I think a lot of people assume that the test units being lent out to us motoring journalists are brand-new ones. And on rare occasions, it does happen. We’d get a vehicle that has less than 100km on the clock, and that we’ll be the one using it for the first time. But in most cases, we’d be assigned a car that’s been around the block a couple of times with maybe a few thousand clicks under its belt.
We’re not complaining, by the way. If anything, it’s a better indication of how a particular model ages and what sort of items will wear out faster. And that’s pretty much what I had expected from the Laser Blue MG 5 that was delivered to my doorstep. I had been thinking about borrowing this vehicle for a while. But for some reason, I never got around to doing it until I was informed that a base-variant car with a manual transmission had become available.
The test unit had logged around 3,400km so everything still felt new. First impressions were good as there were a few areas with soft-touch materials. The lack of switchgear meant that the dashboard looked clean and simple (which would annoy me later on). The manual shifter had a first-gear lockout for reverse gear just like a Volkswagen Santana. It’s just a normal, base MG 5. That is, until I took it out on my first drive.
During a brake check, I heard a loud squeal as I pumped the pedal. I did it a few times to see if it would go away. It didn’t. It never even mattered whether I braked gently or forcefully. I was in shock because I wasn’t home when the car was delivered, and I couldn’t ask anyone at the house to give it a brief shakedown as no one knew how to drive a stick-shift. I was ready to tell MG that I wanted to return the unit.
But I put the squealing aside and drove the car around our village just to get a feel for it. One cursory glance at the rear-view mirror revealed something as a trailing car flashed its brights on me. At the left corner of the rear window was a faint outline of a number. I shined a flashlight on it, and it really was a decal of the number 88 that had been stuck there before. I contacted the guys from MG, and they confirmed what I had suspected: this was the actual car that went endurance racing at Clark.
So, here I was using an MG 5 that had been driven very hard for around eight hours straight—something it was never really designed for. But instead of asking MG to take the car back, I just decided to find out how it held up after that kind of abuse. And if the shifter feel was anything to go by, I’d say it has done really well. The throws were precise and not that long.
The clutch pedal, though, was a tad hard. I wasn’t sure if the car had had a clutch replacement, but I felt that it had more resistance than what I was expecting. Power delivery was more or less on par with how a 1.5-liter naturally aspirated engine would behave. The performance will obviously not set your pants on fire, but there were no abnormal noises associated with a hard life. It does idle roughly after cold starts, but settles down once everything is warmed up.
I like the fact that at its price tag of P658,888, the poverty-spec MG 5 comes equipped with a few toys normally found on more expensive vehicles. The infotainment screen has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Select reverse gear and there is a camera feed with a distance readout. You could actually play a game of how close your balls will allow you to back the 5 into a wall. The small display in between the gauges looks like the one fitted to the Santana, but I’ll let the parts-sharing slide because it looks nice.
But then, you get to the air-conditioning system. It doesn’t have a separate control panel. You have to switch on the infotainment display just to get to the HVAC settings. The volume knob also controls the fan speed and the temperature, which you can alternate by pushing a button and confirming a poorly translated alert message. But you will get used to the system just like I did, and it will eventually be muscle memory. Just pray that the touchscreen doesn’t go kaput.
Other than the annoying HVAC controls, I quite like the MG 5. The back seat is spacious because it doesn’t have a floor hump. The ride quality is pretty acceptable for a car at its price point. I drove it through some gnarly bits of pavement and it was fine. It isn’t pillowy soft, but it won’t shake your dental fillings loose. The steering is on the numb side, but if you’re going to jostle for space in traffic, you’ll appreciate the lightness.
Now, an eight-hour race is just a speck in the total distance that this car has traveled. But there are purpose-built machines that fail to finish an endurance event. And the simple fact is that this MG made it to the checkered flag and survived the battery of tests I put it through. And you can have it for around the same price as most superminis. The 5 isn’t another case of a rolling heap of junk from the People’s Republic. Just make sure you get a unit that hasn’t been raced when you buy one.
MG 5 CORE MT
|Engine||1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline|
|Power||112hp @ 6,000rpm|
|Torque||150Nm @ 4,500rpm|
|Dimensions||4,601mm x 1,818mm x 1,489mm|
|Upside||It has held up well to motorsports abuse, and you can’t beat that price.|
|Downside||The hidden air-conditioning controls are very annoying.|