BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Believe it or not, but there's a good proportion of new car buyers who don't much care for new cars. To a certain degree, I'm one of them. I recently tested a new car and was so disenchanted by the complexity of its drive systems, the idiotic way it hid key controls beneath layers and layers of touch-screen menu controls and its infernal chiming every time I did something it didn't agree with (which seemed most of the time) that I quickly came to the conclusion that I preferred its predecessor which had none of that.
Possibly inadvertently, MG seems to have hit the target with that sort of buyer. The MG6 is a car that feels reassuringly old school in many regards but with enough modern touches to keep it relevant. Here's what to look for when shopping used for these extremely underrated cars.
One marque has always held a special place in the hearts of British drivers. Founded by Cecil Kimber way back in 1924, Morris Garages, or MG, was the brand our dads aspired to. A Ferrari they would probably never own, but a sports car wearing that famous octagonal badge was ever tantalisingly within their reach. But that was in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies before the equity of this famous name was diluted, first by Leyland then by Rover, who used it as little more than a sporty trim level for their ordinary cars. What was needed was something designed as a proper MG from the ground-up, a family car perhaps, but a sporting one, designed and built in Britain. A car like the MG6?
Perhaps. When Chinese conglomerates Nanjing and SAIC (the Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation) bought up what was left of MG Rover after the group's bankruptcy in 2005, few thought the Longbridge production lines would ever run again. But thanks to this MG6, from 2011 they did again, even if the Birmingham workers were only bolting together kits imported from China. Still, the car they assembled was designed here and offers an intriguing choice as a sportier and slightly larger alternative to existing Focus and Astra-sized family hatchback models.
Here then, is a model to bridge nine decades of history with a future backed by the largest manufacturing nation on earth. A car that's a little different and potentially something of a breath of fresh air in a market sector set in its ways. This then is the MG6. It arrived in 2011 in hatch and saloon guise and got a fast track course of development, gaining a diesel engine at the start of 2013 and a 90th Anniversary edition was launched in October 2014. This was based on the top of the range TSE spec and added unique 18" matte-black wheel, 90th Anniversary embroidered headrests, a gloss black roof, red pinstripes, a chrome side vent and gloss black interior details. It was offered in two exterior paint finishes - Granite Grey Metallic and Platinum Silver. A second generation model was launched in the Spring of 2015.
What You Get
By European standards, the styling of this MG6 isn't hugely arresting, but for the notoriously conservative Chinese market where it must sell in huge numbers, it was a very dynamic-looking car indeed, a wide track and flared wheel arches enough to set Oriental hearts a-flutter. British buyers will simply pigeonhole its high-waisted look as fresh and current, the tapering front lights and angular black grille offering nice finishing touches. Most potential buyers wanted the five-door GT hatchback version, but MG also hoped to snare some who might otherwise be looking at a used BMW 3 Series-style compact executive saloon with the Magnette four-door variant.
More important though than the shape of this car is its size. At 4.65m long, it sits mid-way between a 4.4m Focus-sized Family Hatchback and a 4.8m Mondeo-sized medium range model with pricing targeted at the smaller end of the scale. The kind of package you'd think that a lot of family buyers would rather like. Even if you didn't know this, you could probably guess the fact by taking a seat in the rear. There's significantly more space than you'd find in a Focus or a Golf, with plenty of head, leg and shoulder room. To the point in fact, where on shorter journeys, three adults could sit together reasonably comfortably, assuming that the middle person can find some way to sit astride the rather prominent transmission tunnel.
And there's much more room in the boot than you'd find in those kinds of cars too. Skoda's Octavia can offer more but otherwise, the trunks of conventional Family Hatchback rivals - say the 316-litre hold of a Focus or the 350-litre boot of a MK6 Golf - look frankly embarrassing alongside the 472-litre on offer in this MG6. It's a large and well-shaped space that's extendable to 1268-litres by pushing forward the 60:40 split-folding rear seats - though it's a pity that these don't fold completely flat. And the 498-litre boot in the Magnette saloon version is even bigger.
At the wheel, things aren't quite so impressive, with a budget brand feel to the choice of plastics used and a frustrating set of rather fiddly steering wheel controls. But it's all logically laid out and the leather-covered MG steering wheel feels good to hold, adjustable for both reach and rake. Thanks to this and the height-adjustable driver's seat, it's relatively simple to find a decent driving position.
What to Look For
The MG6 has proven very reliable thus far. There have been reports of the odd sensor going on the fritz and illuminating a dash light, but on the whole, there's a whole legion of happy owners out there. The MG6 isn't overburdened by complex electronics and the engines are relatively tried and tested things, vastly reducing the scope for things to go awry. In 2015, the respondents to Auto Express' Driver Power customer satisfaction survey (of which 61,000 responses were gathered) voted the MG6 into the top ten in the 'Best Car To Own' category.
(Approx. values for a 2014 Mg6 1.8) A clutch assembly will be around £195 and front brake pads are around £45; it's around £40 for the rear set. An alternator should be close to £250 and a radiator around £175.
On the Road
So what's it like to drive? Climb in and you have to say politely that classic British heritage isn't the first impression that springs to mind. This is, according to MG at least, apparently a 'sports-fastback'. In real language, a sportily-trimmed Focus or Astra-sized family hatch. Nothing wrong with that. Scroll back through history and you'll find that MG didn't only make roadsters but also sporty saloons like the Magnette models of the Fifties and Sixties, hence the choice of that name for the saloon version of this MG6.
Those old models sold to family people who wanted a little extra spice in their morning commute, exactly the customers the modern owners of this brand hope will be interested here. 'In every detail, you'll find a fond nod to MG's glory days - Le Mans, Goodwood, land speed records and true British sporting endeavour', promises the brochure. Quite a build-up. The reality of course will be a little less dramatic once you insert the electronic key into the dashboard.
Towards the end of its life, this MK1 MG6 model sold mainly in 1.9-litre diesel form, but used car bargain hunters ought to concentrate on the 158bhp turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol unit. It's got a reasonably rapid turn of speed, zero to sixty achievable in 8.4s and a top speed that would be around 135mph had not MG limited it to 120mph to keep insurance costs down.
Over 80 per cent of this car may be Chinese but many of the bits that matter are British through and through - ride and handling being one of these. There are suppler-riding cars in this class and more sportily-suspended ones, but few models of this kind can achieve a better combination of both over good roads and bad. Which for a first attempt, was quite an astonishing achievement for Briton David Lindley and his Longbridge-based engineering team given that the class in question contains cars of the talent of Ford's Focus. They couldn't do much about the aging engine's relative lack of refinement, but in most other respects, the dynamics of this car represent a job well done. Body roll is well controlled, there's reasonable feel through the steering and there's a decent gearchange too, though the box itself has only five rather than six speeds.
In a market populated by so many cars that look and feel alike, the first generation MG6 offered a breath of fresh air, even if its appeal was decidedly retro. Of course there will be many who just don't get it, and who'll pour scorn on its cheap-looking cabin plastics and decidedly clunky electronics. Let them. They can revel in their soft-touch slush-moulded dash tops while piloting a vehicle that's absolutely zero fun to drive.
By contrast, this MG6 feels alive and is always up for a good time. It's not refined, it's not showy but you won't care. Pick an early petrol version and you'll have a real bargain.