MG6 Magnette Sports Saloon Road Test

Trying to break into a new marketplace is never easy – and it’s a damn site harder when it’s the ultra-competitive car market. That, though, is effectively what MG is trying to do as the company’s Chinese owners return to the table with the first new models to wear the MG badge in 16 years.

Their task is made even harder by the history involved here.

MagnetteThe messy demise of the previous company cost the brand a lot of the goodwill and then there was the, perhaps understandable, scepticism as the Far Eastern conglomerates stepped in to pick over the wreckage.

However, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation seem to be taking the right steps to woo the army of MG followers back. They have set up their UK headquarters in what is retained of the Longbridge plant, which had become the marque’s home before its collapse.

The Birmingham site now also features a recently opened showroom where you can buy the new breed of anglo-oriental MGs. Currently that means just the MG6, although more models are in the pipeline, and the naming of this sports saloon version should strike another positive chord, doffing its cap as it does to MG’s proud history.

The Magnette is a name that is steeped in the brand’s tradition, and its four-door saloons in particular, having been used initially on the K Type in the 1930s and then re-introduced on the MG ZA and ZB in the 1950s and 60s. This latest incarnation is basically the same car as the GT hatchback, the first version of the 6 to hit the roads, but with a boot.

It is a very big boot for a compact saloon though and the fact that the MG publicity blurb makes much of its ability to swallow not one, but two sets of golf clubs tells you something about where they are heading with this motor.

Although not setting over ambitious sales targets, they are hoping the MG6 Magnette will catch the eye of executives and company car drivers who might otherwise be looking at German alternatives – clearly hoping to plug into some jingoistic buy British spirit. However, although the 6 is the baby of the Birmingham-based design team it is, strictly speaking, made in China and then bolted together at Longbridge after it is shipped over in kit form.

Powered by the same 1.8 litre turbocharged petrol power train as the GT and boasting the same chassis and suspension means that you get good mid-range pace and some very sharp handling. The set-up is definitely on the sporty side and makes for a fun and engaging drive while the ride manages to stay on the comfortable side of firm.

Fuel economy and emissions figures could be better, and may put off some business users, but there is a diesel version due next year which should address some of these concerns. The cabin, though, is spacious and comfortable with more than enough room for the whole family and plenty of storage options, drinks holders, etc, dotted about the place too.

Equipment levels are very impressive in all three trim levels but little or nothing is missing in this range-topping TSE which includes a stereo with aux-in, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, satnav, climate control, front and rear parking sensors, rear parking camera, cruise control, leather upholstery, electric windows all round and an electric sunroof.

It is a shame that all this kit is let down by some low end materials on the dash and some quirky design features – such as the fiddly hand brake arrangement which led to me painfully cracking my thumb more than once!

On balance, though, there is enough good stuff here to outweigh these niggles and the MG6, while not the finished article, does show some serious promise for the reborn MG brand.

Price: £19,995
Mechanical: 158bhp, 1,796cc petrol engine driving front wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission
Max Speed: 120mph
0-60mph: 8.4 seconds
Combined mpg: 35.6
Insurance Group: 14
CO2 emissions: 184g/km
Bik rating: 26%
Warranty: 3 year/60,000 miles