30 August 2012

Zimbabwe: Mg Makes a Comeback


There's no doubt that the MG brand name has cachet notwithstanding the fact that cars carrying the octagon-shaped badge haven't been around in the last 15 years.

The truth is that the Brits are quite partial to reminiscing and reminiscing tends to add a gloss to reality. Let's face it, the last MG, badged the F, was a pretty average piece of kit and the bulk of its progenitors were actually re-badged Rovers. You all know what happened to Rover.

And then there were the sports cars of the 50s, 60s and 70s (and earlier), among them the TD/TF range and the MGA - the twin cam version of which is best forgotten -followed by the MGB in various guises and the overweight and under-performing MGC. The "B" in fixed-head guise was a nice-looking piece of kit until it was slapped with hideous American "safety" bumpers, but it did the sum of nothing to advance technology, borrowing as it did from a hodge-podge of ordinary BMC bits and pieces.

So by now you will have gathered that this writer is not one of those who pays homage to the MG badge, but as I've already acknowledged, there are lots that do which is precisely why the name has been reincarnated in the shape of the MG6.

Chinese firm SAIC bought the rights to the Rover 25 and 75 models in 2004, and also now owns MG rights-holder, Nanjing Automotive. The MG6, in hatchback and saloon guises, owes some of its origins to the Rover 75 platform but is fresher than rumour would have you believe with most of the engineering carried out in Britain.

In South Africa, the CMH Group made the bold decision to import the MG6 and has set up dealerships in the major centres around SA. (I am not aware of any brand representation in Zimbabwe, but 24-month service intervals make this less of a problem,)The subject of this test is the MG6 Hatchback equipped with a 118kW 1,8 four cylinder turbo motor which definitely owes its origins to the once widely-used Rover K-Series engine.

Given the fresh and appealing body design, you'd never guess the history lurking underneath the skin, but if you like attention to detail, you'll like a number of things about the MG6 long before you get behind the wheel.

SAIC is a big player in China (local participation in car manufacture is compulsory) and manufactures other makes, not least a rather well known one which hails from Wolfsburg, Germany. Now everyone knows that VW is rather fussy about design detail and some of this, surprisingly, has rubbed off on the MG. Take the door stays, for example. VW's ingenious triple-position stay which features what I call a needle-bearing design, is good enough to be used in every modern Bentley and it's also used in the MG6. There's no cheap and weak rod here and neither is the bonnet held up by a nasty metal rod. Instead, twin gas struts are employed as they are on the tailgate lid.

Then take a look at how many rubber seals are fitted on the front doors - no less than three. And take a look at the panel gaps. With the exception of a marginally awry left rear door on the test car, the gaps were notably narrow and even and the body-colour bumpers butt up to the bodywork quite perfectly.

The good impressions were massively enhanced in my book by the excellent visual quality of the paintwork. Take a look around the rear number plate recess on most cars and you'll find an awful lot of orange peel in evidence. It's almost like a forgotten area but not so on the MG. On every example I inspected on the showroom floor, the paint in this recess was smooth and very glossy and so too were all the vertical panels which are also orange peel traps on most other cars. So, hats off to SAIC for the excellent external detail finish which is supplemented by 5-hole alloy wheels and front fogs set in a honeycomb grille. The question is, does this appeal extend to the interior? The answer is not definitive because parts are good, and parts are indifferent. The upper surfaces of the doors and dash, which is simple and neatly designed, are swathed in an unusual soft-touch, slightly rubbery looking material, interspersed with metallic finishes, but the lower reaches receive rather hard plastic cladding. Hidden away are four airbags.

The seats are extremely neatly upholstered in a good quality black cloth (which in this mid-range "Luxury" model, extends to the doors) but feature coarsely gradated backrest adjustment while the driver can play with height too. The main instrument binnacle is limited to two primary dials which are on the small side and although neatly marked, are rather coarsely calibrated. In the middle of the dash sits an LCD display which incorporates niceties such as outside temperature, date, a compass, a sound system and optional sat nav. Underneath is an unpleasant-feeling multi-switch which sorts out the info display and at the base of the central unit sit the aircon/ventilation controls which feature neat red graphics. Nearby is the door unlock/lock switch and the ESP switch while an excellent rotary headlight switch (no confusing stalks here) sits on the right and the bonnet release catch, inexplicably, on the left. As you'd expect, windows and mirrors are powered.

The neatly-finished and styled steering wheel is height adjustable and incorporates radio and cruise control functionality. Look around, and you'll find an assortment of bottle holders and binnacle in the doors. Look up to be greeted by a very good quality roof lining but look down and you'll notice average quality carpeting swathing the floor. Those in the back are well accommodated in a decently reclined, comfortable seat that offers very reasonable space and immediately behind them lurks a simply huge and easily accessible boot, the tailgate of which impinges badly on rear vision owing to its near-horizontal rake.

Driving the car is drama and fuss-free although the silly design of the handbrake release makes things a touch awkward in this area and the clutch on the test unit seemed to encourage stalling on take-off unless some slippage was consciously induced. The five-speed manual box shifted fine when warm but was a trifle notchy when cold, the power steering worked unobtrusively and the brakes, with ABS and EBD etc, were powerful and snatch-free.

A MacPherson strut front in combo with a multi-link rear provides very good road manners and good straight line stability and thanks to a stiff bodyshell and decent suppression of extraneous noises, the interior environment is nicely insulated although there's no way you'll keep out the sounds of the slightly coarse 1.8 Turbo four cylinder engine when its asked to stretch its legs.

Certainly, the MG doesn't want for performance but let's say it's not muscle-bound. Having said that, remember that at high altitude, the MG will have a distinct advantage over its normally aspirated rivals. Fuel consumption over a week of varied use worked out at just over 9l/100kms. There's also the issue of value for money. There are three Saloon iterations and three Fastback iterations on offer, each priced identically in RSA according to trim level as follows:

Comfort R229 900

Luxury R239 900

De Lux R269 900

The issue of choosing between saloon and fastback is very much a personal one but common perception says the saloon looks neater but the fastback's loading area and access is a boon. Readers will have gathered that emotional issues sourced in history don't gel with me and I therefore did my best to judge this car on what it offers in 2012 and not on what historians thought of the brand 50 years ago. The MG6 does have a lot going for it in that on a pure size/ equipment level, it offers a lot for the asking price, especially as far as the "base" Comfort models are concerned.

I suspect the added cost of frills such as leather will soon be lost to any purchaser, so stick to the basics and you shouldn't be disappointed.

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