MG 3 VS Kia Rio
- Good ride
- Fun to drive
- Great ownership prospects
- Lacking safety tech
- Powertrain not great in demanding situations
- No digital speedo
- Punchy three pot
- Interior practicality
- Safety inclusions
- Actually needs paddle shifters
- Harsh, noisy ride
- Hard interior plastics
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|
It’s dark times in the world of small hatchbacks.
Once a strong segment in Australia’s market, safety, emissions, and logistics challenges have driven the price up on stalwart favourites (like the Toyota Yaris) and pushed many nameplates (like the Honda Jazz) out of Australia altogether.
So in this bleak scene, it’s a refreshing story to see Kia’s Rio soldiering on with minimal price increases and even a mild update for the 2021 model year.
Read More:Kia Rio S Auto 2021 Review
Is the top-spec and warmed over and top-spec GT-Line still a winner two years after its introduction? I took the keys for a week to find out.
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|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.
The Rio GT-Line offers a great balance of spec and price, and a genuine warm hatch alternative in a shrinking segment where fun seems to come at a premium.
It’s nice to see the safety inclusions from this car start to make it across the range, but it is in danger of being left behind while the Suzuki Swift beats it on price and the Yaris beats it on safety.
Still, with this segment suffering from a case of shrinking options and runaway price tags, the Rio GT-Line is more appealing than ever, hence an increased score since last time I drove it.
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 Rio has been one of the more attractive offerings in this segment since the launch of this generation back in 2017, and this remains the case with the mildly updated GT-Line for this model year.
From the outside it is pretty much indistinguishable from last years model, but this isn’t a bad thing. I like its low profile compared to the Yaris or Swift, its angry face and tail accented by piano-black highlights, and its quaint little dual exhaust ports hint at a modicum of aggression.
The squared-off design elements, from the roofline to the light clusters offer a welcome alternative to the curvy style of the Yaris, Swift, and Mazda2.
Even the alloy wheels, which are again, unchanged, fill its wheel arches well, and nicely tie the Rio into Kia’s family of halo variants.
Inside has received a few updates from last year, now dominated by the relatively large screen, and elements like the upgraded climate cluster and sportier seats help lift its cabin ambiance.
The flat-bottomed wheel is a nice touch, as are the leather accented shifter and seat edges, but there is still an abundance of hard materials in the door trims and dash, as in the rest of the Rio range.
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.
For a hatch in this class, the Rio does very well. It has a huge interior space thanks to low-slung dimensions, a healthy width and a relatively tall roofline. This little hatch also carries the rest of the practicality philosophy from the rest of the Kia family, filling the cabin with bottle holders, nooks, and crannies for storing things away. There’s even a small console box and armrest which is rare but very welcome for this segment.
Front passengers are treated to large binnacle and bottle holder combos in the doors, a decent glovebox, a massive storage bin under the climate unit, with separate shelf housing the USB and 12v outlets.
On the downside there are no extra outlets in the console box, and the door trim is a bit hard on the elbows for long drives. The seats are manually adjustable only, but offer leagues of headroom and surprising width.
In the back seat it is a less positive story, with passengers benefitting from a large bottle holder in the door trim, the same comfy seat trim, but no adjustable air vents, power outlets, and just one pocket on the back of the front left passenger seat. There is no drop-down armrest. At least it’s roomy back there, with impressive legroom behind my own seating position and no lack of headroom either thanks to the low seats.
Boot space comes in at 325 litres (VDA) which is not just good for this class, but competitive with hatches in the next class up, so full points there.
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.
The goalpost here has well and truly moved. In 2019 one Honda executive told me “the days of cheap city cars are over”, and in the year since he has been proven to be well and truly correct.
Most base model small hatches are now close to or above $20,000, so it would appear the “$14,990” drive away era is history.
Where does this leave our Rio GT-Line? At $23,990 before on-roads (MSRP) it’s actually starting to look quite attractive. Especially since its key rivals are now the Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo ($25,290), Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport (auto - $23,630), and Mazda2 Pure (auto - $22,990). Of these options, the Yaris and Mazda2 are both base models with non-turbo engines, leaving the more expensive Suzuki GLX Turbo as the most direct rival.
Value-wise the Rio is pretty good and has had some significant additions for the 2021 model year. The headline ones include a larger 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (now with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), an upgrade from manual air conditioning to single-zone climate control, and finally three drive modes (which we asked for in our previous review) have been added.
Unlike the rest of the Rio range, the GT-Line has some much-needed active safety items, although there are still a few spec items missing which its rivals have. Keyless entry and push-start ignition (Swift, Yaris) are the big ones, and detract from this car’s halo variant positioning, but it also misses out on any higher-end stuff like leather seat trim, electrical adjust, or a digital dash cluster.
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 Rio GT-Line is the only Rio in the range to get the brand’s latest compact engine, a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder.
It has been refreshed for the 2021 model year with outputs now at 74kW/172Nm (down on power but up on torque).
It is still one of the best performers in this segment and far better than the ancient 1.4-litre engine which the rest of the Rio range gets.
It’s helped along, too, by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, compared to the hopeless four-speed in the rest of the range. The Rio 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.
The Rio’s fuel consumption sticker says 5.4L/100km which is a reduction on the pre-update car by 0.4L. Cars in this segment tend to overshoot by quite a bit, and our week long test of mixed freeway and urban driving returned a computer-reported 7.1L/100km. An overshoot, but this little car is quite fun to drive, so I’m inclined to forgive it.
It is also capable of drinking base-grade 91RON unleaded fuel, which is rare and welcome for a small capacity turbo like this. The Rio has a 45-litre fuel tank.
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 Rio GT-Line offers a warm-hatch experience, both the good and the bad. On the less good front for city dwellers, the large alloys, thin rubber, and firm ride conspire for a bit of a crashy and uncomfortable ride behind the wheel on less impressive road surfaces.
The dual clutch is sometimes a bit glitchy at very low speeds, but otherwise behaves largely like a torque converter. This is admirable from a drivability point of view, but it also isn’t as snappy as a VW group transmission.
The three-cylinder turbo experiences a moment of lag, but hits with a healthy dose of torque early, helping the Rio offer a much more exciting and engaging drive than almost every other car in this segment.
The firm ride, relatively wide and low dimensions, and responsive engine makes the Rio quite a connected little car in the corners but this brings up the issue of its steering, which has been changed for the 2021 model year.
The steering in the previous iteration of this car was decent if a little firm, but in this new version there are wild changes depending on your drive mode. Oddly it seems to be the inverse of what you might expect. ‘Eco’ and ‘normal’ mode have the steering feeling overly firm, while sport mode frees it up and gives it a much more darty and direct feel.
In fact, after trying out every mode, Sport with its faster accelerator response was the only one I’d want to drive it around in every day. It was by far the best for shooting down alleyways and the steering even made it a bit easier for manoeuvring at lower speeds. One thing I will note about this sport mode though, is it has the habit of making the dual-clutch automatic hang around in gears for slightly too long.
Visibility out of the Rio is great, and its tight dimensions and impressive rear vision camera make for easy parking, even in the smallest spots. It even has a start-stop system which is thankfully so quick you'll forget its there.
Where does it sit amongst competitors? It’s not quite as smile-inducing as the Swift Sport, but offers more feel than the GLX Turbo. It also doesn’t have the refined chassis feel of the new Toyota Yaris but easily beats it on fun-factor.
It’s the blend of attitude, price, and practicality which is a real win for this car, slotting it in nicely amongst its competitors.
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.
All Rios carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating since 2017, but this rating was before ANCAP required active safety items for a maximum rating.
The base Rio S misses out on many active safety items, but the latest update has brought a complement of active safety items to the Sport grade. Included is auto emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, and driver attention alert.
Still absent are blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control – rare features for the segment, but if anything, the expensive Toyota Yaris has raised the bar in this department.
Elsewhere the Rio gets six airbags, the expected electronic stability, brake, and traction controls, as well as hill start assist and dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounting points across the second row.
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.
Kia has become known for its seven year and unlimited kilometre warranty which is rivalled in this segment only by the MG3 which has a matching promise, and is even out-done by the Mitsubishi Mirage, although this car will reach the end of its life in Australia shortly.
Service pricing is capped for the life of the warranty. The Rio needs to visit the shop once every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first, and prices per visit vary between $285 to $625.
These work out to a yearly average of $457 which is surprisingly not cheap when lined up against some rivals.