Good to be back for MG

Former MG Metro owner Andy Russell says it's good to see the brand back on the road.

It was during first MG renaissance that, as an impressionable young man, I bought one of the first MG Metros in the early Eighties.

It was the bee's knees at the time, turning the original Metro, which was then made by British Leyland, into something special. It continued under Rover's stewardship and worked well with MG versions of the 25, 45 and 75... until the car-maker came to the end of the road.

Purists would say they weren't true MGs – although I suspect original MG Metros, especially a turbo one, would now be classed as classic cars – but at least they kept the iconic octagonal badge going.

And now in something that sounds like a movie sequel, it's 'MG Rides Again 2' with the first new car in 16 years. It sees the famous British brand making another comeback, albeit built in China under new owners Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (which made 3.58 million of the 18 million cars sold in China last year) with final assembly in Birmingham. It's nothing like the scale of the old Longbridge operation but next year will see the MG6 joined by a smaller MG3 and MG5.

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The MG6 is available as a GT sports fastback – hatchback to most people – while the Magnette name has been revived for the saloon version.

On first appearance the MG6 scores well with smart, attractive styling and those good looks get it noticed as much as the badge. It is hoped that with the MG6 fitting sizewise between the likes of the Ford Focus and bigger Mondeo it will give it broader customer appeal.

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Despite looks being important, MGs are much more about the way they drive and the MG6 certainly feels sporty.

It is currently available with only a 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine – a 1.9-litre diesel will become available late next year – which could put off the business-users MG is also targeting with the high emissions reflected in bigger tax bills for company car drivers.

The turbo petrol is not all about revving it hard to get the best out of it. The engine is very flexible with good mid-range performance and I preferred using the low-down pulling power with maximum torque available from 1,750 to 4,500rpm – ideal for real-word driving – and helping to 36mpg overall. Work the engine hard and it spins freely to unleash its 160 horses but gets gruff and vocal at the top end. While many rivals have a six-speed manual gearbox, the MG6 makes do with five and that's no bad thing given that the shift is rather notchy if hurried.

The MG6 is a car that drives better as the speed builds. At low speed, in traffic and when parking, you notice that the steering takes a bit more effort than usual to turn the wheels but get the MG6 on the open road and it's more in its element. It holds the road well, with good body control through corners and the steering feels precise and accurate which adds to the taut and tidy feel on meandering cross-country routes. Despite being biased towards handling, the firmish suspension is supple enough to make the MG6 a comfortable long-distance cruiser although it can feel a little unsettled on poor roads and there is noticeable tyre noise.

Inside there won't be any complaints about the amount of space. The cabin is airy with good leg and headroom in the back for three adults, although the middle passenger has to straddle the chunky transmission tunnel. The hatchback also boasts a decent, well-shaped, 472-litre boot but the high sill makes loading heavy items trickier. If you need more load space the rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat but slightly proud of the boot floor.

The cabin seems well put together with no creaks or rattles but, given that this is an MG, it's not exciting – in fact, the straightforward fascia feels quite dated although you can't fault the clarity of the instruments and ease of use of the big control buttons. There's also a lot of hard plastic but at least it looks nicely textured, if not particularly tactile.

It's too early to assess the MG6's reliability but my test car suffered three one-off glitches – the engine check warning light came on for a few seconds on one journey, the radio switched off for no reason and came back on on a different station and a warning light told me the traction and stability control had failed in slow-moving traffic but when I restarted the engine it did not come on again. Not major problems but annoying niggles.

What makes the MG6 really appealing though is the generous standard kit – entry S model gets alloy wheels, air-conditioning, four electric windows, radio/CD with USB port and jackpoint, front and side airbags, traction control and hill-hold control. SE adds satellite navigation, rear parking sensors and cruise control while TSE further gains leather seats, full-colour sat-nav, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth.

It's good to have MG back and it's still early days. The MG6 is not without its faults but it's well priced, well equipped and has badge appeal.

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