First drive: 2013 MG 350 in Oman
How often is it that cars enter the GCC market, get stereotyped, and go unnoticed? A classic example of that has to be the brand we call MG, a simple abbreviation for Morris Garages.
Well, a lot of the stereotyping can be attributed to the manufacturers’ troubled past. In this case, MG has gone through five ownership changes over the last three decades! So, there has been an obvious change in the original formula. MG is currently owned by SAIC Motors, one of China’s largest car manufacturer. However, we didn’t let any of that bother us, so we went into the first drive of our test vehicle, the MG 350, with no preconceptions. Really!
The 350 we have here is clearly MG’s answer to the compact sedan market, which mostly constitutes cars like the Toyota Corolla and the Nissan Tiida in the GCC. The exterior of the 350 is pleasing to look at, and the build seems solid. For example, the body panels are a perfect fit and the doors make the same noble “thump” as any Toyota of this class. Only one variant is on sale in Oman, with fog lamps and 16-inch alloys.
The interior is a pretty decent place to be in too, but a bit too aristocratic in terms of look. So it does get boring, and you’ll most likely spend most of the time meddling with the touchscreen DVD system. The interior largely consists of hard plastics, but the upper layer of the dash and the armrests are scantily padded. The dashboard however, is pretty plain, consisting of a few dedicated buttons for the automatic a/c and the entertainment system. There’s also a fake carbon-fibre strip running through the length of the dash, although there’s an option to switch that for a fake wood strip.
The a/c in the MG was not the best to be honest, and we had to switch it all the way up to get some cooling. But we figured it was due to the heat from the large sweeping windshield and the sunroof on the 43-degree day.
The tech in the car is pretty upscale considering its market and price. You get rear parking sensors and a reversing camera integrated with the above-mentioned 7-inch screen, which also comes with audio and video inputs, Bluetooth support and also an XBM premium audio system that we loved.
The MG also has decent space in the back, with adequate space for three full-sized adults. The head room is pretty good too, thanks to an upward-carving in the neatly-cushioned headliner. The story is pretty much the same up front, but your legs could sometimes hit the hard plastic panels. The seats themselves are all covered in leather and were very comfortable.
Getting into the real stuff, the MG 350 comes with a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine producing a miserly 107 hp and 135 Nm of torque. On top of that, it is driven via a 4-speed automatic. Yes, by all means a recipe for boredom, or at least that’s what we thought. Fortunately though, as soon as you get behind the wheel, you’ll get to see an eager and rev-happy engine waiting for you.
The car will accelerate to the 100 kph mark in around 11 seconds, but it has to be told, the noise it makes as it gets there is a treat more than an annoyance, unlike most inline fours. Surprisingly, you also get three modes to drive around in, namely ‘Economy’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Snow’. The ‘Sport’ mode supposedly increases throttle response and holds gears longer, which essentially means excessive revving. You certainly can’t feel it, but you sure can hear it.
For the record, we have to mention that the engine runs on the hotter side. But as it goes, certain other European cars do run hot as well.
The steering on the MG 350 felt perfect and also offers decent levels of feedback. Taking corners in the mountainous roads of Muscat was a treat. We have to say, it is pretty rare to find a car in this price range that offers so much fun.
We also found out that the ride is pretty smooth, and the suspension happily soaks in the bumps. We can’t say it is anything out of the ordinary though. As for safety, you do get the usual ABS, EBD and Brake Assist, as well as driver, cushion and side airbags.
If you’ve followed us long enough, you’d know that the boss had tested an MG 550 in 2011 where he threw the owner into the boot to steal a test drive. Luckily this time, Omani dealers MHD gave us the MG 350 for two days, so we could see what else MG is bringing to this region.
We can conclude that the 350 is an appropriate-enough vehicle for the GCC, despite being built in China. It is clearly aimed at younger drivers on their first job, and it does seem like a bargain as it comes with a fair bit of features alongside the decent engine. With a manual gearbox, it might be even more fun. But, at this point we’re pretty sure that even at OR 6500, or about Dhs 65,000, it isn’t going to be a threat to rivals like the Toyota Corolla and the Nissan Tiida, as it will take time for consumers to start accepting MG as a viable alternative.