A bit Birm­ing­ham, a shade Shang­hai

The fa­mous British ve­hi­cle MG is com­ing back – only this time it is owned by the Chi­nese. Rob Maet­zig drives the first car we’ll get to see

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

As me­dia launches of a new ve­hi­cle go, this was pretty un­usual. For starters the car hasn’t been launched yet. No prices have been an­nounced. A deal­er­ship net­work hasn’t been set up, ei­ther. And the car avail­able to be driven wasn’t ac­tu­ally the car fore­cast to be the vol­ume seller, be­cause it had man­ual trans­mis­sion rather than auto.

So the event in Can­ter­bury last week was more a toe-in-thewater ex­er­cise by im­porter British Mo­tor Dis­trib­u­tors, de­signed to fa­mil­iarise the mo­tor­ing me­dia with what’s com­ing this year and be­yond.

It’s all a bit ex­cit­ing re­ally, be­cause the me­dia func­tion did mark the re-launch of a fa­mous British brand that was founded in the 1920s and which in more re­cent years has suf­fered a stop­start ca­reer in­volv­ing a se­ries of dif­fer­ent own­ers in­clud­ing British Ley­land, Rover Group, British Aero­space, and BMW.

The last owner was MG Rover which ceased pro­duc­tion in 2005 when the com­pany went into ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The as­sets were then pur­chased by Chi­nese car­maker Nan­jing Au­to­mo­bile, which was sub­se­quently bought by Shang­hai Au­to­mo­tive In­dus­try Cor­po­ra­tion (SAIC) which is now the largest ve­hi­cle pro­duc­ing com­pany in China – it built more than four mil­lion ve­hi­cles last year – and is fully listed on the Chi­nese Stock Ex­change.

SAIC pro­duces a to­tal of 19 dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cle brands, in­clud­ing mod­els built via joint ven­ture ar­range­ments with Gen­eral Mo­tors and Volk­swa­gen. Its MG op­er­a­tion is based in Birm­ing­ham in Eng­land, and it has pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties in Bri­tain and China.

Last year it sold more than 162,000 MGs, the vast ma­jor­ity of them to a to­tal of 35 left-hand drive mar­kets. But right-hand drive mar­kets are in­creas­ingly be­ing served too – pri­mar­ily be­cause the Chi­nese own­ers recog­nise the im­por­tance of MG’s British her­itage – and cur­rently this prod­uct is be­ing sold in Bri­tain, South Africa, New Zealand, Mau­ri­tius and Hong Kong.

The first MG that New Zealand will see is the MG6 GT, which will be avail­able as a five­door lift­back or as a four-door sedan called Mag­netta. Pow­ered by an updated and tur­bocharged 1.8-litre ver­sion of the Rover K-Se­ries petrol engine that in past years we’ve al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced in Rover and MG prod­uct, the car is of about the same size as the likes of Suzuki Kiza­shi, Mit­subishi Lancer and Holden Cruze.

Once the car does go on the mar­ket in New Zealand – and that’s expected to be around Oc­to­ber once the MG dealer net­work is fi­nalised – it will ini­tially be avail­able with man­ual trans­mis­sion only, but that will be quickly fol­lowed by a tur­bod­iesel ver­sion late in the year and a twin-clutch au­to­matic model next year.

Next year will also see a smaller MG3 hatch launched in New Zealand, and 2014 is likely to fea­ture the ar­rival of a Ford Fo­cus-sized MG5, a com­pact SUV, and even a hy­brid model.

British Mo­tor Dis­trib­u­tors op­er­a­tions man­ager Kerry Cheyne told last week’s func­tion that MG en­thu­si­asts in New Zealand are ex­press­ing strong in­ter­est in the new Chi­nese-built prod­uct.

‘‘But we don’t know at this stage what the sales vol­ume will be. That’s one of the rea­sons why we’re do­ing this pre-launch ex­er­cise.’’

When the MG6 does en­ter the Kiwi new ve­hi­cle mar­ket, one criticism it won’t have to face is for the qual­ity of its build. Im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion dur­ing a drive pro­gramme through Can­ter­bury was that even the en­try model – which is expected to re­tail for less than $30,000 – is very well put to­gether, of­fers an ex­cel­lent level of spec­i­fi­ca­tion in­clud­ing elec­tric sun­roof, and it per­forms well.

The base S model that I drove fea­tures the elec­tric sun­roof, air con­di­tion­ing, and elec­tric win­dows all round. Next up will be the SE which gets rear park­ing aid, cruise con­trol, and one-touch op­er­a­tion of the front win­dows.

The top model will be the TSE which will boast leather sports seats, re­vers­ing cam­era, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol air con­di­tion­ing, and full con­nec­tiv­ity in­clud­ing Blue­tooth.

Pow­er­ing this ve­hi­cle is a 1.8-litre tur­bocharged and in­ter­cooled DOHC engine that de­liv­ers 118 kilo­watts of power and 215 new­ton me­tres of torque.

Photo: ROB MAET­ZIG/FAIR­FAX NZ

MG's re­turn: The MG6 GT lift­back, left, and Mag­netta sedan which will be launched in New Zealand next month.

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