The Chinese car industry has developed at a rapid pace, proven by the fact Shanghai's auto show now outranks former titans on the calendar such as Los Angeles and Paris as a must-attend event. Chinese companies are now where Korean brands were in the early 1990s and where Japanese marques were in the 1970s, in that Chinese cars are still considered quirky alternatives to the established players – but are catching up fast.
MG is a case in point. The former English sports car brand was purchased by the Chinese state-owned Nanjing Automobile Group in 2005. Nanjing is China's oldest vehicle manufacturer, formed in 1947 to make mostly buses and trucks for the domestic market before it merged with SAIC Motor in 2007. This partnership opened the doors for export growth in time for MG to relaunch as a revitalised brand of budget-friendly, family cars.
This third generation MG 6 has hit the UAE market featuring a 20-centimetre, full-colour touchscreen infotainment system that can be operated from a multi-function leather steering wheel. Apple CarPlay, push start, keyless entry, digital dials, a six-speaker stereo, a tyre pressure monitoring system and a rear parking camera are all included as standard equipment for the relative bargain of Dh54,500.
Tick every option on the list – including two-tone leather and a 360-degree parking camera with voice control – and it still dips under Dh70,000, offering value that's difficult to find anywhere else. At that kind of spend, the MG 6 almost falls into the old cliche of getting a lot of "bang for your buck", but that's where the dream ends, because at this price something has to give and, in this case, it's the 1.5-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine mated to an admittedly smooth but lifeless seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
With a zero to 100 kilometres per hour time of seven seconds, the manufacturer claims it should eventually reach 210kph flat out, but speed is not on this car's agenda, regardless of what mode you slip it into – Eco, Normal, Sport or Individual.
The figures would be academic to most in the market at this end of the new car spectrum, but what it will offer you is fuel economy of less than six litres per 100km and the top crash rating of five stars, according to Chinese car safety assessment programme C-NCAP, which should put many families at ease. The MG 6 has six airbags, autonomous emergency braking and a lane departure warning system.
Despite the sloping roofline, the rear offers reasonable space for adults and continues the front's colour scheme. Passengers get their own air vents and there is a USB charger in the back of the centre console.
Driving the MG 6 is a strangely rewarding experience as it features smart LED headlamps and rides on stylish 18-inch alloy wheels, but it is also comfortable inside, with all the trimmings you would expect from a well-appointed new car. The quality of materials is not in the highest tier, with harsh plastics in some areas, but it certainly is a good-looking imitation.
If you're familiar with an Audi, VW or even some BMW interiors, you will recognise a lot of similarities in there as well. Chinese manufacturers tend to emulate the designs of European manufacturers, especially on the interiors, and the MG 6 has a Germanic look and feel to it, particularly in the design of the steering wheel, centre console and switchgear.
So, it is rewarding in that it feels similar to a German premium compact car, but you get it for half the money and all the interior gadgets work just as well. The fuel gauge also moves slower, which is a bonus. The test car featured dual-tone black and red leather upholstery, which wrapped around the doors and dashboard, as well as dual-zone climate controls. It's great for getting drivers from their home to the office or for doing the weekend shopping in relative comfort.
However, you are quickly reminded of its limitations when you head for the Hajar Mountains in search of a rewarding weekend drive and throw it around a few corners. It may wear an MG badge, which an older generation might assimilate to a long-lost British sports car brand, but the new MG is not sporty.
This modern brand reborn by Nanjing and delivered via SAIC is MG by name only compared with the 1920s "Morris Garages" original and should be considered an entirely different entity.
It's a cheap family car with loads of room for four people and luggage, thanks to a 424-litre boot that extends to 1,170 litres when the rear seats are folded flat, plus all the luxuries you expect from a premium compact car and five-star safety. But it's a sleeper in this competitive sector of the market.