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Go for a fun run in the MG6

This MG fastback may not offer the best of everything, but it features exceptional handling, a host of safety systems and bounteous space

MG is a British marque that's famous for sports cars and convertibles, and as a kid I've seen many of them running around Bangkok streets.

But car brands come and go, and it has been ages since those diminutive MG cars were available in Thailand. And like most British car brands, MG has been purchased by a much larger corporation, in this case SAIC Motors, which is China's largest automaker and the world's number 8 with a sales record of more than 4.1 million vehicles in 2011.

The MG6 is assembled at a Bt9-billion joint venture factory between SAIC and Thailand's CP Group, which is involved in a million things ranging from retail to telecom and agriculture.

MG's first vehicle under the new management is the MG6, which is actually the first all-new MG model in 16 years. However, many MG fans, mostly in the retirement-age group, might not have much appreciation for the MG6, particularly in terms of design. But do bear in mind that this is a C-segment family car and not a sports car.

Apart from the MG6, MG has also launched the MG3 and MG5 in the UK and China, with plans to introduce an SUV. Once it achieves the right economy of scale (and makes enough money to invest in R&D) perhaps MG might consider introducing a sports car. But that's just my guess.

The MG6 is likely to be the only vehicle from MG this year, and it plays a critical role in establishing a positive brand image for the company in the kingdom. The C-segment is a highly competitive market dominated by Japanese models such as the Toyota Corolla Altis, Honda Civic and Mazda3, as well as the Ford Focus. This is a fierce market that in recent years has been overshadowed by the smaller sub-compact and eco-car segments, so to pit a car in this war zone you need to be pretty confident. And MG appears highly confident, judging from the pricing revealed last week at the official launch.

The top-of-the-line MG6 Fastback 1.8X Turbo retails at Bt1.128 million, which is higher than the Mazda3 (Bt1.094 million), Focus (Bt1.079 million) and Corolla Altis (Bt1.069 million). Only the Civic costs higher at Bt1.145 million.

The first question anyone would ask about the MG6 is whether it is a Chinese car. In my opinion it is like many other European brands that have been overtaken by Chinese mega companies. You don't ask whether Volvo is a Chinese car. And for iPhone users, none seem to be worried that it's made in China.

Development of the MG6 took place at its Design and Technical Centre in Birmingham with British engineers, and actually there are many interesting features the car has to offer.

I drove the fastback version yesterday from Bangkok to Hua Hin and have to admit that this is a fun car to drive. Power comes from a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine capable of pumping out 161 horsepower and 215Nm, which is pretty much in the same range as 2.0-litre normally aspirated engines in the market.

It has good acceleration, reaching 100km/h from a standstill in less than 9 seconds, and has a top speed of about 193km/h (electronically limited). However, you can hardly notice the turbocharger working as acceleration is rather gradual. The sports mode doesn't help much, with initial response coming on rather sluggishly. Only when it kicks in does the MG6 start to increase speed at a satisfactory rate.

What I liked about the MG6 is top-end acceleration that keeps on flowing nicely. There's a 6-speed DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) with paddle shifters adding to the fun, although they're not too keen to allow high-rev shiftdowns.

Those driving the MG6 for the first time will be surprised with the heavy steering but driving enthusiasts will be delighted as it feels just like a sports car. There's plenty of feedback informing you of the road condition as well, although there's a considerable slack at the centre. The ride quality reminds you of a European car (well it is European isn't it?), taking on undulations on the road with good authority.

The front strut rear multilink suspension comes with stabilisers front and rear, still, there's still more body roll than I'd like during quick lane changes. But set up the car properly before a corner and the MG6 is able to hold on to the curves in spectacular fashion.

The 215/50 R17 Goodyear tyres need to be pushed real hard before they start to squeal.

Stopping power comes from vented discs both front (284mm) and rear (276mm) that feature all sorts of stability systems. One of the selling points of the MG6 is the large number of electronic driver-assistance systems offered. They include VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), TCS (Traction Control), MSR (Motor Control Slide Retainer), CBC (Cornering Brake Control), EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), ITPMS (Indirect Monitor Tyre System), BDC (Brake Disc Cleaning), BA (Brake Assist) and HAS (Hill Start Assist System). The top trim also comes with a total of four airbags - dual front SRS airbags and dual side airbags.

The cabin offers good space, with excellent legroom for rear passengers, while the seats are well-designed, although passengers don't have much visibility due to the low seating position and narrow rear window. The trunk can easily store two golf bags, but once the rear seat backrest is folded, the 472-litre boot expands to 1,272 litres.

Black leather upholstery with red stitching, automatic climate control, automatic headlamps and wipers, a 4-way adjustable multi-function steering wheel, an onboard computer and smart entry are among the features offered in the top version. There's a single disc CD player with AUX and USB inputs, but no Bluetooth, which I am really furious about. Seriously.

A bonus in the cabin is the cooled storage box between the front seats that can keep drinks cold before you open them, but there is definitely a lack of storage space for stuff like mobile phones, wallet, cigarettes and lighter. And there's just one cupholder for the driver and front passenger to share.

The MG6 fastback might not offer the best of everything in one single package, but it will definitely appeal to those looking for a compact car with exceptional handling, lots of safety systems and lots of space.

MG6 Fastback 1.8X Turbo Sunroof DCT

Engine: 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve

Displacement: 1,796cc

Bore and stroke: 80x89.3mm

Compression ratio: 9.2:1

Max power: 161ps/5,500rpm

Max torque: 215Nm/2,000-4,500rpm

Transmission: 6-speed DCT

Ratios: 3.588/2,173/1.424/1.062/1.212/0.973

Suspension (f/r): McPherson strut, stabiliser/multi-link, stabiliser

Steering: powered rack and pinion

Turning circle: 11.8 metres

Brakes (f/r): vented disc/vented disc

Length: 4,684mm

Width: 1,827mm

Height: 1,467mm

Wheelbase: 2,705mm

Track (f/r): 1,557/1,555

Weight: 1,538kg

Wheels: 17-in alloys

Tyres: 215/50R17

Fuel tank capacity: 62 litres

Price: Bt1.128 million

Distributor: MG Sales (Thailand)


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