“New Zealand’s cheapest new car” is a title that’s been held by many over the years. Currently, the title is held by the MG3 Core – a 5-door small hatchback, a common design for the cheapest new car. Some say it’s actually the Suzuki Baleno 1.4, but that only undercuts the MG3 once you receive your Clean Car Discount back from the government.

With a brave hand up, MG New Zealand suggested DriveLife fly to Auckland and pick one up, and drive it back to Wellington. Not only would this small car be subjected to a trip it wouldn’t normally do, but as part of our Project V8 Sunbeam Rapier, we’ll be diverting to Hawera on the way down to work on our project car, then home to Wellington, all adding to the total miles driven. Since we’ve got the car for a couple of weeks, it will also filter through the hands of other DriveLife motoring journalists.

We love small, cheap cars here at DriveLife. They have something to prove, and can often be an excellent alternative to a used car. Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of times friends/friends of friends have asked for second-hand car buying advice, often looking to pay $15-$20K for a 5-year-old used import with 80,000K on the clock, not realising they can have a brand-new car for the same money.

And that brand-new car? It comes with a decent warranty compared to any used car. In great favour of all MGs sold new here, they now come with a 7-year warranty, 7 years of Roadside Assist, and 7 years of WoFs. That used-car deal just got worse.

Follow DriveLife as we put the 2021 MG3 Core through 1,200Km of testing.

What We Like and Dislike About The 2021 MG3 Core

What we likeWhat we don’t like
Price
Relative build quality
Equipment levels vs. cost
Space
Seat comfort
Outstanding warranty
Pleasing design
Can be a bit lethargic
Speedo busy
3-star safety rating
Ride can be harsh
Older design overall 

What’s In The 2021 MG3 Range?

There are two MG3 models to choose from, the $19,490 Core (base model) and the $21,490 Excite. Both are very well equipped for the money, with the Core having nearly all the features of the Excite. MG says that these are the drive-away prices, so they include registration.

Base equipment includes:

  • Hill Start Assist
  • Cruise control
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Air Conditioning
  • Electric door mirror adjustment
  • Height adjustable steering wheel
  • Reversing camera
  • 4 Speaker audio system w/ Bluetooth, USB & Front Yamaha Sound Field
  • 8” Multi-function colour touch-screen with Apple CarPlay
  • Trip computer
  • Tyre pressure monitoring system
  • Leather steering wheel
  • 15”alloy wheels
  • Projector halogen headlamps
  • Rear fog light
  • LED ‘London Eye’ daytime running lights
  • Automatic headlights
  • Follow me home delayed headlight illumination
  • Height adjusting driver’s seat

You can see we’ve included some pretty basic features there like a height-adjustable driver’s seat, but we did that to show that the MG3 isn’t exactly cut down to the bare bones.

For $2,000 more, the Excite adds:

  • Driver and passenger sun visors with vanity mirrors
  • Climate Air Conditioning
  • 6 Speaker audio system with Bluetooth, USB & Full Yamaha 3D Sound Field
  • 16” alloy wheels
  • Body-coloured door mirrors with integrated turn signals
  • Chrome lower bumper accent
  • Side Sill Extensions
  • A rear spoiler
  • Synthetic leather and tartan fabric trim with contrasting stitching detail

Mechanically, the cars are identical with a 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine that manages 82kW of power and 150Nm of torque, mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Combined fuel economy is suggested at 6.7L/100km with CO2 emissions at 159g/km.

You get to choose from 6 colours for your new MG3:

  • Dover White
  • Pebble Black
  • Tudor Yellow
  • Regal Blue Metallic
  • Tartan Red Metallic
  • Sky Silver Metallic

You can pick from any colour and it won’t cost you a cent more. In your face, Tesla Model 3, and many other makes and models.

Just so you know, that 7-year warranty is transferable, if you sell your MG3 to someone else: https://mgmotor.co.nz/owners/warranty/

For a full list of specs and options available for the MG3 head on over to the MG New Zealand website.

How Does The 2021 MG3 Core Compare To Its Competition?

The most power and the most torque, with the cheapest price? The MG3 Core scores well in our comparison chart.

Make/ Model
(all automatic petrol models)
EnginePower/Torque
kW/Nm
SeatsFuel
L/100km
Boot
Space
litres
Price
Kia Rio LX1.4-litre 4-cylinder74/13356.7325$25,990
Suzuki Ignis GLX1.2-litre 4-cylinder 66/12044.9271$23,990
Suzuki Swift GL1.2-litre 4-cylinder 66/12054.8242$23,990
Suzuki Baleno GLX1.4-litre 4-cylinder 68/13055.4355$22,500
Kia Picanto LX1.3-litre 4-cylinder62/12255.8255$20,990
Mitsubishi Mirage XLS1.2-litre 3-cylinder 58/10255.0235$19,990
MG3 Core1.5-litre, 4-cylinder82/15056.7307$19,490*

Note: Price does not include the Clean Car Discount (where applicable)

* Includes on-road costs

First Impressions Of The 2021 MG3 Core

Finished in Tartan Red Metallic, our test car looked sharp and crisp. It’s a mix of shapes, but a good mix. I’ve got to say, the rear of the car reminds me of a Fiat Punto, with its taillights rising right up to the roof.

It certainly doesn’t look like a cheap car, and while I was told stories from a few people of “there will be no paint under the bonnet, or even under the doors”, they were wrong. In comparison to say the Suzuki Ignis, that metallic paint was under the bonnet and the doors, and only peering into the inner guards did I see no top coat – but then, this is no different to any other car.

Shut lines? Very good, nicely even and no huge gaps. The build quality of this Chinese car could surprise many naysayers who have memories of cars like the Chinese-built Chery J3 and J11.

The MG3 Core is a funky little car, not as good-looking as the Mazda2, and not as funky as the Ignis or even the Suzuki Swift, but is still pleasing to the eye (and your wallet).

What’s The Interior Like In 2021 MG3 Core?

First impressions of the interior are good, too. It’s a light, airy cabin with beige headlining and a tartan design on the seats. The side windows are quite big too, so while this is a small hatchback, it sure doesn’t feel it.

While there are cars out there that are cheaper to buy but can feel cheap, the MG3 Core does not. There is a good mix of textures in the cabin, and MG has really tried hard with the dashboard, adding some details and design to it so it isn’t just a big flat slab of black plastic.

The MG3 simply does not feel cheap inside, and memories of the terrible build quality on the Chery J11 faded instantly. Everything is well made and well finished, and panel gaps are minimal.

Equipment levels are very good for the price; While the MG3 Core (or Excite) doesn’t have Android Auto you do get Apple Car Play, a leather steering wheel, power windows with auto up/down for the driver, air-con, 4-speaker audio system, a reversing camera with dynamic guidelines, height-adjustable steering wheel and driver’s seat. In the front, there’s access to a 12-volt socket and a single USB-A socket. Above these are the air-con controls, all very simple and easy to use.

Storage is surprisingly good, with little cubbies and nooks around the cabin, and reasonably sized door pockets, my large drink bottle slipping easily in.

Then there’s the cabin space. Rear-seat passengers have good leg and headroom, and honestly, I’d be happy enough to ride in the back seat on a Wellington – Auckland trip. The boot is relatively spacious at 307 litres, and in a move that puts other small and even mid-sized cars to shame, there’s a full-size steel spare under the floor. 

What’s The 2021 MG3 Core Like To Drive?

You couldn’t get too much more ‘new’ than our test car, with just 250Km on the clock. I picked the car up in Auckland, ready for a 400Km drive to Hawera to work on our project car for the weekend, then another 300Km back to Wellington 2 days later. While this is definitely taking the MG3 out of its comfort zone – it is a city car, after all – it would be a great test for this small, cheap hatchback.

With 507Km of range showing for a full tank of gas, I hit the motorway from the Auckland Harbour Bridge. First impressions are pretty good. You can feel that having only a 4-speed auto is going to be its Achilles Heel, but overall it keeps up with other traffic easily. Changing lanes and giving the car a bit of boot will see it change down to 3rd gear most of the time, so it will be interesting to see our eventual fuel consumption on this trip. Thankfully, the engine is pretty smooth, right out to the 7,000rpm redline. It can get a little noisy over 4,000rpm, but it’s not loud enough to make you feel like you need to back off.

While the MG3 has 150Nm of torque, I’ll be honest and say it doesn’t really feel like it has anything like 150Nm. Part of this is that maximum torque is reached at 4,500rpm, so you do need to rev this car out to get the most out of it.

Still, cruising at 100Km/h on the motorway is too easy, with far less wind noise than I had expected. The MG3 Core sits well in its lane, although the steering can be a little vague at times. But for its cost, this car would be an excellent commuter – disregarding the 4-speed auto – with great visibility out, light controls and genuine ease of driving.

While wind noise is very well subdued, there is a reasonable amount of tyre noise, especially on coarse chip seal. The ride quality is variable; at times it’s quite pleasant and then you hit a sharp bump, and crashing noises come into the cabin. This may be a time when it’s worth upgrading to the top-spec model with its 16″ alloy wheels. They might make a difference.

On the road, the audio system proves very usable, although bass is lacking badly. This is one part of the car that can feel cheap. Speaking of audio, the steering wheel controls are excellent. They’re all there in one spot on the steering wheel on the left side, along with phone controls. On the right-hand side of the wheel are the cruise controls, and it did take long for me to not look at the wheel to see which button I was pushing.

While the MG3 Core does have cruise, it’s obviously not adaptive at this price but it works well enough, and I used it often on the way to Hawera. It holds its speed well, even up long hills.

The speedo in this car could be better. It’s maxed out at 200Km/h (!) but there’s no 50Km/h marking, and the numbers are fairly close together. Since there’s no digital speedometer, you are relying on the ‘normal’ speedo to keep things in check. This is one thing I wish was better on this car, as I could not tell at a short glance what my speed was.

Rain hit south of Hamilton, and yet still the little MG3 soldiered on, not a care in the world. I was growing to like this cheap new car more by the mile, I kid you not. While it has automatic headlights, it doesn’t have auto wipers, but I’m sure we can all cope with turning the wipers off and on manually. There are adjustable intermittent settings, of course.

Cruising towards Hawera, I think I spent more time in roadworks than I did driving. But finally, in Awakino Gorge, I got a clear road with no traffic and no roadworks. While this car isn’t made to handle the twisty bits, it was very, very good. It stuck, the steering was okay, body roll was minimal and dare I say it…it was a fun car. It’s no Fiesta ST, but again I was more than happy to be driving this car in a variety of conditions on a long road trip. You do need to stoke it along with the gear lever in manual for those twisty bits, as it needs its revs help up to get the most out of it. Let them drop too low and there’s a lull while it picks up again. The gear lever itself does fall nicely to hand though; its positioning is perfect.

You can move the gear lever to the right and then manually select gears, and hold them, but if you simply move the lever to the right, an ‘S’ appears on the display, which you would presume is a Sport mode. However, it didn’t seem to make any difference at all to driving the car. There was no manual in our test car so I couldn’t check that this is actually Sport mode.

Arriving in Hawera, and no aches from those seats – another surprise. Although I stopped now and then on the way down for coffee and toilet breaks, I had expected to be in some sort of pain. Sorry MG3, I prejudged you, and the seats were just fine on a 400Km trip. Fuel economy for this stint was 7.0L/100km over a 6.5-hour drive (darn those road works!), which is a bit higher than the suggested 5.3 for ‘highway’ driving conditions.

Hitting the road after two days, the MG3 Core and I headed home, eventually running out of daylight. While I was still loving this little car, there were some good and not so good points I found on the 300Km drive back to Wellington. The 8” centre screen is really crisp – in fact, it’s better in quality than the Lexus UX300e I had driven to Hawera only weeks beforehand. But it’s so bright at night, even if you manually select ‘night mode’ from the settings. Eventually, I turned the screen off in the settings as it was too blinding.

The driver’s footrest is only made for very tall people. It’s there, but for your average-height person, it feels like it’s not. If it were my car, I’d be buying one from PickaPart and installing it. On the good side of things, if you get out of the car, it will beep at you if the handbrake isn’t on. I like this – great safety feature – and it showed me just how often I was doing this. Lesson learnt. The MG3 Core comes with projector headlamps, and they are excellent for a car at this price.

Closer to home, I hit Transmission Gully on the first Sunday that it was open. Going up the first hill to the saddle, that 4-speed automatic started hunting up and down the gearbox, 4-3-4-3 etc. I moved the lever over, and left it in third gear, and all was well. It would be the same scenario with any other small hatchback with a 4-speed automatic. Passing slower traffic up to the Saddle showed the car can run out of puff at the top end, but there is only 82kW of power available. The city is its hunting ground, but it can still cope with other routes.

I think one of the key takeaways for me for the MG3 Core is that it does feel like you are driving a car of an older design, because it is. It has none of the latest gen suspension/engine/tech. If you take that into account, then you understand the car more.

Transmission Gully over, the MG3 and I headed home, covering 740Km since leaving Auckland. My eventual fuel economy for that trip was 6.7L/100Km, exactly what MG suggests the car should get for a combined result. After I drove the car around town for a few days, Rob and Alistair each took it for a few days. The total mileage ended up at 1,262 and the average fuel consumption 7.2L/100Km.

[Alistair’s Point Of View]

Let’s be clear about this at the outset. The MG3 was not a car designed for me.

Why? Well, it’s simply because I’m not in the target audience. The young ladies (and the old) featured in the advertising indirectly confirm my presumption. You might think I’d have few nice words for the MG3, but it’d be unfair to heap criticism onto the MG3, purely because the appeal is lost on me.

The MG3 was never designed to be the world’s greatest car. You aren’t buying it to impress your neighbours, nor would you consider it for how it drives. The reason you’d buy an MG3 is to enjoy the benefits of owning a new car, without paying the price that a new car would usually command. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

So, what did I actually think of the MG3? Fundamentally, the MG3 is designed to a cost. The inside is cheap, but better assembled than many competitors. The infotainment is simple, but it works. The front seats were surprisingly comfortable.

As for the driving experience? The ride quality was better than I expected. Otherwise, you could possibly reconstruct Transmission Gully before the MG3 reaches its top speed. Annoyingly, the steering is weighty at low-speed, meaning parking manoeuvres are more difficult than they should be for a car with these dimensions.

The most compelling part of the package is the seven-year manufacturer’s warranty, which is a huge vote of confidence from MG’s Chinese parent company, SAIC. Although, the “TBD” status of the MG3’s ANCAP safety rating casts a shadow, which might deter the already tentative.

Another issue, surprisingly, is the price. Until recently, the MG3 was the cheapest new car in New Zealand. It was until the NZ Clean Car rebate scheme upended that. The MG3 isn’t eligible for a rebate, whereas some competitors are. Because of this, the MG3 is in a precarious position. Instead of an MG, you could get a Suzuki Swift GL for virtually the same price. The Swift has 4-star safety rating, better fuel efficiency and a well-established dealer network in New Zealand.

If the MG can get a good safety rating, the spot-light may return. But, until then, new regulations have stolen the MG3’s thunder. 

[Rob’s Point Of View]

For me, the MG3 Core can be summed up for me in two words: cheap and unrefined. Sure it’s fantastic value, and the warranty is class-leading, but the overall package leaves you wishing that it was just a little nicer. The steering wheel is great and gives a good first impression. But then the symbols by the gear lever don’t line up with its positions and you end up in neutral by mistake, as it moves way farther back than expected.

The engine is noisy and hard to drive smoothly, the steering is a little bit vague, the suspension is too firm and uncomfortable, the stereo has less bass than my $100 Bluetooth speaker, and the speedo has New Zealand’s most popular speed limits in the smallest font.

It does all of the things a car should do but none of them particularly well compared to the competition. If you’re willing to put up with the cheapness for a long warranty then go for it, but it’ll be a long seven years.

2021 MG3 Core – Specifications

Vehicle TypeSmall, 5-door hatchback
Starting Price$19,490
Price as Tested$19,490
Engine1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Power, Torque
kW/Nm
82/150
Transmission4-speed automatic
Spare WheelFull-size spare (steel)
Kerb Weight, Kg1,170
Length x Width x Height
mm
4055x1729x1504
Boot Space / Cargo Capacity,
Litres

(seats up/seats down)
307/1081
Fuel tank capacity,
litres
45
Fuel Economy,
L/100km
Advertised Spec – Combined – 6.7
Real-World Test – Combined – 7.2
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing Capacity
Kg, unbraked/braked
200 / not stated
Turning circle,
metres
NA
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
Warranty7-year warranty
7 years Roadside Assist
7 years WoF Checks
Safety InformationANCAP Rating – unrated
Rightcar.govt.nz – 3 Stars – PDB328

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Thanks to Carlucci Land for letting us use their location for photos.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Driver Tech
5
Economy
7
Handling
7
Infotainment
6
Interior
7
Performance
6
Ride
6
Safety
4
Styling
7
Value
10
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.
<!-- wp:paragraph --> <p>The 2021 MG3 could not be more simple and honest than it is. While the 4-speed automatic is not ideal, the car gets by just fine, and at this price, 4 speeds are all I was expecting. It was interesting to read Rob’s view on the car, compared to mine. He spent two days in the car, I spent seven. Was it a case of the car growing on me, because of that? Quite likely.</p> <!-- /wp:paragraph --><!-- wp:paragraph --> <p>Add in that (transferrable) 7-year warranty, 7 years of Roadside Assist and 7 years of WoF checks and it seems like MG could not help but sell as many as they could get. Well, perhaps that 3-star safety rating might be a sticky point for some. </p> <!-- /wp:paragraph --><!-- wp:paragraph --> <p>It still all adds up to a bit of a bargain, and yet another example of when a new car is far better value than a used one. Safety rating aside, after driving it long distance, I enjoyed the 2021 MG3 Core far more than I expected to.</p> <!-- /wp:paragraph -->2021-mg3-core-car-review

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