoramic sunroof stretching 0.83 cubic metres

Other improvements can be found under the bonnet. The Chinese market XS come with a choice of two engines. A basic 1.5 petrol – similar to the one fitted to the MG3 – is the entry point to the range. By now this is putting out 120BHP (against 105BHP in the 3) and 150NM of torque. This engine has already proved somewhat lacking in service in the MG3 feeling weaker than the figures suggest.

3-Cylinder GM SGE unit

Also available is a 1.0 3 cylinder Turbo engine with 125BHP and 170NM of torque. This is the engine fitted to many of the test mules being spotted by the eagle eyed on Britain’s roads so is almost certainly one we will get. In China it will be available with a six speed manual gearbox or a Dual Clutch auto and will, confusingly, be badged “16T”.

The 1.0 SGE (Small Gasoline Engine) is shared with General Motors and already sees service in Vauxhall’s Adam, Corsa and Astra. It has been very well received due to its strong levels of refinement for a triple and more than respectable economy and emissions figures. A world away from the old-fashioned “VTI-Tech” unit in the 3 then.

So based on a study of the images and technical specifications it’s a case of so far so good. It seems that the XS may address some of the largest criticisms of previous MG products, but will it succeed on the UK car market?

MG 6 & MG 3 ’90th Anniversary LE’ models

Amongst previous MG products, we have seen a massive flop in the MG6 (poor engine range, poor marketing and targeted a declining sector), a qualified success in the MG3 (well priced but an underwhelming engine and a strong feeling it could do better with stronger promotion) and the still very discrete GS which has only made just over 500 registration in 6 months on sale. The GS has been undermined by a

Better Late Than Never? Perhaps not.

limited engine range (petrol only in the strongly diesel dominated mid-sized crossover market) and a baffling advertising campaign.

Nissan Juke & Vauxhall Mokka both sell well as petrol models.a petrol with petrol versions of the Juke and Mokka being relatively common.

The XS won’t suffer as badly here as whilst the lack of a diesel may prevent the GS from being anything other than a niche offering, buyers of small crossovers are far happier to buy
an efficient petrol engine like the 1.0 Turbo is far nearer the sector bullseye than the engine of any previous MG offering.

After the MG6 and GS that aimed at the periphery of sectors MG dealers will no doubt be glad of another core vehicle that can be a decent seller (at least by the standards they have come to expect). MG have ambitious plans to be selling 20,000 cars in Britain by five years time and one would expect this to be driven almost entirely by the XS and MG3. Market analysts have pinpointed B-segment crossovers as the fastest growing segment on the British new car market and MG will be joining the party only moderately late, unlike with the GS where they were about as timely as they were with last year’s accounts.

However, there are two things that need to be right before the XS can help towards MG’s ambitious targets, excel for the long suffering dealer network and tempt new traders into filling open points.

First key consideration is price. MG got things spectacularly right with the MG3 where the entire model range came in beneath a headline figure of £10,000.

Sub-£10k price strategy was a rare win for MG UK with the MG 3

The XS needs to have a price range that is similarly compelling in comparison to key competitors. Even at list price, the MG3 is a genuinely cheap car whilst the 6 and GS have been priced at points where a smaller or less well specified car from a rival has appeared a more compelling option.

SsangYong’s Tivoli, which will be one of the main competitors for the XS, comes in at £12,950. A well-specified Dacia Duster with a Turbo Petrol engine is yours for around the same. The XS cannot seriously expect to succeed if it is significantly more expensive than either of these competitors.

ZS must be priced keenly amongst it’s rivals to stand a chance.

There simply isn’t the room to as the sector leading Nissan Juke costs from £14,320 and the popular Renault Captur starts at just under £15,000.

The other thing that must be right for the XS to perform well is the marketing. This has been a failing for MGUK thus far with

The SsangYong Tivoli will oppose the XS strongly – and is already becoming established.

their marketing either being non existent or downright strange. It will require more than an advert that tells you more about a pizza with an underwhelming topping than the car. We’re not holding our breath on that one and it would be typical for the British marketing team to shoot themselves in the foot where the Chinese engineers and planners may have finally given them something with the attributes to succeed.

And there’s the rub. The current management of MG UK have proven themselves to be nothing better than an absolute shower. Incapable of organizing a session in a brewery and lacking the marketing skills to promote even the most successful of hot cake concerns they provide a dense, self congratulating elephant in the room. The only things they have succeeded at is making themselves a joke in the industry, motoring press and trade whilst somehow alienating some of the most dedicated fanboy customers through a combination of dreadful customer care and general incompetence. The XS has the potential to succeed but unless something radical changes with the company or someone stumbles upon a clue in one of the buildings St. Modwen are about to pull down it will be a struggle.

Whatever happens Macdroitwich will continue to follow the “XS” story up to and following its launch.

Send in the Clowns: TVR

By Chucky de Hammer

The late (and he often was) Sir John Harvey-Jones would remark that business and romance simply don’t mix. You may go into business with a vision, a dream, but you do it for cold, hard cash. Lofty altruistic reasons are irrelevant; a business sits on rock-solid footings, not floating wimsy.

And yet we Brits are Gold medal Olympians at wanting to make cars or motorbikes for ‘romantic’ reasons. Nothing gets a stout man of spanners more misty eyed than the idea of triumphantly wheeling from his shed something that looks like Sophia Loren and goes like Bree Olsen. And if it bears the name of a glorious name from the past, legendary for winning races or making outrageously sexy motors, even better. Get them feeling a bit tight in their undercrackers.

Well, that’s how the thinking goes. Sadly for such folk their hearts, red-hot from the heady sight of their dreams now brought to life, rarely get sufficiently cold to deal with the hard, harsh facts about trying to launch a new sports car or reawaken a faded icon. That’s not to say it cannot happen of course, but for every Victor Gauntlett, Peter Wheeler or John Bloor you get a skip full of William Rileys, David McDonalds and Al Mellings. It’s the modern day equivalent of sailors hearing mermaids and hurling their ships on the rocks before sinking in the abyss, still smiling at the beautiful noise in their heads. Madness.

Misty-Eyed Mentalist; Peter Wheeler

The mention of Peter Wheeler brings us to another chapter of the hopelessly romantic basket case that is TVR. Ah yes, the company who’s first car got pranged before it even had a body. That should have told Wilkinson to pack it in before things got out of hand. But no, he carried on and by luck far more than judgement (and plenty of casualties on the way) Blackpool eventually claimed to have produced two car manufacturers. One of them however saw sense to get the fuck out, move to Coventry, drop the Nazi doppelganger name and as a result are still going today. The other? Oh dear….

In fairness, putting aside the laughable Tasmin 200 (a car they once denied to me even existed) there have been some memorable models to come from Hoo Hill and Bristol Avenue. The second iteration of the lovely-if-silly Griffith and the lovely-and-rather-excellent Cerbera sit atop them, even it could never be guaranteed they would work. In fact, you could use three words to accurately describe TVR: lairy, unreliable, and barely solvent. After investing considerable time and energy even Wheeler had to bail.

Little-Boy Smolenski, shortly after doing detention.

Along came Nikolay Smolenski, a Russian barely shaving more than once a week who sent off a BACS transfer and got some glass fibre moulds, two unreliable engines (with another hidden under a sack) and a big, big dream. It’s that dream thing again, isn’t it, gets them every time. You can only wonder what his mother must have said when he got home.

Anyway, the schoolkid made a right horlicks of things and TVR died. But then someone popped up and bought the name. Yes, someone actually paid money for a dead car firm. Mind you, when you consider that about 4,729 people have owned Jensen in the past twenty years it only shows that this ‘I can run a car business’ dream is a pretty widespread mental condition. However, this ‘new’ TVR wheeze doesn’t seem at first to be a complete joke. For a start the business put some focus on creating a parts network for the old TVR range, which should bring in loads of cash as they all go wrong every single day. And for their relaunch model they have called in a couple of well-known names to sort out two major areas, with Gordon Murray’s iStream concept repurposed for the chassis (although some of the claims about iStream sounds like a bit of a sea-shanty) and Cosworth signed up to deliver a modified Ford unit in the nose. So, there is a good chance this new model will be a bit of a snotter.

But two commonsense ideas don’t guarantee success, and the entire venture is really being let down by the traditional weak spot of the British Dead Car Marque Owner. Yep, it’s the really shitty marketing and communications. And with TVR it’s really, really shit.

Does this really matter? Well, coming up with a well-engineered car that is a real alternative to the competition is only half the battle. To actually sell them means you have to come up with a plan to attract the people who can actually afford to buy the product. And to do that, especially if you are looking to get them to spend over £50k on a toy sitting in a garage – the natural habitat for any TVR as it will likely be broken – you really do need to have a bloody good plan. A plan that captures the spirit of the new business, ignites the imagination of potential buyers, dealers suppliers and the public. A plan that makes people talk about TVR, gets them thirsty for more and generates excitement.
What have they come up with? A shit website a cack-handed attempt at social media and some horrendously bad press releases.

With the typical man in a shed caper you would expect this sort of shambolic behaviour. But TVR is alleged to be owned by a consortium headed by some chap called Les Edgar, who at least ran a business. Admittedly it was in computer gaming but even so, surely he should know the importance of having a strong team that can come up with a strategy to secure the long term future of the company?

Edgar and his associates will be more than aware that launching a new car from scratch is a big investment. That means they need to invest in marketing to get the best possible return; a long waiting list for their cars. Sadly, they can’t be arsed. A cheap, nasty website designed by a 12 year old containing some utter drivel posing as content doesn’t cut it when you are tempting someone away from buying a Porsche or Jaguar. It all points to Edgar and co looking at marketing as a cost and therefore spending as little as possible. A dreadful, amateur mistake made by people who really should know better. Scarcely believable.

But then again, it is. Because like all the other well-meaning but shockingly executed reboots of dead car names, the people involved have been so wrapped up in their dreams they end up doing the commercial stuff – which is obviously beneath them, or plain dreary – whilst sat having a dump. For a business supposedly backed by a number of well heeled people and headed by someone who apparently ran a company before, you would think they should have spotted this problem early on and built a team to handle the marketing. But no, it’s been evidently left till last – and by the time they realise what a bunch of halfwitted clowns they have made themselves look, their chances of any success will have become an awful lot tougher.

MG SV – Hardly a Concorde Moment

By Chucky de Hammer

Back in 2001 MG Rover launched the MG Z series saloon range, a short term sticking plaster to keep sales up and buy some more time for new models to be developed. With some effective (if a little crude in places) engine and suspension tweaks from Rob Oldaker, and styling changes from Peter Stevens and Harris Mann, it was a decent attempt to get some good publicity and a bit of breathing space for the company. Christ knows the place needed it; MG Rover was overstaffed and building cars in decrepit surroundings, but at least they now had a focused, bullish management team looking to grab the company by the scruff of its neck and get MGR speeding towards a brighter future.

Well, that’s what we were led to believe anyway because, at the same time as the ZT launch, that so-called focused team had wet their fingers and stuck them in some handy plug sockets to green light one of the most stupid decisions ever in automotive history was also made. MG would produce a new car to headline the range. A ‘halo’ model. AN SUPERCAR.

The Phoenix 4

Precisely why any of the directors at MG Rover thought it would be a great idea to waste millions on stretching the MG brand far, far beyond its traditional markets can only be explained by those involved. Unsurprisingly, Towers, Stephenson, Beale and Edwards tend to shy away from talking to anyone these days. Which is a shame, because any written notes taken of the meetings they had about this mental idea would make for fucking hilarious reading.

Anyway, the chain of events to all this started over in Italy, where Qvale were wondering what to do with a steaming turd of a sports car called the Mangusta, which they had bankrolled DeTomaso to create for them. Launched less than a year earlier in the US and inspired by the TVR Griffith, the Mangusta had already spent about 6 years in development, cost a minor fortune to get out the door, and was tanking. And with good reason too; chassis designer Enrique Scalabroni came up with a heavy brick of a platform festooned with awkward hard points for Gandini to drape something sexy over it. The legendary stylist took one look at this brick on wheels and went on a 5-day Grappa fuelled bender, finally delivering a shape for the Mangusta that can only be described as pigshit ugly. Very pigshit ugly.

Qvale were now in a bit of a jam and so to try and give sales volumes a lift they went looking for a partner to put the Mangusta in European showrooms. After trying everyone they could think of and getting the bums rush, an office junior got out the Giallo Pages, found the number for MG Rover and got through to Nick Stephenson, where he was asked if he fancied a tie-up.

This is where things went badly awry.

If anyone else with a brain at Longbridge had taken the call they would have politely turned down the idea of their dealers being distracted away from selling MG and Rover badged cars for some bloated, gopping tat. The issues of replacing three ageing models and turning round a fourth, plus sorting out a troublesome petrol engine and finding a new diesel, should have been far more important than helping out another company in an even worse position.

But for some reason, Qvale’s call sparked a deranged idea about making V8 powered high-performance models, headlined with a powerful sporty number for £40 grand to get loads of attention for the company and push for a tidy slice of the premium market. And on the face of it, who wouldn’t be attracted to the idea of coming up with a range of batshit fast motors? Churning out dreary little hatchbacks and olde-worlde saloons is so boring. Glamour, speed, desire, that’s where MG Rover needed to be. And the Mangusta, with a chassis ripe for re-bodying, seemed to be the perfect cut-price place to start.

The idea may sound perfectly reasonable, inspired even. But there were a few minor details that made the whole caper an unspeakably idiotic suicide mission.

First, MG had no history and no credibility in competing in a rarefied market dominated by the likes of the Porsche Boxster. The utterly gorgeous MG-EXE, unveiled back in the mid-Eighties and a concept very much in the same vein as this idea from MGR, was little more than a pitch for more talented designers to come and work for Roy Axe. Harold Musgrove ruled out any idea of it entering production – and he was bang on the money there. MG’s brand history was rooted in mildly jigged up saloons and modestly sporty two-seaters. And if you still think an MG supercar is a fantastic idea then take a look at the VW Phaeton – a luxo barge with the Beetle’s badge on the nose. You only see them at airport taxi ranks or chuffing round council estates. Way to go, Piech.

Second, if you’re going to make a move upmarket you need to do it from a financially sound position – and even then be aware it could cost you. BMW found this out the hard way when it produced the 507, a nice V8 roadster based on the 500 saloon platform at the suggestion of US dealer head Max Hoffman. It very nearly put them out of business. VW lost money on every Phaeton built and only continued to make them because Chairman Piech refused to admit his pet project was a stupid idea only driven by his ego. MGR needed every penny to focus on sorting out the core problems they had, not pursue a man-in-a-shed fantasy.

Third, if you’re going to make something expensive, make it desirable. Strangely, MG did at first have a stab at this when they launched the X80 concept. The awkwardness of the Mangusta underpinnings compromised the styling – check out the grille treatment for the radiator / underbonnet airflow – but it did have some promise, if also erring towards being a bit bland. It needed work, particularly on the flanks, and the detail was lacking, but it had some potential.

Somehow then, this daft twattish idea had resulted in a concept that, if nothing else, didn’t look laughably bad. So who downed a pint of gin one lunchtime and threw it out for a pimp-my-ride tank?

Rotund ball of uselessness; ‘Fat’ Kev Howe

The smart money seems to be on MD Kevin Howe, who has form for such stupidity; his insistence on the 75 Coupe nose using the David Brent grille, specifying the ZT380 with an almost undriveable suspension setup, and later repeated his complete disregard for taste when selecting the hideous final design for the RDX60 tells you everything about this fat, shouty clown. But little matter, it was Peter Stevens who took on the new brief to replace the slightly dull X80 and out-do TVR with the SV, a blunt-nosed, be-winged, Millwall FC tattooed bastard that could only be loved by a 4 year old tripping on blue Smarties. The interior continued the two-fingered salute to style with wobbly switchgear and trim not so much fitted inside as casually hurled in from a considerable distance. It was enough to make kit car builders shake their heads in disappointment.


And last, a car really needs to be as efficient to build as possible. Oh boy, did they take a dump on this one. Carbonfibre panels made in the UK, chassis made in Modena, all trucked to Turin for slapping together with engines from Michigan before shipment back to Birmingham for ‘fitting out’. A logistic and production nightmare that only the blindly stubborn would allow to go ahead, although after dithering about with this project while the cash reserves started to dwindle there was little choice. Yes, the exotic materials made the SV over 100Kg lighter than the Mangusta. But it forced a massive price hike – the top line SV-R model was now camped in 911 GT3 territory. The MG SV was Cherie Blair pitched against Heidi Klum in a swimsuit contest.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that the company folded before the SV was on sale for too long, although that fact that 80 were shifted still makes you marvel at how some people lose all rational sense and part with their money for such a grunting cow’s arse of a motor. But the sheer folly of the idea, and the waste of resources and money accompanying it, means that the SV will forever be remembered not as a some sort of last hurrah, but as a shining example of the incompetence of the people who took over the MG and Rover names and ensured they died the most undignified of deaths. And for that they deserve our everlasting derision.

The R8 – A worthy legend or lucky to be amongst such bad rivals?

From the Potato’s Sack

There is a place in our hearts here at MacDroitwich that will always belong to the R8 Rover 200/400 Series.

I have blogged previously about just how fantastic I find this glorious range of cars yet I do find myself questioning just how good they actually were.

My reasons for doing so are quiet simple really; 1. whenever we get into discussions about the R8 and talk about it’s rivals, we find it so easy to dismiss virtually every one of them and 2. despite the fact almost a million R8s were made, so few remain (and I’m not just talking about now, they’ve been disappearing massively for the last 10 years).

So let’s look at the rivals first; starting with the Escort. Ford replaced one of the UK’s best-selling cars with one of the most uselessly powered, under-developed cars seen before or since. A major bollock-dropped.

Vauxhall’s Astra, again a good seller had just been subject to a very minor facelift shortly after the launch of the R8 that did little to lift it to the same levels of quality or refinement that had been set by Rover, the Astra F that followed in 1991 felt a big step away from this, yet still struggled to match the R8.

Then there was Renault. It’s recently released 19 range had replaced the 9 & 11 and, despite being built to decidedly ‘French’ standards, rather than those that Rover had set the bar at, was a competent car, escpecially as you went up the range.

It’s a similar story with Citroen and their ZX model, the Volcane and GTI were a glorious thing, the versatility of the estate model giving particular cause for concern too, as Rover’s 400 tourer set itself more as competition for the Alfa 33 Sportwagon, BMW 3-series Touring and the like, rather than for the lower-end of the market occupied by the ZX.

Peugeot were in the unfortunate position that the 309 was beginning to feel very out-dated and the 306 was still 2-3 years away. Once the 306 did arrive however, this proved itself to be worthy competition to the 200/400, even if indirectly.

There are similar stories throughout every brand you look at; the VW Golf in MkII and MkIII form had strong followings, regardless of their obvious flaws – lacklustre performance and rust being but two; the Volvo 440/460 range was another, hampered by it’s engine range – borrowed in-part from Renault – and also held back by it’s handling and it’s price-tag.

The Fiat Tipo, Nissan Sunny, Toyota Corolla and Mazda 323 all formed part of a disappointing field of runners & riders that, it could be said, helped galvanise the image of the R8 whether justified, or not.

Now I’m not saying that the R8 doesn’t deserve it’s reputation. The K-series, at time of release, was a revelation. The build quality and fit and finish was a class above the rivals. It looked fantastic, drove superbly and evolved into a diverse range that offered economy or scorching performance, brought hatchbacks, coupés, saloons, estates and cabriolets and a choice of gearboxes. A real range.

No, I’m saying that perhaps, had there been better competition out there, then maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t have felt as good.

That brings me on to the second point; is the survival-rate down to the fact that, once better alternatives DID come about, was it worth saving them anymore?

The R8 was the most successful car since British Leyland days in terms of volume, yet at a time when other brands where thriving, I hope, it was because of the positives that it possessed, rather than the flawed crap it had to compete with – I’m much happier thinking that it was.

Rover 75 – The Relentless Pursuit of Bad Taste

From the Potato’s Sack

As far back as late 1994, Rover’s designers had all but settled on the final look for the firm’s new flagship model.  A retro-inspired design that some would say was intended to court controversy with it’s combination of cutting-edge technology and classic design cues.

A late styling proposal (picture courtesy of ARonline)

OK, so we all know that side of the story, however, at no point during the endless design meetings and focus group sessions that no doubt took place, did those talented Rover Group folk account for the proportion of future owners that would be devoid of taste to such an extent, their cars would end up looking like they had ram-raided a tacky shop owned by some straggly-haired vegetarian specialising in wind-chimes and health crystals.

A ruined 75 famous in Magpie circles belonging to stick-on-tat-moron ‘Windrush’

For reasons no one can quite work out, anyone who now owns a 75, is over-come by the all-engrossing desire to stick anything from plastic wood, plastic chrome, extra badges and even chrome wheel embellishers on top of alloy wheels, to these once fine vehicles.

A particularly eye-watering example – Note; imbecile owner not in shot.

Indeed, on the Rover 75 & ZT owners club website, a topic regarding ‘walnut*’ accessories runs to 138 pages.

It is done in such a hap-hazard, nonsensical manner, one can only assume these imbeciles are either in the final stages of dementia, are suffering from a traumatic childhood experience that has clouded their judgement so poorly that nothing makes sense any longer or they are simply motoring arseholes.

I love the R40 and always have, yet I would gladly see these utterly RUINED specimens sent to the crusher rather than prolong their indignity any further – ideally with their owner still sat in the fake-wood festooned flea-pits.

 

As we so often end up saying;

WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?

A Refulgent New Dawn

MacDroitwich blogs are back!

We can’t promise that any content will be exciting, we can’t promise it will be on time, but what we can promise is that as the last bastion of truth for the Firm and MG related news, we will be there for you, reporting information – without censorship, as we receive it from our far-reaching team.

You can look forward to real-world experiences from enthusiasts, owners, factory workers, members of the motor trade and the associated press, together with in-depth analysis into what’s going on at MG today.

There’ll be articles on vehicles from our heritage by our panel of regular contributors, along with essays from our experts.

The refulgence is gaining pace. Don’t be stupid enough to be anywhere else.

 

The MG 3 Launch – An Experience

By Lord Sward

Here is a look back to 2013 when Lord Sward was present at the glittering* MG3 launch at Longbridge….
Wednesday 12th June 2013. Longbridge, England.

At 10am the UK Press from motoring magazines, newspapers and TV gathered in small hospitality room within Longbridge’s engineering department. In addition to the UK visitors, dozens of SAIC engineers and suppliers had flown in from China for the occasion. We were all waiting to see the simultaneous unveiling of the newly enhanced design centre and the UK launch of MG3.

Somewhat cannily MG had billed the event as a rebuke to Jeremy Clarkson’s recent article which heavily slated the newly launched MG6 diesel range. However, it was quite clear that the event had been in the planning for quite some time.

Doug Wallace

Doug Wallace ushered us into the newly built Visualisation Suite for the presentation. This very large ‘booth’ will be used to project life-sized images of sketches in either 2d or 3d aspects. The idea of this is to give stylists a flavour of what has been sketched in China, the UK and contractors. For such “high-end kit” I was disappointed the giant screen in the room was used for just for a PowerPoint presentation which Guy Jones kicked-off.

He told the assembled audience that SAIC “was immensely proud” of the result of the sizable (£5m+) investment which was gone on over the past 3 years –doubling the size and number of design studios. As hacks, to be brought in to see the investment in facilities and products was said to be “a unique, one off opportunity”. I can understand that, for the whole place was to be wide open to us. Incidentally, all 300 engineers on site are now fully integrated into working with the 2,000 Chinese engineers on projects. There doesn’t appear to be any demarcation over design now, although design direct does emulate from Shanghai – I digress.

Guy soon handed over the presentation to Anthony Williams-Kenny who waxed lyrical that Britain “was a leading light in the world of industrial design.” He claimed the facility would help imbue the products with the MG brand core values of being British, Fun and Affordable. I did feel at one point I was taking part in a Brit-Pop video however….

Of SAIC’s 130 stylists, there are 30 on site at Longbridge in the 2 styling studios. These artists are especially pleased with their “new, 5 axis milling machine”. I was later to see this machine finalising a change to the flanks of the good looking MG SUV vehicle…but on with the presentation.

The boss within styling at Longbridge is Martin Uhlarik. Just before he took over from A K-W we watched a short video. Now this video, on a huge screen in a dark room remember, reminded me of the torture melted out to Harry Palmer in the Ipcress Files movie as ‘they’ attempted to brainwash him. I genuinely thought they were trying to mass hypnotise the audience before giving us the full low down on changes that make the MG3 desirable and acceptable for the British market.

Marketing

Essentially, MG will be pitching the MG3 at the young and trendy who want a MINI or an Audi A3, but can only afford a Fiesta or FIAT 500. There is big emphasis on personalisation of the car at the point of purchase meaning genuinely interesting and wacky graphics and bits of colour-coded dash. These are intended to clash/compliment the 10 bold colours on offer.

MG also realise that you need to equip a car with the very latest in plug-in bits for your Sat-Nav, digital radio, Ipod and whatever else and have thoughtfully placed these sockets and power points in a large slot on top of the dash. This slot is rubber lined to stop objects rattling on the move and has a folding lid to hide said objects when parked-up.

MG refused to answer any further questions relating to the sales and marketing budget for the car, other than to say there wouldn’t be a TV advertising campaign for it. They did admit however, that they’ve been holding off marketing spend until the MG3 is launched to the public. They also refused to disclose their expected sales target and couldn’t give me a definite date when it will be available. They are expected to reach all 29 dealers by Sept 1st however for test drives.

Externally.

Visually, there are no sheet metal changes to MG3, but the front bumper and grille is new. These contain the front end’s calling card of “hockey stick” LED daytime running lights. They are bold and visually enhance the slightly bland frontal aspect, although the headlamps do feature an internal octagon, a feature isn’t immediately obvious.

The side of the vehicle has new side skirts which look neat and are finished in matt blank along the lower centre section and body coloured as they touch the wheel arches. These skirts visually lower the vehicle and make such a tall, narrow vehicle look more ‘ground hugging’. The wheels are said to be diamond cut alloys in a two-tone finish. Disappointingly these show the rear drum brakes off all to readily.

The rear of the vehicle is visually the smartest aspect of the styling I feel. In addition to the already neat design, a large rear spoiler tops the tailgate while the new rear bumper moulding houses a substantial rear valance said to have been inspired by the British Touring Car series. A chrome exhaust finishes the detailing.

Interior.

Internally, the general feel is of decent enough quality for the class, rather mimicking the last generation VW Polo in terms of style and layout. As previously mentioned, you can colour-code certain bits of interior plastics to add “fun” and alleviate the old-school blandness. The needles for the speedo and rev counter do a neat sweep and re-set when the ignition is switched on, just like a racing cars’. With regard to interior space, the passenger room is a revelation and “fun” could certainly be had by an amorous young couple.

The seats feature read stitching to match the stereo surround illumination and a large Octagonal insert. There has been a great deal of thought gone into those seats too. A stronger (yet still light) seat frame, a robust double backrest adjustment mechanism (for crash safety) and denser foam padding (for fat man comfort) have been carefully thought through to cope with an average Brit. I was deeply impressed with the diligence that had gone into making the seats suitable for us Brits.

 

The attractive climate control system

Go for the climate control system and you get a well-designed, simple to use control panel that looks good.

The basic heater controls of the low-spec MG 3

 

Go for the base model and you get dated heater control dials of dubious quality and appalling action. You have been warned.

 

Finally on base models you get a manual ‘joystick’ adjusted for the external door mirrors. This reminded me of the old Rover ‘XX’ 800 series and gave me a warm glow. Overall the car did give overtones of the much missed MG Metro. So much so, I enquired as to why the car hadn’t been given red seat belts. I was told that they had been considered, but the dye does things to the webbing would therefore require the car to go through homologation again…..

Powertrain & Chassis.

The MG3 has been extensively driven all over the UK to ensure the chassis is up to the MG moniker. That means the car rides 10mm lower than Chinese versions and boasts all new springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, rubber bushes and wheel/tyre combinations. Almost uniquely, the MG3 will come with good old fashioned hydraulic power assisted steering. Such a system is great for feel and feedback, but has fallen out of fashion due to its effect on a vehicle’s CO2 output. I did ask what the MG3s CO2 output would be, but I was told that MG would be making “No Comment” until the vehicle pricing structure has been worked out.

The engine is the new (to us Brits) 1.5 16 valve unit feature variable valve timing on the inlet values. Such an engine is large for its class and anticipated demographic although the car won’t be over powered with just 105ps available. The engine mapping and throttle response is said new to be unique to the British market. Its CO2 output however, will be super-critical to customer acceptance.

Finally.

First impressions of the MG3 are good, but in no respect is the car cutting edge in the immensely competitive Supermini section. The styling is trying to be youthful and trendy, but at the same time it is saddled with a practical, yet boxy bodyshell. This could be considered a USP, but it doesn’t feel it. The biggest issue that will hinder the cars sales success is the miniscule dealer network. Plans are said to be afford that will see this increased to a much need 100 over the next two years. Indeed at this very event, national dealer groups were being courted into taking on MG franchises.