MG 3 VS Kia Picanto
- Good ride
- Fun to drive
- Great ownership prospects
- Lacking safety tech
- Powertrain not great in demanding situations
- No digital speedo
- Excellent value
- Seven year warranty
- Makes the most of its size
- S feels a bit basic still
- Both transmissions have drawbacks
- Barren back seat
My time at CarsGuide started in October 2017, and since then I’ve booked literally thousands of cars across Australia. One car that has eluded me - and the CarsGuide team - over that period is the one you see here: the MG3. Or the MG MG3, or MG 3, if you wish.
Despite asking MG’s Australian arm countless times to loan an MG3 hatchback over that period, the company in charge of the brand’s PR in Australia refused to agree to loan us a vehicle to test.
Our desire to review the MG3 hatch has only gotten stronger because sales have skyrocketed. Back in late 2017 the brand was averaging only a handful of cars per month - indeed, just 52 examples of the MG3 were sold in total in 2017.
At the time of writing, MG is selling more than that in a single week. To the end of May 2020, the company had shifted a staggering 2270 MG3s in Australia - or 474 per month - bettering big-name rivals in the light car segment like the Kia Rio, Mazda 2 and Honda Jazz. It's also well ahead of the Kia Picanto, which is what many people will be shopping this car against if price is a key driver for their decision.
And that's the case in point, really - a lot of its success comes down to the price of the Chinese-built, British-badged city car. It’s cheap - but is it a cheerful experience? We finally got the chance to find out, thanks to a friendly MG dealership in NSW.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Kia Picanto is not only one of the smallest brand new cars you can buy in Australia, it’s also one of the most affordable.
Despite that though, the Picanto and cars like it are becoming an increasingly rare breed in Australia.
Read More:Kia Picanto 2021 review: S snapshot
This is partially because manufacturers are finding it increasingly hard to bring small cars to our relatively remote country with our more stringent safety requirements.
But, it’s also consistently true that what might work on the streets of Seoul or Tokyo might not necessarily translate well into the vast expanses of Australia.
But if you are just sticking to a metro capital, isn’t a car like the Picanto all you really need? To find out we’ve driven the updated-for-2021 Kia Picanto range. Read on to see what we made of it.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Aside from its safety shortcomings and underwhelming powertrain, it’s easy to see why the MG3 has become a successful part of the brand’s line-up. If you’re driving around a rural centre like I was, it makes a lot of sense.
Whether you choose the Excite model, which has a bit more visual pizzazz, or the Core model, which is our pick of the range, the MG3 is well priced, has the media tech buyers are after, is a charming looking thing that comes in a range of great colours, and is smartly packaged, too.
Thanks to the team at Orange MG for assisting us with this the loan vehicle for this review. Head to Orange MG for more information.
Really when you boil everything away, the Picanto is probably all the car you need around one of Australia’s capital cities. This little car is brilliantly equipped on the multimedia front, is smartly packaged with a long warranty, and even offers a decent drive experience too.
It’s the lack of a compelling intercity drive experience that will really stop it from being the kind of car most Australians want. But as a second car or daily runabout, it’s hard to fault.
Our pick of the range is the S auto for its supreme value and better ride quality.
It’s a fresh looking thing, the MG3.
From its attractive front-end with “London Eye” LED daytime running lights, its Euro-look angular front bumper and chrome-trimmed grille, and its angular window lines, it really does have a distinct personality.
It looks a lot more modern and enticing than the first version of the MG3 sold here, and I have no doubt that a lot of buyers of the MG3 have been attracted by its sharp styling first and foremost. MG has done a tremendous job of creating a family look - it just happens that the family looks like it has been taking good care of itself, keeping active and trim, too.
The rear end isn’t quite as attractive, with the vertical tail-lights making it seem taller than it is. It’s still a nicely sculpted back-end, though.
On the Core model you’ll get some lower blacked-out design trim bits, and the wheels fitted are 15-inch alloys.
The Excite model seen here is a little more, dare we say it, exciting to look at. That’s down to its body kit, consisting of lower chrome elements on the front bumper, a set of black side skirts, and a hatch-mounted rear spoiler. You get 16-inch alloy wheels, too.
In terms of dimensions, it’s closer in size to the Kia Rio than it is the Picanto. With a length of 4055mm (on a long-for-its-size 2520mm wheelbase), a width of 1729mm and height of 1504mm, it’s a pretty chunky little unit.
It is rather conventional in the way its interior is designed, however - there’s no sliding second row (like the Suzuki Ignis) or flip-folding seats (a la the Honda Jazz). Check out the interior pictures below to see for yourself.
The Picanto is a fun little thing to look at. I even like how plain the base car is with its dorky 14-inch steel wheels and flat paint, but the Picanto really stands out as a true city car in a segment that barely exists anymore.
Japanese manufacturers (for safety or price reasons) don’t bother to bring cars like this to our market, so it’s unique to see something that literally exudes its practical boxy aesthetic rolling around our streets.
While you can option the S in ridiculous colours, the GT-Line really brings a bunch of attitude with its over-the-top angry face, slicker-than-they-should-be alloy wheels, and nicer interior treatment. It’s streets-of-Asia kerb appeal won’t be for everyone I suppose, but you’re left with few options in this class.
The interior is, as you might imagine, full of hard plastics. This is especially noticeable in the base S which misses out on soft surfaces for your elbows – a pain (literally) on longer journeys.
Both specs excel with that massive touchscreen and bright multi-function cluster to bring a bit of wow-factor compared to rivals.
The dash design and simple but effective steering wheel help the Picanto feel like it’s no less a part of Kia’s increasingly design-led range with tastefully applied silvers and gloss finishes.
If you’ve owned the same old car for years and you’re setting foot in an MG3 for the first time, you’ll probably feel amazed that you can get an interior with interesting finishes, a high-tech screen and decent materials at this price point.
Earlier versions of the MG3 were nowhere near as good inside as the current model, which has been on sale since 2018. It’s not perfect, but there are plenty of things to like.
The seats offer plenty of adjustment, including a huge amount of height adjustment for shorter drivers. The seat is comfortable, though some drivers might find it hard to get the right position: there is no reach adjustment for the steering wheel (only rake adjust), and you can’t adjust the seatbelt height, either.
I really like the seat trim which is a broad tartan design (with “synthetic leather” bolsters and contrast stitching in the top-spec Excite), mirrored by an etched tartan aluminium trim piece on the dashboard - it looks really smart, even if my OCD radar was set off by the fact the trim wasn’t aligned to match perfectly between the cushion sections. Take a look at the interior pictures to see what I mean.
There are some really nice elements to the cabin. Things like the 'lock' and 'unlock' button on the driver’s door, which looks like it has been stolen directly from Audi’s parts catalogue. The same can be said for the speedo instrument font.
There’s no doubt that it’s built to a price, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as cheap as you might expect. We’ve criticised Audi, VW and Skoda for cutting costs with hard plastic trims on doors and dashboards, and the MG has plenty of hard plastics, too - but it’s expected at this price, not double it.
There’s a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with AM/FM radio and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, plus USB connectivity and smartphone mirroring - meaning you get Apple CarPlay, essentially negating the need for sat nav if you use an iPhone. You can option a GPS navigation system on the Core model, but satellite navigation comes standard on the Excite. There's no Android Auto mirroring available at all, though.
In previous models from the SAIC stable - including the LDV T60, and MG ZS - I had troubles with the media screen, but the version in the MG3 Excite I drove was quick and problem free, even when disconnecting and reconnecting my phone multiple times.
There are other little things that could be improved, like the fact the trip meter is difficult to navigate, and there’s no digital speedometer. Also, the digital climate control in the Excite model shows up on the media screen, though by way of a graphic rather than a temperature number. In the base model Core there’s a simpler manual a/c system.
The steering wheel has a part leather trim with perforated edges which makes it look and feel a little bit sporty – and it has a flat bottom as well, which will appeal to the sporty-minded buyer. There are stereo and cruise control buttons on the wheel, but the stalks behind are “back to front”, with the left stalk for indicators and lights, and the right for wipers.
As for storage, up front there is a single cup holder between the seats, a couple of small storage sections including a trench for a wallet, and another storage section in front of the gear selector - that’s where the MG3’s single USB port is, too.
The front door storage includes bottle holders, and there are soft padded elbow pads on the front doors - which is more than we can say for some of those aforementioned Euro brands.
With the driver’s seat set in my position (I’m 182cm tall), I had enough back seat space to be comfortable. There was enough knee room and toe room, and reasonable headroom if I sat perfectly still - although the slightest tilt of my head to the outer side of the car saw my noggin contact the headlining. Rear seat comfort is okay - the backrest is a firm, but there’s good visibility out the windows. There are dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points, and three top-tether points for baby seats.
In the back the storage is minimal. There are two map pockets, but no door pockets, and there’s no flip-down centre armrest with cupholders. But there is one large pocket in front of the middle-seat rear passenger which would do for a bottle. The back seat also misses out on soft elbow pads on the doors.
Boot space is good for a car in this size segment. You’ll only really do better if you buy a Honda Jazz or Suzuki Baleno, as the MG3 offers a deep and boxy cargo zone, with a cargo capacity of 307 litres to the cargo cover.
Need more luggage capacity? The back seats fold down in a 60:40 split, alleviating 1081L of space - though the load-through is limited as the seats don’t fold completely flat. Or you could fit a roof rack.
It should be clear from the outside that the Picanto is all about maximizing the use of its tiny footprint, and from the inside that goal has been achieved.
You’ll notice immediately from the driver’s seat how big the Picanto’s tall roof makes the interior feel. You do sit quite upright, and there’s no telescopic adjust for the steering, but I had no trouble finding a comfortable seating position regardless.
Kias generally have plenty of cabin storage, and the brand has done what it can with the space available in the Picanto. There are small binnacles in the doors with a decent bottle-holder, several small binnacles on the transmission tunnel, with a modest console box in the GT-Line, and a two-tiered shelf with neat flip-out cupholders under the air-conditioning controls.
Connectivity on offer includes a single USB port and 12-volt outlet for front passengers.
Hopping in the back seat is a much better experience for an adult than you might imagine. If you look at the Picanto in profile, it’s clear the brand has maximized the amount of aperture space for the doors, as they take up so much of the car’s diminutive length. This helps the rear seats be 90 per cent as easy to get into as the front ones.
Sitting behind my own driving position, I was pleasantly surprised to find airspace for my knees, and the same tall roofline made ensured there were no issues for my head either.
One area you will suffer in the rear row is a lack of amenities. There are no power outlets, cupholders, or adjustable vents, regardless of variant.
The boot comes in at 255 litres, which doesn’t sound like much, but is on par with the slightly larger Mazda2. I found much of that quoted number is useful, too, as the boot would eat the largest (125L) CarsGuide travel case with a little extra room to spare on either side. A space-saver spare wheel even lives under the boot floor on every grade.
Price and features
The success of the MG3 in Australia has been largely driven by its price.
And no wonder, with the price list starting at just $16,490 drive-away for the Core model and topping out at $18,490 drive-away for the top-spec Excite, the cost of buying into the MG brand is pretty darn low. Note: those prices are the RRPs listed on MG’s site, and there are promotional deals happening all the time.
Wondering what features you get when it comes to the models in the range? There are only two - Core vs Excite - so let’s run through what each model gets.
The Core gets 15-inch alloy wheels, cloth tartan finish seat trim, auto on/off halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, manual air conditioning, electric windows, electric mirrors, and a leather steering wheel with audio and cruise control buttons. There’s a space-saver spare wheel, too.
The media system includes a 8.0-inch touch screen with USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay (no Android Auto), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and AM/FM radio. There’s no CD player, and the Core model gets four speakers. You can option sat nav in the Core, but it’ll set you back $500 more.
Stepping up to the Excite nets you a few extras like 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels and a body kit, body-coloured mirrors, vanity mirrors in the sun-visors, and synthetic leather trim on the seats with contrast stitching.
The Excite also includes GPS sat nav as standard, and steps up the sound system to be a six-speaker unit with “Full Vehicle Yamaha 3D Sound Field”.
Interested in the safety spec inclusions? Read the safety section below for what’s included, and what’s missing.
Our friendly MG dealer let me know that he can’t get enough of the Tudor Yellow models, and that colour - as well as Dover White and Pebble Black - are no-cost optional hues. You should bare in mind that Regal Blue metallic, Scottish Silver metallic and Bristol Red metallic (as seen here) will set you back an additional $500. Looking for orange, green or gold paint? Sorry, no can do.
As for accessories, beyond floor mats there’s not a lot to speak of. Oh, and those wishing for a sunroof? No chance… unless you’re handy with a Sawzall. Note: do not cut a hole in the roof of your car.
Like its size or not, the Kia Picanto is a relatively rare offering which is also great value. The base S, for example, starts from just $14,390 before on-road costs, which makes it the second cheapest brand new car on sale in Australia (pipped, just, by the soon-to-be discontinued Mitsubishi Mirage ES).
Imagine how taken aback I was to discover that this incredibly affordable little car has wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto (an Australian first) on its giant 8.0-inch touchscreen. Amazing. This is a feature we were surprised came on a $50k Audi Q3, and here it appears on what could soon be Australia’s cheapest brand-new car.
The base S also has ‘upgraded’ (but still dull) halogen headlights, and a full colour multi-function display in the dash cluster. The same cloth seats, 14-inch steel wheels, plastic steering wheel, and basic air conditioning also feature.
Next rung up is the GT-Line starting from $16,140. It gets re-designed and more aggressive styling front and rear, a set of upgraded projector headlights and LED DRLs, 16-inch alloy wheels, a better interior treatment including gloss finishes, soft-touch surfaces, as well as a leather bound wheel and leather-look seats, alloy pedals, and a centre console box.
A somewhat antiquated four-speed (torque converter) automatic transmission can be optioned to replace the standard five-speed manual at a $1600 premium on either variant.
Both cars also get a decent safety suite (with a caveat) explained later in this review, and as always this car’s lengthy seven-year warranty is a major draw.
The top-spec GT manual will also return later this year at $18,990 and will include a slightly revised 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and five-speed manual at $18,990. Final spec hasn’t been locked in for this halo variant, so stay tuned for a single car review when it becomes available.
How does the Picanto compare to rivals other than the Mirage? You could compare it against the increasingly popular MG3 Core (auto-only from $17,190) or similarly-sized Suzuki Ignis GL (from $16,960).
Engine & trans
Keen to know the engine specs for the MG3? Well, it’s pretty simple on the specifications front.
There’s just one motor available: a 1.5-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine, dubbed NSE Major by MG.
It has class competitive outputs of 82kW (at 6000rpm) and 150Nm (at 4500rpm). It is only available with a four-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. There’s no manual transmission available anymore - it was available in the earlier MG3s, but no more.
While some competitors offer higher-powered flagship variants that act as the horsepower hero of the range, there’s no such variant in the MG3 range. Not yet, anyway. For now there’s just one engine size, no turbo, and no diesel or EV models to speak of either.
The tare mass/tare weight for the MG3 hatch is 1170kg, which is a bit heavier than a Mazda 2, but pretty much on par with a Kia Rio.
Considering a caravan holiday with your new MG3? Maybe think twice - the maximum towing capacity is just 200kg.
If you’re worried about engine problems, clutch problems, or have questions about the battery, gearbox, or the oil requirements, be sure to stay tuned to our MG problems page. And if you're curious about whether it has a timing chain or timing belt? It's a chain.
The S and GT-Line continue to be powered by the same 1.25-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine with outputs of 62kW/122Nm. While not an impressive number to quote, it’s about right for something this size and weight.
This engine can be paired to either a five-speed manual or throwback four-speed torque converter automatic.
The GT will offer more oomph with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo providing a punchier 74kW/172Nm, although it's only offered with the five-speed manual. The Picanto range is front-wheel drive only.
The combined cycle fuel consumption claim - which is what the brand claims the vehicle should use across a mix of driving situations - is the same across the MG3 line-up: 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres.
During my time with the car - which consisted of exactly 100km of mixed driving - I saw an at-the-pump fuel economy return of 7.7L/100km, which is decent.
The fuel tank capacity of the MG3 is 45 litres - meaning a theoretical mileage per tank of about 580km. It runs on regular unleaded (91RON), too.
Just be aware, the filler neck of the fuel tank is a little less angled than some other cars, so you might find it can splash back when it ‘clicks’ the first time.
Old engine tech means not particularly impressive fuel figures. At least, that’s what I found after testing the S manual and GT-line auto back-to-back over two weeks.
Official combined cycle figures have the five-speed manual S (as tested) consume 5.0L/100km, while the GT-Line auto is claimed to sip 5.8L/100km.
Our real-world figures over city, suburban, and freeway kays saw the manual S return 6.4L/100km and the auto GT-Line slip to 7.5L/100km
Those numbers are by no means a deal breaker, given they're not much higher than the claim, but hatchbacks a full size larger than this with 2.0-litre non-turbo engines can deliver equal or better real-world consumption.
The Picanto’s tiny 35-litre fuel tank needs to be called out. This car may be a fuel sipper, but you'll still be refueling with annoying regularity.
You might think of MG as a sports car brand - that’s what they built back in history, after all, and those are the reminiscences the company is hoping you’ll have when you see the famed octagonal badge.
And of the current crop of models that MG sells in Australia, the MG3 is undoubtedly the sportiest.
That comes down to its driving manners, steering and ride - but not the engine and transmission.
The powertrain feels to be lacking enough power and torque to make it feel light and zippy when accelerating. The automatic transmission doesn’t make the greatest use of the engine, and can be indecisive when climbing hills or when you ask more of the car. Oh, don’t even think about a 0-100 performance claim - no such number exists.
In urban driving at lower speeds it’s fine. Between traffic lights and encountering roundabouts, and there’s not much to complain about. It doesn’t have any lag or lurch from a standstill, and is smooth and quick enough to get away from rest, too.
It’s just once you start to ask more of the engine and transmission that you notice that things could be better. There is, at least, a manual shift mode for the transmission to allow you to take control of the shifts, and there’s a sport mode too, which will hang on to gears and quell the indecision of the transmission to a degree.
On the open road it gets along fine, sitting at the speed limit without much fuss - although once you encounter a hill, you will notice the speed drop off a little. And the cruise control seemingly has a bit of a mind of its own, with a set speed displayed at 100km/h, I noticed the speed varying between 90km/h and 110km/h, depending on the terrain.
It’s the road holding, grip, handling and steering that help it live up to the badge, with steering that has a nice hefty weight to it and good directness at pace or around town. It even offers a little bit of feel through the wheel, which is welcome. That grip was surprising given the tyres fitted to the Excite’s 16-inch alloy wheels (Giti GitiComfort 228 tyres in 195/55/16 size).
The ride is tuned with a firmer character to it than you might expect. It’s not to the point of discomfort, and nor is it fidgety or clumsy over potholes or sharp edges. And that tune for the Macpherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension means that it feels plenty grippy in corners. Over my drive loop - incorporating sweeping bends and tighter twists - the MG3 stuck itself to the road commendably, with no noticeable skittishness to speak of.
Indeed, I kept thinking that the suspension tune reminded me of a VW, Skoda or Audi city car - assured, confident, and ultimately a bit of fun.
The braking performance was good, too - it pulled up true and straight under heavy braking, and offered decent response at city speeds, too.
One minor criticism was some noticeable wind noise from around the windscreen pillar / mirror area, which was evident at speeds from 70km/h up.
The Picanto offers a pretty straightforward driving experience, which is a plus in a car this simple.
The 62kW 1.2-litre engine in both our test cars proved peppy enough for the Picanto’s weight. It won’t set any hearts on fire, but I think it’s more than adequate for the task at hand.
The basic transmissions threw up a few typical issues. The four-speed auto is particularly transparent, lurching through each gear with little panache. The lack of ratios on offer makes accelerating in the auto a noisy, thrashy experience, and it’s evidently not the best for fuel consumption, either.
The manual meanwhile proves a bit better for keeping the revs in check with its extra gear, but has a simple and somewhat sloppy action, which makes switch cogs yourself a less than 'sporty' experience.
The ride is locally tuned, although I found it most compliant in the base S with its larger tyres. The 16-inch sporty wheels on the GT-Line increase cabin noise and ride harshness significantly.
Neither car was quiet above that 80km/h freeway mark, in terms of road and engine noise (with the 1.2 running at 3000rpm at 100km/h on the flat) making for predictably raucous inter-city drives.
I found the steering to be surprisingly direct and full of feel, giving the Picanto at least a little spark of entertainment for driving around city streets.
The Picanto also has to be one of the easiest cars in Australia to park. Visibility is fantastic all-round, and you’ll fit in pretty much any spot you can find. GT-Line owners will need to keep an eye out on those giant alloy wheels, however.
Safety technology is the MG3’s biggest shortfall. There’s no ANCAP crash test safety rating to speak of, and the MG3 doesn’t come with any form of auto emergency braking (AEB), which is disappointing given the tech has been available on affordable city cars since 2013 (the VW up! was an early benchmark).
Even the facelifted Mitsubishi Mirage has AEB with pedestrian detection, but the MG3 doesn’t. Nor does it come with lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert or rear AEB.
So what do you get? The range comes standard with a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, electronic stability control, and six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain). And that may be enough for you, but we know you can get more safety tech in rival cars, so it can’t score well against this criteria.
Where is the MG3 built? It’s made in China.
The good news here is the Picanto impresses with standard city-speed auto emergency braking and forward collision warning regardless of variant chosen.
That’s great, and puts it ahead of its main rivals, the MG3 and Ignis but annoyingly that’s where the active items stop.
Interesting, given in its Korean home market the Picanto scores rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and driver attention alert.
Passive items include two ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat mounting points (good luck getting a third child seat in the rear row), six airbags, and the usual electronic stability and traction controls.
The Picanto carries a four-star (from a possible five) ANCAP safety rating as of 2017.
I kept thinking about one particular thing over my time in the MG3 - the warranty. It’s such a great peace of mind move from the company to back its cars with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan.
If your brain works like mine, you could calculate it out and see the purchase of the MG3 completely differently: what about thinking of it as a $2500-ish-per-year investment, and at the end you get a free car…! The same can be said of the Kia Picanto and Rio, though.
That warranty should put your mind at ease when it comes to reliability, problems, common faults and issues, as any required fixes are set to be covered by the brand over that period. And buyers get seven years of roadside assistance included, too.
Maintenance is required every 12 months/10,000km, whichever comes first. That’s a bit more regular than some rivals (most have 15,000km intervals), but the brand backs its cars with a seven-year fixed service cost plan. Servicing costs averaged out over the first seven years/70,000km of ownership equate to $382 per visit (before GST), which isn't cheap, but nor is it expensive.
Here's a rundown of the recommended service costing (all prices pre-GST): 12 months/10,000km: $231.76; 24 months/20,000km: $385.23; 36 months/30,000km - $379.72; 48 months/40,000km - $680.74; 60 months/50,000km - $231.76; 72 months/60,000km - $533.19; 84 months/70,000km - $231.76.
Keep the service logbook stamps up to date in your owners manual - it’s a ticket to better resale value.
Like all Kias the Picanto carries that famous, class-leading seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty promise, rivalled in this segment only by the MG3 which now has a warranty of the same length.
Service pricing is capped for the life of the warranty and varies from $269 to $565 per yearly (or 15,000km, which ever comes first) interval, for a surprisingly expensive average yearly spend of $389.42.