MG 3 1.5 facelift (2018) review

The MG 3 has received some significant updates both on and under the skin, but it isn’t the best of efforts yet.

What’s new?

Although the MG 3 is already seven years old in its current generation when sold in China, it’s only three years old in Thailand.

Which is why the Chinese-owned British nameplate has decided to exercise a “mid-life” update of its B-segment five-door hatchback here.

Mind, though, the revisions are quite on the comprehensive side of things because it not only involves cosmetic changes but also mechanical upgrades.

The biggest alteration on the skin is the face which now comes in line with other new models like the ZS SUV including a big front grille and pronounced-looking head lamps.

The interior of the MG 3 has also been revamped with a new steering wheel and dashboard to accommodate the latest iSmart infotainment featuring voice control in both English and Thai languages.

A new petrol engine with a familiar size appears under the bonnet of the MG 3 that can sip E85 gasohol. Outputs for the 1.5-litre four-cylinder are rated at 112hp and 150Nm representing increases of some 6hp and 15Nm over the outgoing one. It’s actually shared with the ZS albeit slightly different outputs to suit its own style of driving.

Replacing the five-speed automated manual gearbox, aka single-clutch auto, is four-speed torque-convertor automatic with manual override.

There are four grades to choose from ranging from 519,000-629,000 baht, around 30-50k dearer than before. Tested here is the range-topping V model coming with two-tone exterior, 16-inch wheels, sunroof and 8in touchscreen, as such.

The MG 3 basically competes in the price vicinity of Ecocar-labelled hatchbacks like the Mazda 2, Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris, although it’s taxed as a non-Ecocar with a 20% rate rather than 14-17%.

What’s cool?

Ever since the MG 3 was launched in Thailand since 2015, one of its main selling points was appearance especially with the availability of two-tone exterior. It continues today with additional zest coming from the facelifted nose.

The same goes for the interior that has a funky ambience when compared to the far more bland cabins of its Japanese rivals. The new steering wheel feels better to hold onto than before.

Speaking of the interior, the iSmart system now appears to be working more reliably, unlike what we experienced in the ZS SUV earlier this year. Two new useful apps have been added to iSmart: internet radio and food/travel guide.

The biggest improvement in the mechanical department isn’t the marginally uprated engine. It’s that transmission that now shifts with the proper smoothness buyers in general can come to expect of.

Although the chassis remains unchanged, it still delivers a decent handling and ride balance enough to soothe drivers from those aforementioned opposition.

What’s not?

While the interior is quite nice on the eyes, it isn’t particularly so when it comes to tactile quality. Despite some new soft-touch materials having already appeared in the ZS, the hard and hollow type is still used vastly in the MG 3.

And speaking of the new fascia, the touchscreen is set too low making driving ergonomics not that ideal (or the seat is set too high).

Sure, the decision to extend a more modern automatic to the MG 3 is welcome, but there are only four forward ratios reducing its in-gear acceleration and fuel-saving abilities. With a rating of some 15kpl like before, it’s no match for those 20kpl-plus Mazda 2 and Swift.

It’s not that MG hasn’t gotten any new gearbox tech available. A six-speed torque-converter can be found in the MG 5 and seven-speed dual-clutch in the GS. 

Probably, MG has been merely been content that the MG 3 can achieve no more than 150g/km of CO2 to remain in the lowest bracket for non-Ecocars with conventional combustion engines. Moreover, the MG 3’s attractive prices could have only been made possible with old drivetrain tech.

Space-wise, the MG 3 is better than most of its intended rivals but short of the Nissan Note, which is all about practicality and bland driving manners. 

Two downsides inherent ever since the MG 3’s inception are heavy steering at low speeds and excessive wind noise penetrating the A-pillars when cruising on the highway.

Buy or bye?

The MG 3 has its fans and is likely to continue appealing to them. And given that a smooth power delivery is now available in the MG 3, buyers should be happy that they don’t have to bear with a jerky-shifting auto anymore.

But for punters who are open to other brands without feeling the need to look special, the MG 3 still is inferior to the similarly priced competition in terms of blending performance and economy to a more acceptable and relevant level.

The MG 3 feels like a low-tech car dressed up with bright colours to attract drivers who don’t really care what’s under the skin. In other words, the MG 3 still isn’t good enough to stand out.

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