MG3 (2018) first drive review

  • Budget supermini gets a new look inside and out
  • 1.5-litre petrol power remains the only option
  • Low insurance group, seven year warranty and 0% finance

MG3 review summary

Parkers overall rating: 3 out of 5 3.0

The MG3 has been refreshed for 2018, with a new model on sale from September. The original five-door hatch launched in the UK in 2013, with a dazzling array of colours, graphics and highlights but a single engine and transmission, at an appealingly low price.

Five years on it has yet to make a dent in the UK market, and MG's ambitious plans for growth need the new model to find a niche.

The new MG3 faces stiff competition as a budget small hatch. Starting at £9,495, buyers will need to be persuaded away from the Ford Ka+, the obvious low-cost rivals of the Dacia Sandero and Suzuki's Celerio, the Vauxhall Viva, and the Peugeot/Citroen/Toyota trio of the 108, C1 and Aygo. To help with the decision, MG is offering a transferable seven-year, 80,000 mile warranty and five year 0% finance with no deposit.

What's changed on the 2018 MG3?

Up front, the new MG3 has a grille that shows how well the family look of the ZS scales across the range, and it's handsome for a small car.

New design for the MG3 - 2018 facelift

Well-executed modern elements include contemporary blade-style accents on the front bumper, and clean, distinctive day running lights.

At the rear a simplified tailgate is flanked by tall lamps, featuring an evenly-lit lightpipe that shows great attention to detail – few manufacturers get such consistent illumination.

The 2018 MG3 features evenly-lit, smooth lightpipe tail lights

Inside, the rather gaudy, childish dashboard of the 2013 model has gone, complete with the quirky smartphone box. Now there's a very clean design with a large touchscreen in the centre – surrounded by an aluminium-effect accent with a curious plaid pattern. The steering wheel features bolder graphics, better proportions and pleasingly solid media controls.

2018 MG3 Apple CarPlay, DAB radio 8.0-inch touchscreen

Plaid designs make sense when you see the interior of the Australian market cars, where the seats match – the UK receives a more conservative design.

Surprisingly for a model competing on value, the pricing has changed; the new MG3's list price has gone up £800 to £9,495 for the Explore, which features an FM radio with Bluetooth and two speakers, key-operated central locking and no air conditioning. Unusually, all models of MG3 feature electric windows front and rear even on the entry specification.

Excite, at £11,395, adds the DAB radio and tweeters to the front speakers, Apple CarPlay compatible 8.0-inch touchscreen, air conditioning, remote central locking, 16-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, reverse parking sensors, height adjustable driver's seat and a body-coloured bodykit with rear spoiler.

Topping the range, Exclusive costs £12,795 and adds part leather seats, cruise control, rear speakers, a reversing camera and map pockets.

Mechanically, the engine is essentially unchanged, aside from being Euro-6d compliant. It still produces 106hp and 137Nm, and under WLTP emissions testing is rated for 140g/km.

Driving the 2018 MG3

Fire up the relatively large petrol engine, and initial impressions are good – it's reasonably refined, and the controls are well weighted as you move off. Hydraulic power steering is standard, where many manufacturers have moved to electrically assisted systems, and there's decent feedback as a result.

2018 MG3 new dashboard design and interior

Once underway, the 1.5-litre powerplant gives you a choice; progress sedately using the long gearing and reasonable low-down torque, or try to reach the sporting aspirations implied by the bold graphics and MG heritage.

Go for the latter, and although the power is delivered in a linear fashion without flatspots, the resulting noise will not encourage such antics for long. It's an eager enough engine, but fails to be refined or entertainingly rorty. Its official 0-62mph time is 10.4 seconds.

Continue to try and drive the MG like a warm hatch, and the gearbox will join in the efforts to rein you in. The gap between first, second and third gears is enough to lose all the power gained by working it hard in the first place. Persevere, and the chassis – aided by that direct steering - proves just capable enough through bends to lament the lack of a decent soundtrack and close-ratio gearbox.

2018 MG3 - five door hatchback - yellow

Those being more grown-up about the journey will be happier. Below 3,000rpm the engine is unobtrusive, with enough power to make swift progress down a motorway sliproad, but not quite enough to avoid changing down for congested 50-60mph stretches. The five-speed gearbox's top ratio is tall enough to keep engine speed down and economy up at 70mph, which is welcome given the lack of refinement elsewhere.

Although driving style and feel is very much a matter of personal taste, the MG3 fails to consolidate some genuine talents into either a comfortable, mature supermini, or an exciting small car.

MG3 (2018) comfort and refinement

Wider than many competing cars, the MG3's driving position is easy to adjust for a broad variety of drivers; pedals and steering wheel have a good relationship, and the seats offer good support and comfort with distinct – but not intrusive – bolsters for upper and lower cushions. The dashboard is clear and legible, and the tall glass area aids visibility – though the windscreen is framed by rather thick, square profiled pillars.

2018 MG3 new dashboard design and interior

Rear seat space is generous for a small car, though getting larger child seats in may be hampered by the angle of the door frame and low seat position. For a budget model the boot is well trimmed, too.

2018 MG3 - rear seat access and space

At motorway speeds, wind, road and engine noise all make themselves present, and the atmosphere also has an effect when the need for air conditioning arises – switching it on has a detectable impact on power and noise.

Ride quality and refinement are generally good, though. Road imperfections are absorbed well, and undulating roads smoothed to an impressive degree for this class – and cost – of car. Body insulation could be improved, the rear suspension occasionally letting out a yelp when surprised by a pothole or vicious speed cushion.

Some extra soundproofing and attention to isolating the body from the worst Britain's roads can throw at cars would go a long way on the MG3. It's acceptable on the entry-level car, but as the price gets closer to £13,000 there's a tangible improvement in the quality of rivals.

What hasn't changed on the new MG?

Fundamentally it's the same car that was introduced in China in 2011, then improved for the UK in 2013. The 1.5-litre VVTi engine remains the only option, the five-speed gearbox is the only transmission available here, and look around the cabin and small details of the older design remain intact – from the mirrors in the sunvisors, to the shape of the flip-style key.

2018 MG3 1.5-litre NSE engine - DOHC, VVTI, 106hp, 137Nm, 140g/km

There's also a lack of optional or standard advanced safety technology. Where some rivals have introduced autonomous emergency braking or lane-keeping assist, MG has kept with the basics. A three-star Euro NCAP score for the 2014 model is therefore likely to remain – like many budget cars.

It's worth noting that even where competitors have added technology, they still achieve three stars for EuroNCAP, with the exception of the Peugeot 108/Citroen C1/Toyota Aygo.

The Parkers VerdictThe Parkers Verdict

Some marketing truisms are, no matter how tired, true – and you have to sell the sizzle, not the steak to get people to pay attention. MG's brand equity and marketing, the perceived desirability of the MG3 and subsequent demand for it are almost more important than the car itself.

Whatever your understanding of the British marque, it's unlikely you'll find any emotional connection here; MG are pushing value rather than pushing SAIC to be braver with the UK market.

If you're ready to find a dealer, be tempted by the seven-year warranty, 0% finance and reasonable equipment levels and you'll receive a car with a fresh face over a rather dated platform, and unpolished dynamics that hint at greater potential yet rarely deliver.

In a market that is so fiercely contested MG needs to win the hearts as well as the wallets of drivers, and there's simply not enough spice in the MG3 to spark that romance. It's unlikely to disappoint, but there's little to recommend it over the competition; the styling and interior have grown up, but it's lost the charming rough edges of youth in the process.

The 2018 MG3 has a cleaner, simpler tailgate and bumper with a more prominent logo