It might be hard to believe, but this is one car launch that I’ve been thoroughly looking forward to. While we get to go to launches of high-end luxury and sports cars from time to time, we still have an affinity for a small, cheap hatchback.

Making a small, cheap hatchback is hard work, and manufacturers really need to do some hard yards if they want that hatchback to be any good. So, what about the MG3? It’s had the title of the cheapest new car in New Zealand, and comes complete with a 7-year warranty and 7 years of Roadside Assist. Too good to be true? According to MG, they’ve sold 2,800 MG3 in New Zealand since its launch so some buyers have twigged onto the small hatchback.

Back in April 2022, I picked up an MG3 in Auckland and immediately drove it 500km to Hawera to work on our project car. Even with its 4-speed automatic, I enjoyed my long-distance drive in the MG3. It was then New Zealand’s cheapest car and yet it drove just fine. Sure, the four-speed automatic was very old-school and the engine definitely on the noisy side, but I continued driving the MG3 for the next week. Regardless of its shortcomings and its obvious age, I bonded a little with the baby MG.

Come 2024, and MG has decided to refresh the MG3 with a different engine, a hybrid option, and a new body and interior. DriveLife headed to Auckland to see if the newest smallest and cheapest MG should be on your shopping list.

MG Motors in New Zealand

First up, we’d hear a bit about MG in New Zealand. Currently, the brand is celebrating “100 years of MG”, a great achievement. MG says it’s due to recent rapid growth that it’s quickly become a top ten brand in New Zealand, with the MG4 “the most awarded EV in the country”.

They reiterated that all MGs come with a 7-year warranty and 7 years of Roadside Assist. For cars like their cheapest model, the MG3, that’s important for buyers. In the last 12 months, MG claims to have opened 5 new dealerships, and that means coverage from Whangarei to Invercargill.

With the downturn in new vehicle sales, MG sees the growth opportunity in internal combustion engines (ICE) and hybrids – hence their latest MG3 offerings.

In New Zealand, the ZS range is still the biggest seller by volume, and the company is going to launch the mid-size hatchback MG5 “soon”.

Getting ready for the big reveal

All-New 2024 MG3

MG Motors New Zealand says the new MG3 is “smarter, larger, and safer” than the outgoing model (that remains on sale in a runout). Since the old generation of MG3 has just a 3-star safety rating, that wouldn’t be too hard to achieve. They make some other claims, like cutting edge technology and “market-leading HEV technology” – meaning the biggest battery for a hybrid in this segment, the car’s performance and the fact that it’s “a real hybrid” as compared to cars like the Suzuki Swift that has a hybrid system that only assists the petrol engine – it doesn’t actual propel the car forward at any point.

Apparently, the new MG3 is only the same in name, and everything has changed. There are now LED headlights in some models, 16” alloy wheels, a front spoiler, LED taillights, and a roof spoiler among other changes.

Once the covers were pulled off, the influence of the MG4 cannot be denied – at the front of the car, at least. The rear of the car is very close in design to the Mazda2. Overall, it’s not outlandish or in your face; the whole design is subtle and pleasing.

The interior is all-new too. There’s now a 10.14” centre touchscreen, keyless start, a 7” digital dash cluster (looking very similar to the MG4) and in some models, a 360-degree camera system. SatNav is standard in the Essence models.

Safety seems to be well catered for, with items like forward collision warning, lane departure assist, blind spot detection, and driver fatigue alert. We’ll cover off all the safety systems in our upcoming review. Like the Suzuki Swift launch we recently attended, the new MG3 has yet to gain an ANCAP safety rating. MG Motors New Zealand says it is expecting the ANCAP rating in “a few months”.

Adaptive cruise control is standard, and this includes Intelligent Cruise Assist which means self-steering capability.

2024 MG3 – Powertrains

MG has kept the models and power trains pretty simple, which is appreciated.

There are two trim levels – Excite and Essence – and two powertrains, ICE or Hybrid+. You can get either trim level with either powertrain, it’s all down to your budget or preference.

The ICE model is powered by the familiar 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol motor we’ve experienced in cars like the MG HS. This model is fitted with a CVT automatic, so gone is the 4-speed automatic of old. That CVT does have a 8-speed simulation mode, says MG. The engine outputs 81kW of power, and 142Nm of torque. These figures are actually less than the old MG3, which had outputs of 82kW/150Nm.

If you option the hybrid, that for some reason MG has decided to call Hybrid+, that means a similarly sized 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine, but this is a different motor that uses the Atkinson Cycle design for better thermal efficiency. By itself, the engine manages 75kW of power and 128Nm of torque.

Hybrid+

In what feels like backward step, the HYBRID+ versions of the new MG3 have a 3-speed automatic transmission (!). I haven’t seen a 3-speed automatic transmission in a car for decades, so it will be interesting to see just how the MG3 drives. The tagline for the new MG3 is “Good things come in 3’s” but I’m not sure MG was meaning the transmission. We’re assured it drives just fine, but will reserve our decision on that. MG says of the transmission, “3-speed hybrid transmission working in synch with pinion gear, planetary carrier, sun gear, ring gear in conjunction with the engine, generator and  EV motor to distribute power through the 8 hybrid operational phases.”

The electric motor in the HYBRID+ models outputs 100kW of power and 250Nm of torque, while MG says the combined rating of ICE and hybrid is 155kW, and an undisclosed amount of combined torque. They say the MG3 Hybrid+ will get to 100km/h in 8.0 seconds, which is particularly good for a small hatchback in this class.

The hybrid battery is 1.83kWh in size, which may not sound like much but in comparison to other small hybrid hatchbacks on sale, is on the larger side. The EV system is rated at 350 volts, and MG says that means the MG3 will drive in EV mode alone up to 30km/h, and after that there are different modes of ICE assist to charge the EV battery and also keep the car moving. It’s all seamless to the driver.

All MG3 models are front-wheel drive. The ICE model uses 91 fuel, while the Hybrid+ models require 95 or higher octane fuel. Fuel consumption is listed at 4.3L/100km for the Hybrid+ and 6.0L/100km for the ICE models.

The boot has reduced in size slightly, down from 307 litres in the old generation to 293 in the new gen.

2024 MG3 – Models, Specs and Pricing

Excite ICE $25,990

Essence ICE $27,990

Hybrid+ Excite $29,990

Hybrid+ Essence $31,990

So that’s obviously in increase in price of the previous generation of MG3 that was (and still is) selling at around $22K, but the added features more than make up for it. At first glance, the base model pricing is the same as the base model (manual) Suzuki Swift, but with the MG3 carrying a lot more standard equipment.

Other than the hybrid system, the only other additional feature of either Hybrid+ model is climate air-conditioning and an electronic gear shifter.

The 2024 MG3 is available in showrooms from today.

2024 MG3 – First drive

We grabbed a Diamond Red Metallic Essence Hybrid+ for a quick spin down the motorway and onto some back roads. It wouldn’t be a long drive but we’d get a taste of how the new MG3 drives.

On the motorway, wind noise is well taken care of, as is road noise. It’s obvious some engineer attention has been directed in this department. And the three-speed automatic? It’s not bad, and the lack of gears to chose from seems to be masked by the hybrid system. Mashing the accelerator while in hybrid mode see the engine take a second or so to start up, and then another pause before the gearbox kicks down a gear.

Getting the car to kick-down a gear from third to second on the motorway highlights that it’s a big gearing change, with a lot more engine noise but not much else. Still, this was only to be a quick jaunt in the car, we’ll wait to live with it for a week to really test it out on the Daily Drive.

The ride in the new MG3 is far better than the last model, and MG has made a great job of getting a small, light car to ride quite well.

In the old model, that 1.5-litre engine could be pretty noisy under load. Moving to the ZS engine is a good move; there’s still engine noise there, but it’s far less and there seems to be a reasonable amount of sound deadening to contain it somewhat.

While MG says the car will run in EV mode up to 30km/h, we notice that by feathering the throttle we can keep the car in EV mode up to around 80km/h. Flooring the accelerator from a standstill will instantly start the petrol engine up to give you maximum acceleration. We did a completely non-scientific test using a phone to time a 0-100km/h run, and that took 10.5 seconds on a flat road. Quite a way from MG’s claim of 8 seconds, but we’ll wait until a full road test to check this out properly.

Getting off main roads, we took the MG3 out of its comfort zone and onto some windy back country roads; remembering that this is essentially a city car, the MG3 does pretty well on the twisty stuff, with nice turn-in and reasonable steering feedback. Handling overall seems better than expected. Again, a full review of the car will come soon enough.

Heading back to the city, adaptive cruise control works well, as does the self-steering. The interior seems well made, and you would not consider this a “cheap” car by looking at the different plastics and materials used in the cabin. It’s all very tasteful and appealing.

First impressions? It’s pretty good. Fuel consumption in the hybrid model will be a real test of that extra premium over the ICE models, but overall MG has done wonders with the MG3 and have launched a car worthy of taking on its competitors.

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Fred Alvrez
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 a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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