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MG6 Magnette 1.8 T TSE review (2011 onwards)
Model: MG6 Magnette 1.8 T TSE
Bodystyle: four-door saloon
Engine: 1.8-litre turbo petrol
Transmission: five-speed manual
Date of test: August 2011
What is it?
Patriotic buyers seeing a cut-price junior executive saloon with a premium badge are now in luck. Reborn MG Motor has launched the saloon version of its new MG6 hatch.
The MG6 Magnette revives a name from the past but, as with the hatch, is a model with an eye on the future: it is charged with re-establishing MG in the marketplace. The part-British, part-Chinese brand has high hopes the saloon will help further its fledgling plans.
It's a traditional hatch-to-saloon conversion: it's the same right up until the tip of the rear doors, after which, the Magnette gains its own three-box rear deck. To our eyes, it actually looks smarter than the hatchback, proving a better balanced design overall. MG probably agrees: that's why the saloon costs £500 more than the hatch.
Where does it fit?
Rivals to the MG6 hatch (now renamed MG6 GT) are obvious - Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra. Things are more interesting for the MG6 Magnette. Clearly, the Volkswagen Jetta and Volvo S40 are natural alternatives - but MG itself has also recalled how the badge used to carry premium car clout, and is looking to revive this.
It therefore describes the Magnette as 'an affordable, British alternative' to more expensive German and Italian sports saloons: think BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Alfa Romeo 159. Ambitious and bold aims, that you may sniff at, until you note that the MG costs up to £8,000 less than the cheapest petrol versions of those cars...
Is it for you?
Despite the dubious efforts of many, the MG badge still carries some currency (even though the UK-designed, UK-assembled car is made in China). It may be tarnished, but there's still an appeal there you don't get from a Kia or a Hyundai - and it is this that MG Motor is hoping to build on.
It certainly carries presence. This is a large car, similar in size to an Audi A4, which is offered in three very well stocked trims: S, SE and the TSE test car. All are very well equipped: the test TSE boasted standard colour sat nav, climate control, leather, electric seats, and colour reversing camera.
However, right now, the MG6 Magnette is not for the masses. The glaring lack of diesel engine sees to that. But as a modern, well-stocked, smart-looking relaunch for the historic brand, it's a worthy car that's going to win some friends. After something a bit different, with a bit more image than the norm, but only have basic Ford Focus money to spend? Then the Magnette may be for you...
What does it do well?
It's much better than you'd think. In many ways, it's average-to-quite-good - and if this sounds like damming with faint praise, it's not. For MG to have a class-competitive car straight from the off is actually a bit of a result. The assumption of some is that it's a clunker. It's not.
The cabin is functional and it's both easy to operate and to live with. Practicality has been well considered (the boot is long, the rear seatbacks fold flat) and there's certainly nothing that jars inside. It hasn't got the luxury finish of the older MG ZT but the plastics are solid enough, and they're better on this car than the first pre-launch examples we saw.
Of particular interest to British drivers is its very well-sorted handling. The Magnette's poise, feel and engagement are up with the Ford Focus for appeal. The ride is firm as a result but good body control helps keep wallow at bay, meaning it's pretty good at high speed motoring. With 160hp, keeping speeds up is easy thanks to the turbo engine's 158lb.ft torque (impressively spread between 1,750-4,500rpm).
What doesn't it do well?
That it doesn't have a diesel engine is bad enough. The fact its sole petrol engine is an aged 1.8-litre turbo fully ensures a fun drive is spoiled by a poor drivetrain. The engine is, by modern standards, gruff and noisy and, bizarrely, the accelerator is much too sharp, so you can't avoid revving it noisily when pulling away. With a gruff rev flare at startup, it irritates before you even set off.
The gearbox (five speed only) is heavy and notchy, complementing steering that is also too weighty. The pedals are offset to the right and the weighty handbrake lever is a matter of style over actual usability. The drive is also spoiled by seats that are too high and firmly overstuffed: it would be a much nicer car with some of the great MG seats of old.
What's it like to live with
It's well known the MG6 is a Chinese-market car that's crossed the world into Britain. What takes many by surprise is the feel of substance it offers. Again, it's not cutting-edge, but feels similar to that of last-generation Kia and Hyundai products. You know, the cars that launched the 5-year and 7-year warranties... we thus have no issues with quality.
We do find some of the systems irritating though. To start the car, you press the starter key fob - but if you don't do it in one action, it won't start until you remove it and try it again. On startup, the test TSE's auto wipers did a single sweep, even in the dry. The trip computer steering wheel scrollers are over-sensitive. The climate control blows a cold chill even when set to 25deg.
No, the details still require work. Even warning lights niggle: an ominous red light glows constantly, looking like the car has a major engine problem, even though it's simply advising the doors have auto-locked. They're all minor issues, but irritations such as this are what can turn people off even fundamentally well sorted cars...
The MG6 Magnette is, however, very cheap to insure. It has an low insurance group rating of just 14 - rivals boast ratings double that. It's so low because MG has restricted the car's top speed to 120mph, which has won praise from those who set insurance groups.
How green is it?
Green? No, not really. There's no diesel for starters, and the thirsty petrol engine can only average 35.8mpg. A 170hp BMW 320i can average 46.3mpg: that's a measure of how off the pace the MG6's engine is (at least a large 65-litre fuel tank ensures range doesn't suffer too much).
CO2 emissions of 184g/km are also far from clever. That BMW 320i emits just 146g/km - the MG may be cheap but with emissions like this, it won't find favour with the company car users who buy the cars it considers rivals. Getting emissions under 160g/km at the very least should be a priority for MG.
Would we buy it?
We would if there were a diesel engine option. As it stands, we wouldn't, although we do acknowledge the reborn MG6's attributes - and they're qualities Brit buyers will like, including tidy handling, good looks and lots of equipment as standard.
However, the noisy, lumpy engine is just too off the pace in the modern age, and far from green enough. MG knows this too: that's why it's working on an in-house diesel engine as we speak. It's due out in a year's time. Come back then to see if it turns the MG6 Magnette into a winner...
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