MG 3 hatchback review
“The MG3 is a characterful and cheap supermini that is severely hampered by a lacklustre engine”
- Stylish and spacious
- Cheap to buy
- Excellent warranty
- Outdated engine
- Uncomfortable ride
- Poor residuals
The MG3 is a budget five-door supermini that’s designed to take on big hitters like the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corsa, along with cheaper alternatives like the Kia Rio, Suzuki Swift and Dacia Sandero.
MG is focusing on its growing range of electrified cars (the brand now sells a plug-in hybrid HS and electric ZS and 5 models), so the MG3 gets a little forgotten about. It was one of the first models brought to the UK under the relaunched MG brand almost a decade ago.
In keeping with its MG badge, engineers tried to make the MG3 entertaining to drive, but in truth it has now fallen some way behind the alternatives since it was launched. The car benefited from a facelift in the summer of 2018, which extensively updated its appearance and upgraded the interior, but sadly didn’t improve its dynamics.
If you're looking at new cars that undercut most of their rivals on price, then the MG3 can be added to your shortlist. It now feels more modern inside thanks to a proper infotainment system with Apple CarPlay. In early 2020, MG added a range-topping Exclusive Nav trim to the range, which supplemented the list of standard equipment available on the existing Exclusive model with sat nav.
A huge problem with the car, however, is its old-fashioned 1.5-litre petrol engine, which is gutless, noisy and uneconomical. The facelift in mid-2018 did nothing to address the engine’s shortcomings, and as time ticks on it falls further and further behind the small, turbocharged engines available in rivals.
From the outside, the redesigned MG3 looks surprisingly striking, ticking almost all of the classic sporty supermini styling cues, with a wheel-at-each-corner stance, ‘floating’ roof, alloy wheels and optional decals and colour combinations offering personalisation. Fuel consumption of 43.3mpg is far from class-leading, but the MG3 is at least cheap to buy – costing less than many city cars – and insurance should also be cheap, with every version sitting in groups 7 or 8 out of 50.
The MG3 was rated poorly for reliability in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK. Of the owners who responded, a worrying 35.6% reported experiencing a problem with their car at least once. Drivers praised the handling, brakes and steering, along with the MG3’s design and interior space, but were less impressed with its thirsty petrol or build quality. Not enough results were received for it to feature in our 2021 survey.
A three-star Euro NCAP safety rating could also be off-putting, with a 69% score for adult occupant protection. Part of the reason for its low score was also down to the fact the MG3 lacks some of the latest safety features like autonomous emergency braking (AEB). In comparison, the SEAT Ibiza gets five stars, 95% for adult protection and AEB as standard.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Compare monthly PCP finance prices for the MG3 with an entry-level Ford Fiesta and it’s clear where some of the MG3’s appeal lies. At the time of writing, even the top MG3 Exclusive Nav could be had for around £200 per month, and that’s after a small deposit of the same amount. You’d need to spend several thousand pounds upfront to get the Fiesta for £200 per month, or look to the used market.
Apart from the MG3's low purchase cost, part of the draw for young drivers in particular is likely to be how cheap the car is to insure. Its group rating (7 or 8 depending on spec) is lower than many similarly sized cars. If this is particularly important to you, it is worth remembering that some versions of the Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo will cost even less.
Just one engine is available, which has an official fuel economy rating of 43.3mpg. Look around and this figure is far from impressive; the most economical petrol SEAT Ibiza and the 1.0-litre EcoBoost Ford Fiesta can both manage around 55mpg. The MG3’s CO2 emissions of 147g/km are high for such a small car, too, but due to a 2017 change to the way road tax is calculated, all MG3s cost around £150 a year to tax anyway. The CO2 figure will be more relevant to business drivers, as the high CO2 figure puts it in a disappointingly lofty BiK tax band.
However, there's a seven-year/80,000-mile warranty, which is very impressive.
Engines, drive & performance
The hatchback's driving experience is let down largely by its rough engine, but a high seating position and firm ride don’t help either. All of the trim levels use the same 1.5-litre petrol, which produces 105bhp. The way the engine delivers its power makes the car feel slower than even its 10.4-second 0-62mph time suggests.
Accelerating takes patience and the engine makes a lot of noise when doing so – more so than a Skoda Citigo or Dacia Sandero. Once you're there, the MG3 is capable of a long-distance motorway cruise, although frequent gear changes will be required to overtake.
The relative lack of power is a shame, because the MG3 feels more competent in other areas. The steering has a nice weight and offers good feedback, plus there’s reasonable grip when cornering. The suspension helps in that regard because it's firm enough to reduce body lean, but it's a double-edged sword.
When you're not trying to drive the car quickly, you'll need to put up with a very firm, uncomfortable ride, which is a fairly major drawback given the MG3 is destined to spend much of its time completing humdrum journeys around town.
Interior & comfort
That firm ride is the biggest barrier to comfort in the MG3, because otherwise it's a perfectly acceptable car to travel in. Many small cars simply don't offer enough support to avoid backaches on long journeys, but the seats in the MG3 are supportive enough to leave you feeling refreshed after several hundred miles.
The redesign of the interior for the facelifted model included massive improvements in layout and material quality. New dials feel and look better, and the inside of the MG3 feels a lot more modern as a result.
Every model in the MG3 range comes well equipped and offers good value. The entry-level Explore model has now been discontinued but even this car featured LED daytime running lights and Bluetooth.
The new opening model, Excite, adds 16-inch diamond cut alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Apple CarPlay, DAB radio, air conditioning, a leather steering wheel with remote audio controls, a rear spoiler and rear parking sensors.
The Exclusive Nav trim adds a six-speaker stereo, a reversing camera, cruise control and sports seats, and, since 2020, an iGO sat-nav system.
Along with six mostly bright paint colour options, the MG3 also gives you the chance to add contrast-coloured mirror caps, stripes and even a roof that’s meant to look like it’s made from carbon fibre.
Practicality & boot space
Given its city-car price tag, the MG3 is very practical. It has a huge amount of extra room inside compared to the similarly-priced Toyota Aygo or Kia Picanto, and matches the more expensive Corsa and Toyota Yaris. But the Dacia Sandero eclipses the lot with 328 litres of boot space.
Fold the MG's rear seats flat and luggage space stretches to 1,262 litres. There are also plenty of handy storage spaces and little cubbyholes dotted around the cabin.
The MG3 is only available as a five-door and the rear doors open widely, allowing excellent access to the back seats. Once inside, there's more than enough head and legroom for four adults, although as you'd expect with a car of this size, getting a fifth adult inside is a bit of a squeeze.
Reliability & safety
The MG3 was rated poorly for reliability in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey of cars currently on sale in the UK. Of the owners who responded, 35.6% reported experiencing a problem with their car at least once - the highest percentage of all the cars in the survey.
The MG3 does, however, come with a standard seven-year warranty and breakdown recovery – both of which should provide peace of mind for those considering ownership.
When the MG3 was put through the latest Euro NCAP crash tests in 2014, it only managed to scrape a three out of five rating. It scored 69% for adult protection, 71% for child protection, 59% for pedestrian protection and 38% in the safety assistance category. The crash test has got tougher each year since the MG3 was judged too.
One aspect of its poor score comes down to the fact it doesn’t feature some of the latest safety technology. For instance, the SEAT Ibiza – with a five-star score – gets autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard, automatically performing an emergency stop if its computers think a collision is unavoidable.
However, it does come with six airbags, a tyre pressure monitoring system and a clever system that wipes the brake discs when they’re wet, but there’s a long list of cars which score higher on safety in this class.