MG 3 VS Suzuki Swift
- Good ride
- Fun to drive
- Great ownership prospects
- Lacking safety tech
- Powertrain not great in demanding situations
- No digital speedo
- Great looks
- Good safety package
- Nice to drive
- GLX is on the pricey side
- Halogen headlights on lower-spec cars
- Slow steering
This story has been updated in February 2022 to reflect market changes and pricing adjustments for the MG3. It was originally published in the first half of 2020.
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. Now the company has an in-house PR team with a pretty decent fleet of press cars, yet still, no MG3.
Over the years, our desire to review the MG3 hatch - and to help you decide whether it's right for you or not - 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.
Since then, the MG3 has skyrocketed, and it is the best-selling light car in Australia. In 2021, the brand moved more than 13,000 MG3s - meaning it is averaging 250 cars sold per week. Makes the paltry 2017 numbers look a bit meagre. In becoming the number-one seller in the segment, it has beaten big-name rivals including the Kia Rio, Mazda 2 and now defunct Honda Jazz, while also being well clear of the cheaper 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 got the chance to find out in 2020, thanks to a friendly MG dealership in NSW - and this review has been updated with the most current pricing, because nothing else has changed.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
For almost thirty years, Australians could stroll into a number of dealerships and have their pick of cars - obviously small ones - for under twenty grand. And I mean twenty grand in the modern sense, not the early '80s Mitsubishi Sigma GL with no power steering or...you know, seats that didn't give you a third-degree burn in summer.
Suzuki is hanging in there, along with Kia and, oddly, MG. But I'm not here to tell you about the Swift Navigator because, frankly, I don't think you should buy it. It's not the best-value Swift and for the same money you can get a better-loaded Kia, the top-of-the range Picanto GT. Not far over the $20,000 mark, though, is the Navigator Plus which makes a lot more sense. As part of the Series II Swift updated which arrived in September, The Plus in Navigator Plus has taken on a whole new meaning.
Read More:How does the 2019 Suzuki Swift stack up?
|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.
It was a tough call, but I did settle on the Navigator Plus as the pick of the range. For an extra $1500 over an automatic GL Navigator, you get all that extra equipment and a subtle lift in spec that would be well-served with the inclusion of the GLX's LED headlights.
All Swifts are good to drive, with a supple chassis tune, acceptable performance through to quite good from the 1.0-litre turbo and a good after-sales package. I do think, however, that Swifts are a tad over-priced, especially considering the big jump to the GLX. But if you want a Japanese-built hatch with a bit of character, fantastic looks and a good mechanical package, the Swift hits all three.
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.
Ah, this is where things get interesting. The Swift is such a cracking-looking car, even though it hasn't changed a great deal over the past three generations. But that's how good the Swift's rebirth was sixteen years ago. The details have, obviously, been refined but it really does look brilliant.
The Navigator Plus, when you get close, does look a bit cheap here and there, but plenty of far more expensive cars have weird cheap details, like the odd textured plastic chrome on the tail-lights of the Lexus LC.
Inside is a but more in keeping with its price point than the Swift Sport. There's nothing especially eye-catching in the cabin apart from the fetching new patterned inserts on the seats and the nice leather steering wheel which is, oddly, flat-bottomed.
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.
If you're in the front seats, you're golden. Apart from being slightly too high for my liking, they're very comfortable and the previously-mentioned upholstery is very pleasant. You get two shallow cupholders and a tray not quite big enough for a larger-sized phone but fine for standard-sized ones.
As with the front, rear-seat dwellers get a pair of small bottle holders in the doors and not much else apart from a seat pocket in the left-hand seat. Common with the front seat, there's no armrest which is a shame because the back seat is so flat that there is nothing but your seatbelt to stop you clattering into your neighbour in the corners. There is a squared-off cupholder between the front seats which would be hard to reach for smaller folk.
Three across the back is obviously a distant dream for adults, but two back there are in reasonably good shape with plenty of headroom and surprisingly good knee and legroom if you're roughly my height (180cm) behind someone else of similar height.
The boot is predictably tiny at 242 litres, which is a little below the standard for the segment, with a seats-down capacity of 918 litres. The Swift Sport's boot is slightly larger at 265 litres because it doesn't carry a spare, but weirdly, has the same seats-down capacity as the other versions.
With three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points, you're covered for baby or child seats.
Price and features
The success of the MG3 in Australia has been largely driven by its price.
And no wonder - pricing for cars of this size has increased steadily, and plenty of brands have found their light cars in the "too hard" basket as a result.
But the MG3 is still relatively cheap. Prices have jumped over the time since we drove this particular car, but they're still sub-$20K for all models in the range.
For context, the 2020 model started at just $16,490 drive-away for the Core model and topped out at $18,490 drive-away for the top-spec Excite, and those prices were the RRPs listed on MG’s site at the time.
But now the MG3 has become a bit pricier - the current pricing for the range is up, with the base model Core now $18,490 drive-away, while the Core with Nav model costs $18,990 drive-away, and the top-spec Excite grade is a Macca's meal short of twenty grand at $19,990 drive-away.
Wondering what features you get when it comes to the models in the range? It's pretty simple, 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 touchscreen 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. If you're keen on sat nav, you can step up to the Core Nav model, which adds $500 to the bill.
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.
While the prices have gone up since we originally published this review, the MG3 still scores strongly for pricing and specs, because the market has moved up, too, and like-for-like it's still cheaper than almost all of its rivals - Picanto excluded.
Down at $18,990 is where Swift range starts with the GL Navigator manual, adding $1000 for the CVT automatic. For Series II, the base model picks up rear speakers over the old spec, 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, reversing camera, cruise control, cloth interior, remote central locking, auto-down power windows and a space-saver spare.
For $21,490 the Navigator Plus has a lot more to offer than the GL Navigator. Which makes sense, given the Plus, but I'm no marketing genius.
For your money you get power folding and heated mirrors, reversing camera, active cruise control, sat nav and leather steering wheel as well as a bunch of extra safety features over the GL Navigator.
The GLX Turbo builds further on the lower specs with a six-speaker stereo, gear-shift paddles, LED headlights and the 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder. That car lands at a fairly sturdy $25,290 but is not without its own unique charms.
All Swifts share the 7.0-inch screen that's in almost everything with a Suzuki badge and has the same basic software that isn't all that flash but more than makes up for it with a built-in sat nav in the Navigator Plus and GLX Turbo (I'm assuming a certain demographic buys this car and insists on it) as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Annoyingly there's only one "free" colour and it's white. The rest of the colours (Super Black Pearl, Speedy Blue, Mineral Grey, Burning Red and Premium Silver) whack you another $595. By contrast (see what I did there?), you can choose from five free colours on a Mazda2 and the three premium colours are $100 cheaper.
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 non-turbo Swift's very modest 66kW and 120Nm comes from its 1.2-litres and four-cylinders. It is not a lot of power, even with variable valve timing. To make the most of these figures, Suzuki fits a continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT, to send power to the front wheels. The manual is $1000 cheaper, a five-speed unit that you'll only find in the $18,990 GL Navigator.
Step up to the Turbo GLX and you get a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with healthy power outputs of 82kW and 160Nm, with a six-speed torque converter auto, unlike the lesser versions' CVT.
Thankfully, the Swift weighs next to nothing in modern car terms, so even the 1.2 offers reasonable pace without having to thrash it.
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 official combined cycle figure on the sticker is listed at 4.8L/100km. The dash display indicated I was getting 6.5L/100km and to be fair to the Swift, it had almost no highway running during my time with it, so it's not too far off the 5.8L/100km urban figure.
With its small 37-litre fuel tank that means a real-world range of around 500km and probably another 100km if you're cruising the motorways.
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.
Luckily I drove two cars for this review. The first was the one I think most people will end up buying, the 1.2-litre Navigator Plus. One of my favourite things about Suzukis - including my Vitara Turbo long-term test car - is the decent tyres fitted to all but the cheapest of their cars.
What that means is when combined with a very impressive suspension tune which delivers an excellent ride and handling balance (especially for such a small car) it's also fun to drive, if that's your thing. If it isn't your thing, it's comfortable and feels good on the road.
The steering is perhaps a little slow for my liking which I found a little odd. The spec sheet says it has variable rack steering which means you get more steering angle at a faster rate the more you turn the wheel, but it seems to only accelerate usefully when you're parking or moving around at low speed. It always felt like it need another quarter-turn or so for the same effect compared to most other small cars I've driven. Most owners probably won't mind, I just think it would be even better if the steering was a bit quicker.
The dreaded CVT makes the most of the 1.2-litre's limited power and torque, which is what CVTs are good at. I dread CVTs - and this is purely personal - because I don't think they're very good in most of the cars fitted with them. This one can whine a bit as you're driving along, but I'll take that because it has a good strong take-up from standstill that feels almost like a good dual-clutch transmission. Some CVTs are far too soft off the lights and you end up getting swamped by delivery riders on pushbikes.
Moving up to the turbo GLX, the main difference is the extra power and torque. When I first drove it I thought, "Why wouldn't you buy this one?" While the extra oomph is welcome, it's really not a deal breaker and really not worth an extra (almost) four thousand dollars unless you're really wedded to the idea of a turbo or LED headlights. Both of which are good things.
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 Navigator Plus' Series II safety upgrades add blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert and you get forward AEB with both low and high speed operation, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning as well as six airbags and the usual ABS and stability controls.
These features are also on the more expensive, turbo-powered GLX but not on the down-spec Navigator, which is one of the main reasons for me telling you in the intro that this is the better car.
The Swift features three top-tether points and two ISOFIX anchors for fitting child seats.
In 2017 the base GL scored four ANCAP stars while the other grades, offering things like forward AEB scored five stars.
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.
Suzuki offers a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is competitive.
Worth noting is the fact that the 1.2-litre's service intervals (12 months/15,000km) are a little more generous than the turbo's (12 months/10,000km). The 1.2 will cost $239 for the first service and then $329 for the next three. The fifth service is $239 or, if it's travelled over 90,000km, climbs to $499. If you stick to "average" mileage, that means a five-year service bill of $1465, or just under $300 per service. Not bad, although a Yaris is cheaper than that by quite some margin while a Rio is about double that (however it has a longer warranty).
If you go up to the GLX turbo, along with shorter intervals by distance, you'll pay $1475 or $295 per service, which again, is quite good and cheaper than the Rio and Picanto GT's servicing by quite a margin. The turbo triple obviously has more complex servicing needs and if you go over the expected milage, the final service will cost anywhere from $299 to $569, which is still reasonable.