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MG Motor UK MG3 engines, drive and performance

2013 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 2 out of 52.0

Written by Richard Kilpatrick Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 5 May 2023

  • On paper figures suggest sprightly performance
  • Reality is less vigorous, sounds strained
  • Competitive in real terms, but fails to deliver potential

There’s just one engine metering out MG3 performance. It’s a 1.5-litre petrol which develops 106hp at a frantic 6,000rpm and 137Nm of torque at 4,750rpm. The latter figure means you have to work this car incredibly hard to make any real progress. Its 0-60mph time of 10.4 seconds and 108mph top speed don’t reflect real world in-gear performance, and achieving them is akin to successfully mastering juggling.

Overtaking, joining a fast dual carriageway or A-road or even simply maintaining a motorway speed on an incline require familiarity with the engine’s torque curve and swift gearchanges; compared to the user-friendly nature of most cars on the market there’s a good chance of getting caught between an absence of power or an abundance of noise.

The MG3 is available with just one engine and gearbox combination - 1.5-litre petrol, and five speed manual

Aside from retaining only five ratios where some rivals – and certainly those in a slightly higher cost bracket – have six, the gearbox has a fairly vague action. It’s not difficult, or obstructive, just not a pleasant thing to use. The UK is denied an automatic model of the MG3 at present.

The MG3’s 1.5-litre engine

Breathless and frenetic, the engine needs working hard to produce peak torque and power and it wants you to know just how much effort it’s making. Treat the MG3 as a more leisurely vehicle with the potential to pick up the pace if stretched, and it makes more sense, particularly as the power is delivered predictably without any strange flat spots or lean areas to optimise emissions testing.

At this price point, it’s all relative – and crucially, the MG3 does not need to be worked as hard to keep up with the sub-£10,000 pack. From entry level to highest spec, the performance is identical after all.

It doesn’t run of steam as quickly either. In fact, the MG3 can outpace most comparably-priced cars if you’ve no mechanical sympathy, yet MG could have made it do what it does with a more pleasant soundtrack, and it would be downright impressive against many rivals.

  • Sporty edge on earlier cars, less so on latest models
  • Decent ride and handling, poor refinement
  • Only available engine falls short of expectations
Once again, the 2018 MG3 is caught between the sporty image and comfort needs of customers. It rides well enough, but lacks refinement, and good steering and grip is marred by poor body control and frustrating power delivery

Stick a sporting brand on the front of a car, and drivers will expect handling to match. The original MG3 delivered, to a point, with a warm-hatch feel that used the hydraulic power steering and UK-specific suspension tuning to great effect.

Underneath, the facelifted MG3 should retain much of that character – yet it has lost a little of the enthusiasm and composure under rapid cornering. Steering remains positive with great feedback, but the body control can be overcome by too many bends in succession resulting in a rather ungainly, wallowy attempt to regain composure.

There’s ample grip and a decent setup underneath, and again a lot comes down to expectation; the MG3 is an exciting alternative to most budget small cars, and it performs well for the cost.

Exacerbating the feeling of a chassis wasted, the gearbox and engine work against the keen driver. On the plus side, the more sedate MG3 driver will appreciate the smooth ride afforded by the long wheelbase; occasional thumps from potholes notwithstanding.

If you can get the balance of speed, gearchanges and anticipation right it can still be rewarding (if loud), but it feels like you’re working around the car rather than with it.