Without Warning, The MG6 Sedan Makes a Swift Brexit
There was a second Brexit last month, but it was only faintly felt in the automotive world. MG quietly confirmed that the MG6 will be leaving its UK lineup later this year.
It’s not big news over here (many don’t even know that MG still makes cars.) This sedan/hatchback didn’t venture much beyond Britain, but I had the opportunity to drive one a few years ago at the company headquarters in Longbridge, Birmingham. MG ended up in the hands of the Chinese firm SAIC in 2005 because the British company needed a new savior and the Asian group was eager to learn. Their first full collaboration was the MG6. It was the result of a homegrown British design that respected the historic brand’s lineage. At the same time, it demonstrated the kind of fully-baked plan that comes from a stable budget that MG and its predecessor companies had not seen for many decades.
The car was distinctly European with some sporting flair. It wasn’t as much of a trendsetter as the Rover SD1, but it looked like the current Toyota Corolla was inspired by this now five-year-old design. The interior felt like a doctor’s office waiting room – solid, dependable, and sterile... but already a bit dated from day one. On the road, the 1.8-liter turbo motor was a great companion for Europe. The four-cylinder K-Series derivative could move the five-door family hatchback with a little punch in town without having to rely on turbo power. If it were used for an American freeway cruiser, this motor would run out of breath before the end of the onramp. But for the winding roads of Britain, MG got it right. Gear changes were surprisingly crisp and the chassis was confident in the corners, and the whole experience felt like a Ford sedan powered by a small BMW motor.
All things being equal, the MG6 could have been a winner. But as I drove the car past the company headquarters, the reality of the situation was as bleak as a Midlands winter day. MG’s headquarters compound in Longbridge is what’s left of the once-mighty British Leyland. The town used to be England’s Detroit. And Motown’s bad days are also reflected here as it has been scaled back and leveled over the last decade. In fact, it’s such a small shadow of its former self that Top Gear failed to notice the compound when filming their British Leyland challenge. But at the top of a hill in Longbridge the MG flag still flies. There is an original office complex and showroom on the grounds. They also have a plant that was built by the once-parent BMW, but it was abandoned before any production started under the Germans. Instead, its first product was partially built kits that were shipped over from China and finished at this British factory.
All of this is why the MG6 was destined to fail. The sedan was aimed squarely at mid-level managers looking to spend their company car allowance. While this is seldom seen in the USA anymore, the perk is alive and well in the UK. It’s a worthwhile segment that gives companies like Ford and Vauxhall (GM) a strong sales pillar. This is a stability-driven market in the UK, and the MG6 is a mostly Chinese car with a badge from one of the most historically unstable marques. Despite offering great deals, they only sold 548 examples last year. Other cars like the newer compact MG3 are more immune to the family man’s need for stability and sell better.
The final nail in the MG6’s coffin came from the decision to switch and solely offer diesel power. It seemed like a good strategy at the time, aligning the car more with what the market segment demands. Unfortunately, VW’s diesel scandal meant that the MG6 put all its eggs in the wrong basket. It’s easy to do a postmortem on the MG6 from the USA because the car never had an impact here. There was a small cry from Americans wanting a new MG, but it was so faint, it was never heard on the other side of the Atlantic. And rightfully so. The MG6 did a good job of pulling at patriotic heartstrings in the UK – an advantage it wouldn’t have over here. SAIC will still produce the Chinese version of the car, but no one suspects the USA will replace the UK on the kit shipping schedule. For us, they’d have to send the supplies to Kenosha just so an AMC Gremlin badge could be slapped on the rear. Even then, we’d be like the UK where some people would embrace nostalgia, but most of us would just dismiss it as a redundant machine.
In the end, the MG6 was a fine car whose fault was offering noting unique on the marketplace beyond its badge. Still, that might have just been enough. The MG6 was the company’s sole offering for many years – soldiering on in the home market and flying the flag until reinforcements arrived. But its constant irrelevance means it won’t get a hero’s death. Word: Myles Kornblatt for BoldRide Photos: Richard Gunn