Even though its storied history as a maker of attractive if unreliable sports cars still resonates with many people with rose-tinted glasses, the current incarnation of the MG brand is following a very different path with its products.
The MG name has long since departed in meaning and in reality, from the company set up back in the 1920’s by the sales manager of the William Morris’-owned Morris Garages, a man called Cecil Kimber, who started making one-off ‘specials’ for individual customers.
The brand had several homes in and around Oxford before settling in nearby Abingdon in 1929.
Wholly owned initially by William Morris personally, MG was later sold to the Morris Organisation (also owned by Morris), which gestated into the Nuffield Organisation before being absorbed into the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1952 as part of an amalgamation between Morris Motors and the Austin Motor Company.
Early successful models included the Midget, the Magna and the Magnette before MG changed hands again, becoming part of the British Leyland Motor Corporation (later simply BL) and producing some of the cars for which it is still best known, such as a new Midget and, perhaps most famously, the MGB.
But as the British motor industry tore itself apart in the 1970’s and ‘80’s thanks largely to nationalisation, terrible management, fractious unions and foreign competition, MG became less and less of a factor within the company, primarily because the profits it generated (and it did make money) were subsumed into propping up the larger loss-making divisions.
BL ultimately gestated into the Rover Group and the MG name was disgracefully misused on sporty editions of British greats like the Metro, Maestro and Montego, all of which were profoundly flawed cars.
The company name was revised in 1992 when the company made the MGB RV8 and again in 1995 when the company built the lovely-looking but appallingly built MG-F, a mid-engined roadster.
Then BMW took over the Rover Group, sold Land Rover and Jaguar to Ford, kept Mini for itself and left the rest to the newly created MG Rover Group, based in Longbridge near Birmingham. It folded ignominiously in 2005 and the MG brand was sold off to a conglomeration of Chinese firms under the Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation.
It restarted production in 2007 in the UK, making the popular if flawed MG-F, but ultimately moved production to China and Europe, leaving the once mighty production centre at Longbridge only as a technical and design centre. The old factory in Abingdon is now a McDonalds.
The Chinese knew what they were doing when they bought the MG brand as it opened a door to an automotive heritage which they could not have otherwise attained.
Thus armed, they started making a bunch of terrible cars based on indigenous Chinese designs.
But the ambition of the concern was to gain a toehold in Europe and it is only now it has the range of vehicles in production which can see them achieve that ambition.
The first of these have now arrived in Ireland and are being distributed by the Frank Keane Group.
We got our hands on our first modern MG very recently and it was an interesting experience, if not one which is indelibly inked on the memory. The car in question is the MG 5EV, which bears absolutely no resemblance to anything the company made when the MG name meant something.
The car at hand is a stationwagon and, as the name might suggest, it is an electric.
It is a car which looks like the offspring of a mating between a Ford Mondeo estate and a VW Passat estate and looks, as one person suggested to me during my time with it, like the designer woke up from a 30-year sleep exclaiming: “I’ve just done the drawings for an innovative new car.”
The look of the car is far from innovative and while we are told there will be an upgrade coming along soon, it is doubtful the underpinnings will change, but that the look might be refreshed. For now, though, if you’re a 1980’s revivalist, this thing is right up your alley.
Even the interior, despite its relatively cheery faux aluminium trimming, looks like something of a time capsule and even the modern infotainment system looks dated, even though it is very effective.
But there are strange things going on. To get the stereo/navigation/phone system to work takes a little time.
There is no ‘Home’ symbol on the Home button, so it is initially hard to find your starting point. And, when you have got it working, it appears to be designed by the same people that came up with computer ping-pong all those years ago.
Also, the instrumentation features both mile per hours and kilometres per hour, which is confusing and unnecessary.
The interior is big and comfortable with seating for fully five adults and a huge boot which can be made to be voluminous with the rear seats folded. But again, when you look around it and touch various surfaces, once more it seems you’ve been transported back in time. Even the steering wheel looks like it was taken from an MG-F.
On the engine front – or rather the electric motor front – the 5 EV is fitted with a 52.5 kWh lithium-ion battery and a single electric motor, the combination of which produce a healthy 154 bhp; the system is connected to a single