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MG 3 Essence Hybrid 2024 review


After 13 years, an all-new and much more sophisticated MG3 attempts to bury the old car’s dirt-cheap reputation by actually being pretty decent in almost all areas

Good points

  • Country-road ride absorbency
  • Effortless performance
  • Massively improved refinement
  • Extensive equipment
  • Good driving position

Needs work

  • Terrible rear-seat folding mechanism
  • Tyre grip doesn’t match performance
  • Ungainly front-end styling
  • Oddly uncomfortable rear-seat backrest
  • Big price increases

Australians once loved light hatchbacks, but as punters’ tastes have veered towards SUVs of all flavours (and, conspicuously, diesel dual-cab utes), the humble baby hatch has somehow faded into obscurity … unless you’re talking about the MG3.

This bargain-priced, neatly-styled Chinese light hatch has been Australia’s favourite cheap new-car transport since 2020 – despite the fact the outgoing model is now a creaking 13 years’ old. Last year alone, MG Motor Australia sold 15,430 of them – making it the brand’s second best-selling vehicle behind the similarly cheap and ancient ZS small SUV.

MG3 2024 rear 3/4

So there’s plenty of expectation riding on the massively improved, new-generation MG3.

For starters, the all-new range introduces MG’s first series-parallel hybrid – meaning self-charging – as well as loads of active-safety equipment that wasn’t available on the cheap-as-chips previous model.

The new MG3 is also larger, stronger, more sophisticated, and vastly superior to drive – at least in top-spec Hybrid form tested here – which must surely go a long way towards compensating for its substantial lift in price.

MG3 2024 front close

If you compare the previous MG3 Excite’s manufacturer sticker with that of the new Excite petrol, the increase is only $4000. But there was also a more basic Core model offered for $1500 less than the Excite, and MG generally offered the previous 3 with drive-away pricing – for a maximum of $500 more than the RRP.

Is the new-generation MG3 good enough to pull off what amounts to at least a $5K price premium? Or, in the case of the Hybrid, $9K more?

That’s what you’re about to find out.

What are the MG3 Essence Hybrid’s features and options for the price?

MG Motor Australia is offering the new MG3 in two trim levels (Excite and Essence), with both regular petrol and petrol-electric drivetrains.

The base MG3 Excite, featuring a new 81kW/142Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine and CVT automatic transmission, starts at $23,990 before on-road costs, with the Essence version costing $25,990 before on-road costs.

MG3 2024 group 2

That represents a considerable hike over the outgoing MG3’s $18,990 driveaway for the base Core, and $19,990 driveaway for the Excite … though plenty of that additional cost can be accounted for by the enormous lift in active-safety features (outlined in ‘Is the MG3 Essence Hybrid a safe car?’), and its all-round sophistication.

The 155kW (yes, really!) 1.5-litre petrol-electric Hybrid four-cylinder commands a $4000 premium in both trim levels – meaning $27,990 for the Excite Hybrid and $29,990 for the Essence Hybrid, each before on-road costs.

Equipment highlights of all MG3 variants include:

  • Auto-folding mirrors
  • LED daytime running lights
  • Auto high-beam
  • 16-inch alloy wheels
  • Keyless start
  • Fabric seat trim
  • Upholstered steering wheel
  • Driver’s seat height adjustment
  • Front centre armrest
  • 4 x auto-down power windows
  • Digital climate control
  • Rear-seat air vents
  • 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster
  • 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen
  • 6-speaker audio
  • Wired Apple CarPlay
  • Wired Android Auto
  • 2 x USB-A ports (one front, one rear)
  • 1 x USB-C port (front)

MG3 2024 sunroof
MG3 2024 360 degree

The more expensive Essence grade adds, for $2000 more:

  • Electric glass sunroof
  • LED projector headlamps
  • Keyless entry
  • Leather steering wheel
  • Vinyl/cloth seat trim
  • Stitched vinyl dash and door trim
  • Rear-seat map pockets
  • Rear reading lights
  • Sunglasses holder
  • Digital radio
  • Navigation
  • 360-degree camera
  • Rain-sensing wipers
  • iSmart app functionality

How does the MG3 Essence Hybrid drive?

If the MG4 small electric hatch didn’t exist, expectations of the new-gen MG3 would be pretty dire. But the great-handling MG4 has single-handedly transformed what people can expect from an MG’s driving dynamics, and there’s enough of that spirit in the new MG3 to elevate it to a totally new level compared to its loud, crude predecessor.

Firstly, the MG3 drives nothing like an MG4. It has its own dynamic personality and that centres around its ability to actually ride well. Around town, there’s respectable absorbency, despite the 195/55R16 Kumho Solus tyres running a recommended 37psi, but it’s out on challenging country-road surfaces where the new MG3 Hybrid asserts its authority.

MG3 2024 driving 3

It isn’t super-quiet, and it does tend to rock around a bit, but the quality of its damping control is really good. You just keep belting the MG3 Hybrid along and it eats up Australia’s vast, lumpy expanses like a poker machine does pay packets. And it handles well, too, with a nicely balanced, impressively relaxed gait that responds well to having its mettle tested.

What lets the side down is the MG3’s steering which, unlike the MG4’s, isn’t quick or crisp – despite sharing the same delightful two-spoke steering wheel.

It feels kinda sticky and vague around centre, and isn’t geared fast enough to complement the new 3’s keen chassis.

MG3 2024 driving 6

On poorly surfaced, curving roads, you find yourself fighting against its desire to point straight, which can make your thumbs ache against the spokes.

And all this is in Eco or Normal mode – the much firmer Sport-mode weighting is best left to tight, smooth hairpins, not regular driving.

That said, if you turn-in through this steering reluctance and properly engage the MG3’s chassis poise, you’ll know what this new-gen hatch is truly capable of. But how many owners are going to do that – chuck their new MG3 into a corner and enjoy the ride?

MG3 2024 driving 4

We should point out that in the city, the MG3’s mediocre steering isn’t so much of a concern, or as heavily weighted as mentioned above.

Finally, the Hybrid’s drivetrain. Consisting of a new-generation Atkinson cycle 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder (producing 75kW/128Nm) combined with a 100kW electric motor and a 1.83kWh battery, MG Australia claims the combined system output is a staggering 155kW (compared to 143kW quoted by the Brits…).

Pulling 1308kg in the Essence Hybrid, MG says the combination of all of the above is good for just 8.0sec 0-100km/h and a very brisk 80-120km/h rolling-acceleration time of 5.0sec.

MG3 2024 driving

It’s an interesting hybrid system to experience. The petrol engine relies on a very tall-geared three-speed automatic (yes, you read that correctly!) but given that the electrics do such a fine job of providing instant shove and off-the-line punch, it somehow all works well.

It isn’t seamless though – there’s often some lag before the engine engages, as well as some wasted time as the ESC system attempts to stop such a gutsy drivetrain from frying the narrow front tyres. But as an all-round companion, it’s surprisingly likeable, characterful and rapid.

There’s even three-setting regenerative braking that thankfully defaults to the middle setting because on its highest level, the MG3 sets up an emu-like fore-aft jerking on light throttle. It’s nowhere near as finessed as the MG4’s and doesn’t provide full one-pedal motoring.

What is the MG3 Essence Hybrid’s interior and tech like?

From a core design perspective, the styling and functionality of the MG3’s interior is mostly impressive. Its layout is clean, the screens are improved in terms of processing speed and clarity (being based on the MG4’s same-size units), and the functionality – at least in the front seats – is pretty good.

Despite minimal adjustment (a tilt-only wheel), the Essence Hybrid’s driving position proved great for me (at 5ft 10in), the front doors will effortlessly take one-litre camping bottles and the centre-console storage works well. Even the Essence’s sunroof is great – large enough to actually reveal sky for those seated up front.

MG3 2024 interior
MG3 2024 interior front seats

The MG3’s logical, uncluttered multimedia set-up is arguably better than any other Chinese brand for useability, and now that it’s quicker to respond to inputs, most functions are effortless to master – in particular, the MG Pilot active-safety suite, because some of its over-zealous features will require frequent disablement.

Audio quality is good, too, with six robust speakers, and while Apple CarPlay/Android Auto require wired access, they work with greater speed than in any MG4 we’ve tested.

MG3 2024 360 touchscreen

MG3 2024 back seats

The rear seat isn’t quite so good. Riding on a 2570mm wheelbase, the new MG3 offers good leg and foot room back there, but the seat itself has an odd backrest shape that almost feels convex for outside occupants, pushing their chests forward.

Indeed, the MG3’s centre backrest is actually more comfortable! Pity, because the cushion offers decent under-thigh support and there’s rear-seat air vents as well.

As for the boot area, there isn’t much to complain about in terms of shape and volume, even though 293 litres is some margin below a VW Polo’s. There’s a small amount of extra room below the floor because the Hybrid lacks a spare wheel – instead packaging the 12-volt battery and an inflation kit where the petrol puts a space-saver.

MG3 2024 boot

But if you want to expand that boot volume, your only option is to then flip the entire backrest forward in one piece onto the rear cushion … by simultaneously (and awkwardly) unlatching from the top of both backrests, as if it was a split arrangement!

It’s both clumsy and amateur, given that small-hatch rear backrests have been split – even just 50/50 – since the 1970s. And when you do fold it down, it exposes a huge gap between the back of the rear cushion and the boot floor for stuff to disappear into.

Is the MG3 Essence Hybrid a safe car?

The new-generation MG3 is yet to be independently tested by any NCAP safety authority. The previous model received just three stars way back in 2014, so MG Motor Australia will be hoping for a substantially better score this time around with its all-new model.

In terms of active-safety features, the increase has been considerable – equivalent to jumping ahead two generations in the transition from old MG3 to new.

MG3 2024 driving 5

Standard safety equipment fitted to all variants includes:

  • Six airbags
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Rear-view camera
  • Driver alert assistance
  • Forward AEB
  • Forward collision warning
  • Rear cross-traffic assist
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Intelligent speed assist
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Lane-keeping assistance
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Off-road mitigation
  • Tyre-pressure monitoring

In our on-road testing, the MG3’s adaptive cruise control lacked smoothness in congested traffic, while its lane-keeping aids proved overzealous when applying steering assistance – sawing at the wheel instead of subtly guiding.

What are the MG3 Essence Hybrid’s ownership costs?

The MG3 Hybrid’s official combined fuel consumption figure is 4.3L/100km, reflecting a stunning urban claim of 0.9L/100km and an extra urban (highway) number of 6.3L/100km. This compares to a 3.3L/100km combined figure for the lighter Toyota Yaris Hybrid hatch.

The MG3 Hybrid’s combined consumption translates to a range of 837km from its 36-litre tank, drinking 95-octane premium unleaded.

MG3 2024 engine

Our overall test average across more than 215km of varied driving was 5.2L/100km, for a real-world range of 692km. In densely trafficked city driving, we saw 5.5L/100km – a far cry from the claim, though our urban miles were admittedly hard-driven.

Recommended service intervals for the MG3 Hybrid are every 12 months or 10,000km, with its capped-price servicing cost over five years/50,000km totalling $2045 – around $200 more expensive than the regular MG3 petrol over the same interval ($1854).

In comparison, a Toyota Yaris Hybrid hatch’s five-year servicing cost (over a greater 75,000km distance) is capped at $245 for each service, meaning just $1225 in total.

MG3 2024 steering wheel

MG’s new-vehicle warranty in Australia is seven years/unlimited kilometres, with included roadside assistance for the same period and a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre anti-perforation warranty as well.

The Hybrid’s battery is also covered by a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

The honest verdict on the MG3 Essence Hybrid

Using the same name as the previous model almost undersells the ability of the new-generation MG3 because this is a hugely improved car.

While perhaps not as organically attractive as its predecessor, the new MG3 makes huge strides when it comes to its feeling of quality, the strength of its structure, the improvement in its technology and, most of all, the Hybrid’s undisputed performance and dynamic benefits.

MG3 2024 front 3/4

In the right environment, you could even call the new MG3 Hybrid fun, though it still lacks the overall consistency and all-round finesse that are the definitive marks of genuine greatness. It falls down in a few areas, but none of those flaws are deal-breakers – and they’re also seemingly able to be rectified in future updates.

For now, as it stands, it’s a good car. A larger, faster and better equipped hatch than a Yaris Hybrid, but no longer the rip-roaring bargain it once was … and perhaps too closely priced to its big-name competition to maintain its predecessor’s level of sales success.

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