MG saloon offers magnetic charm

THE MG brand has a huge amount of heritage in this country, stretching back to the 1920s. Given the upheaval that MG has seen over the last decade, passing between owners and business plans, it’s time for the company to set down deep roots again.

Following the revival of the sharp-handling MG TF in 2007, the MG6 took its place as the brand’s sole model in the UK earlier this year, first with a hatchback and later with this, the Magnette saloon.

It’s a D-segment car in aspiration, designed as an alternative to the mainstream Mondeos and Insignias.

It’s also intended to be more involving and satisfying to drive, and that’s no mean feat for a company with limited resources. They’ve aimed to do it by keeping the manufacturing process as simple as possible, reducing production costs.

For a start there’s only one engine: a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol that hints at MG’s current parent company’s influence.

It’s a modestly powerful affair with 158bhp and 159lb ft, which shows an under-stressed set of components.

MG has adopted the sensible approach of its Chinese owners in producing an engine that will be reliable, to help win the trust of buyers and to help start the process of restoring MG to its former glory.

The fact that petrol is around 10p cheaper per litre than diesel is handy, too.

The Magnette is a very different kettle of fish to its rivals, costing a lot less and offering a huge amount of standard equipment.

The GT ‘fastback’ hatchback and the Magnette saloon are both on sale in three trim levels, starting with S and stepping up to SE.

But even the highest TSE version of the more expensive Magnette, with all the bells and whistles, costs £19,995 before haggling.

So for less than the price of a fairly low-spec mainstream rival, the MG6 offers satellite navigation, Bluetooth, leather sports seats, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, 18in alloys, dual zone climate control and one-touch electric windows all round.

In terms of spec, there are some small differences, like the Magnette TSE comes with an electric sunroof over and above the GT TSE, but either way the MG6 offers incredible value for money.

All this kit is included to make the MG6 as luxurious as possible, but for such a bargain asking price there are going to have to be concessions. Not as many as you’d think, though, because MG has much lower overheads to cover than in the old days.

The only corners that have been cut in the cabin are the plastics used for a few key areas, like on the handbrake and gear lever gaiter. The latter is a particular lowlight but you get used to it, given the relative price of the car.

It’s a substantial beast, the MG6, and the way the dashboard and door lines enclose you makes it feel doubly so. It’s a genuinely pleasant place to sit, and your expectations are more than met by the wealth of gadgets.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, comes when the car is moving. It feels old-fashioned, but in a likeable sort of way, with heavy controls and a slightly notchy gear change. It forces you to be involved with the drive, which will really suit the closet petrolheads in the audience.

On top of all its rustic charm as you push second gear through to third with a firm jab, it’s a good drive. It has balance thanks to a relatively light front end compared to the average diesel company car, and that heavy steering gives a healthy supply of feel.

It’s not as lively as the old rear-wheel drive TF of course, but in a heavy-handed, stereotypically manly sort of way the MG6 is surprisingly enjoyable on the twisty bits.

At speed the smooth petrol engine shows its relative lack of urge, but it’s quiet enough to allow a little wind and road noise to penetrate the cabin. Despite a low-tech five-speed gearbox the gears are spaced very well, allowing a relaxed engine speed on the motorway.

There’s an awful lot to like about the MG6, whichever boot you have on it. The GT hatch looks the better value, but the Magnette has slightly better proportions around the back end.

Most importantly, the MG6 offers something very different to the other options out there, and it’s an old-school breath of fresh air.