New MG 3 vs new Suzuki Swift

MG and Suzuki continue to fly the flag for small, well-priced hatchbacks that won’t cost a lot to run. And we've tested their latest fuel-sipping hybrid models to see which is best...

MG 3 vs Suzuki Swift fronts on roundabout

The contenders

NEW MG 3 Hybrid+ Trophy

List price £20,495
Target Price £20,196

NEW Suzuki Swift 1.2 Mild Hybrid Ultra

List price £19,799
Target Price £19,560

Talk about leaving the door wide open. The decision by some big brands to abandon the conventional small car market and focus on SUVs has given smaller brands the perfect opportunity to waltz in and capitalise. After all, thousands of long-time Ford Fiesta and Kia Rio owners will eventually need a new car and might not want, or be able to afford, to make the jump to a Ford Puma or Kia Stonic.

MG hopes they’ll be tempted by its latest offering. Indeed, the Chinese-owned brand brazenly calls the new MG 3 a ‘conquest car’ – an industry term for a model designed primarily to steal sales from rivals rather than cater for existing owners seeking an upgrade. Like the old MG 3, the new one is a Fiesta-sized five-door hatchback, only this time around it’s no budget-focused Dacia Sandero competitor. It’s a full hybrid that promises strong performance and 64mpg fuel economy – although it still looks like fine value for money, undercutting the likes of the Skoda Fabia and Volkswagen Polo.

Mind you, on paper at least, you can enjoy the same spectacular fuel efficiency from a mild hybrid (don’t worry: we’ll explain the differences later). The new Suzuki Swift matches the MG’s official economy exactly and actually pumps out slightly less CO2. It costs about the same to buy, too.

So, if you’re looking for parsimonious fuel consumption and low long-term running costs, which of these new small cars should you choose? To find out, we devised a road trip, starting at What Car? Towers in Twickenham, west London, and crossing the capital for a brief pit stop on the Isle of Dogs. That would give these hybrids the ideal environment in which to showcase their fuel-sipping talents. We’d then head out onto the motorway for an overnight stay in Great Yarmouth, before looping back to Twickenham via some more challenging country roads.

Crossing the capital

London is undoubtedly the most extreme urban environment we could throw at our protagonists. More than two million cars use the city’s streets on an average weekday, resulting in heavy congestion, continual stop-start traffic and journey times that could easily be bettered by a heavy smoker on a pushbike.

MG 3 and Suzuki Swift rears driving in town

But it’s in this type of environment that hybrids are designed to excel. It’s no coincidence that the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius are the go-to choices for thousands of Uber drivers, and the MG is pretty similar to those cars in concept, with the ability to run on petrol or electric power or a combination of the two. In addition to a 101bhp 1.5-litre engine, it has a 350-volt battery that drives a 134bhp electric motor. Much of the time, the engine acts as a generator to top up the battery, although it can also drive the front wheels directly via a three-speed automatic gearbox.

So, the MG can crawl along in slow-moving traffic without burning a drop of petrol, and when it’s doing so, the experience is remarkably relaxing; you could just as easily be driving a fully electric car. However, in an equivalent electric car, the battery would be at least 20 times bigger. The 1.83kWh unit in the MG can manage only a few minutes of propulsion before the petrol engine is called upon.

When this happens, things become somewhat less tranquil. A noticeable amount of engine vibration filters through to the driver’s seat, and when the engine needs to drive the wheels directly – if you’re surging out of a side road or onto a roundabout, for example – the two power sources don’t dovetail as seamlessly as they do in the best hybrid cars.

MG 3 and Suzuki Swift driving through London

The technical set-up in the Swift is much simpler, with a new 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine doing the lion’s share of the work. The ‘mild hybrid’ bit just means that the starter motor is larger than normal and not only turns over the engine to start the combustion process, but also gives the engine a small boost when pulling away. ‘Small’ is very much the operative word, though, because unlike most mild hybrids, the Swift has a 12-volt (rather than 48-volt) electrical system. So, the starter motor adds just 3bhp of extra shove and the battery that powers it has a capacity of 0.12kWh (roughly the same as 30 Duracell AAs).

The Swift’s five-speed manual gearbox also means much more involvement from the driver is needed in town. It’s stating the obvious, but you’re always stirring the gearlever and pumping the clutch pedal – and that can become rather irksome during a near threehour trip across a major city. Mind you, the clutch and gearshift are at least very light, so you never develop any real fatigue. And while the stop-start system sometimes takes a little more time than you’d like to fire the engine back into life again before you can pull away, it’s never sluggish enough to cause any real delay.

Sitting in traffic gave us plenty of time to pore over each car’s interior, and the truth is that neither of these hybridised tiddlers wows you with swanky design features or soft-touch materials. Hard plastics are the order of the day throughout, and the ones in the Swift feel a little less substantial than those in the MG. The Swift’s two-tone dashboard and silver inserts make it a cheerier place in which to while away the hours, though; the MG’s interior is a more sombre dark grey with fewer highlights.

Suzuki Swift dashboard

The Swift also has a better driving position, something that’s apparent immediately but amplified the longer you spend behind the wheel. For starters, the MG’s steering wheel adjusts only for height (not reach), so you might find yourself feeling awkwardly positioned. Even if the set-up does work for you, you’ll probably be bothered by an annoying lump in the seat base. The Swift, on the other hand, offers more adjustment, a more supportive driver’s seat and a better view out all round – handy when you need to be continuously on the lookout for cyclists and pedestrians.

As we crossed the shadow cast by One Canada Square near the end of a 28-mile first leg (at a giddying average of 10mph), all that remained was to find somewhere to park up for lunch. That gave the MG the chance to demonstrate another important attribute for town driving: a tight turning circle. This makes manoeuvring that bit easier than in the Swift.

The open road

With hunger pangs banished, we set off on the second leg of our trip and gradually picked up the pace as we joined the North Circular and then merged onto the M11.

MG 3 behind the wheel on motorway

Now, the motorway might not seem like the natural habitat for small hatchbacks like this, but these aren’t tiny city runabouts. Indeed, they’ll need to function as ‘only cars’ for many households, so it’s important to consider how they cope on longer journeys.

And beyond the city limits, one thing is immediately obvious: the MG is surprisingly quick for a small hatch. Working together, its engine and electric motor can pump out 192bhp – enough to get it from 0-62mph in just 8.0sec. On the motorway, that means enough acceleration to easily keep up with fast-moving traffic, even when the road gets hilly and there are several people on board.

Progress in the Swift is rather more pedestrian. It has just 81bhp and an even bigger torque deficit (83lb ft versus 313lb ft), because there’s no turbocharger to give the engine a boost. So, you need to use the lower reaches of the accelerator pedal and the upper echelons of the rev range far more often. That said, the Swift never feels frustratingly sluggish in the way that, say, a Toyota Aygo X does on the motorway. Unless you’re in a real hurry, you’ll find performance adequate, and the Swift’s engine is noticeably smoother than the MG’s.

MG 3 and Suzuki Swift fronts driving

It isn’t only vibration you’re better isolated from in the Swift, because less tyre noise makes its way inside. Neither of these cars is particularly hushed by wider class standards, though; you and your passengers would enjoy a more peaceful high-speed cruise to your destination in plenty of other small cars. You’d get a slightly more comfortable ride in a Renault Clio or Polo, too – although neither of our contenders is jarringly firm or unsettled. The Swift fidgets around a little more at high speeds, while the MG is less adept at dealing with expansion joints or sharper intrusions – both on faster roads and in town.

Your passengers would probably appreciate the extra space they’d get in a Clio or Polo, too. Yes, the MG 3 and Swift are five-door hatchbacks that can carry four adults, but rear head room is tight for six-footers and leg room far from outstanding in both. The Swift just has the edge, with a bit more space for your knees and easier access (the MG’s chunky sills make getting in and out a little more difficult) – surprising, perhaps, given that it’s the smaller of the two.

This match-up is also a textbook example of why you should never rely solely on official figures, because if you did that, you’d assume the MG has the bigger boot. But because of the reclined angle of the rear seatbacks, you can actually fit more carry-on suitcases in the Swift (five versus four). And because the Swift’s rear seats fold in a conventional 60/40 split, rather than in one piece like the MG’s, it gives you the flexibility to carry longer or bulkier items without turning your car into a two-seater.

MG 3 and Suzuki Swift boots open

Back to London

So, when you’re going farther afield, whether it’s to Great Yarmouth or Greater Manchester, the Swift is the more practical choice – but is it more fun? Well, we already know it’s no drag strip monster, but the three-cylinder engine loves to be revved and is always easy on the ear. There’s also the added interaction of the manual gearbox, which, despite being quite light, has a satisfying shift action.

As we headed back to London via the Norfolk Broads, the Swift proved the more enjoyable companion. It’s more than 300kg lighter than its rival (the simple mild hybrid system adds just 7kg of weight over a regular petrol engine) and always feels more agile because of it, darting into corners in a way that makes the MG feel slightly lead-footed. Yes, the Swift’s steering is a tad light, but it still gives you a better sense of connection to the front wheels than the MG’s slow and less feelsome set-up.

The Swift also hangs on a bit better when you push it hard through a corner, and it feels more playful beneath you as you approach its limits of grip. And while the MG’s brakes are reasonably well judged, the Swift’s are a bit smoother and more predictable. That said, when it comes to covering ground quickly along a country road, none of those things makes up for the MG’s much stronger acceleration out of slower corners.

MG 3 and Suzuki Swift rears driving

How much did it cost?

Now it’s time to crunch the numbers, because if you’re buying a keenly priced small car with the word ‘hybrid’ in its name, you’re going to expect good fuel economy. We used a brim-to-brim method of measuring fuel usage on our journey, rather than just relying on each car’s trip computer, and the Swift proved usefully more frugal.

The journey across London cost £3.78 in the Swift and £4 in the MG, with our contenders averaging 50.2mpg and 47.5mpg respectively. That’s not bad in either case, given how brutally congested London’s roads were on the Tuesday morning of our trip. It’s perhaps surprising, though, that the fully hybridised MG didn’t outdo its very mild hybrid rival.

Anyway, was the result any different on the mainly motorway journey from east London to Great Yarmouth and back to Twickenham? Well, yes – but only because the Swift’s margin of victory was even greater. On the 289-mile journey, the Swift used £37.73 worth of petrol, having achieved 59.1mpg, while the MG’s 53.2mpg economy resulted in a bill of £41.91.

MG 3 and Suzuki Swift refueling

So, based on the average efficiency these cars returned on our road trip and the current average cost of unleaded, the Swift will cost you £144 less at the pumps every 12,000 miles. That’s certainly not to be sniffed at, but it’s important to factor in other ownership costs – and the MG is also the more expensive car to buy in the range-topping trims we’ve lined up here (although it’s reversed if you go for the cheapest trims).

Despite that, the MG is predicted to work out fractionally cheaper to own if you buy outright and sell after three years, mainly because it’s expected to hold its value better. However, very few buyers will be paying the whole lot in one go, and if you’re signing up to a PCP finance agreement, the Swift costs significantly less. Put down a £2839 deposit on a four-year agreement with an 8000 miles annual limit and you’ll repay £232 a month, compared with £249 for the MG.

Despite their keen pricing, both cars come with adaptive cruise control, climate control, heated front seats, keyless entry and infotainment touchscreens with smartphone mirroring. The MG goes even further with a heated steering wheel and a 360deg parking camera. Both also come with warranties of up to seven years – although the cover on the Swift ends after three years if you choose to have your car serviced outside the Suzuki dealer network. At the time of writing, neither car had been tested for safety by the independent experts at Euro NCAP, but both come with lots of active safety aids to help you avoid having an accident.

MG 3 vs Suzuki Swift costs

Our verdict

The new MG 3 initially seems like the bargain of the century. It undercuts other fully hybridised small cars such as the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris by thousands of pounds while offering better performance and similarly impressive official economy.

However, while there’s no doubt it’s a good choice, closer inspection reveals some irritating shortcomings. The inflexible driving position won’t work for everyone, for example, while the one-piece rear bench limits practicality, and plenty of other small cars offer more space for rear passengers and smoother driving manners. While all of those things would be easy to explain away if the return was amazing fuel economy, the reality is that there’s another new car that’s similarly well priced and significantly more frugal in real-world use.

That car is the Swift. It may be quite simple on the technical front, but that’s the reason why it weighs so little and can deliver such spectacular fuel economy. It’s also good fun to drive, more practical than the MG and very well equipped – so much so that we’d actually recommend going for cheaper (£18,699) Motion trim.

MG 3 and Suzuki Swift in front of fairground big wheel

So, the Swift deservedly wins this matchup and is the one to go for if excellent fuel economy or low CO2 emissions are a priority. In fact, the only reason you might want to hold off buying is to wait for that Euro NCAP safety report, because the previous model didn’t score too highly on that front.

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Specifications: MG 3 Hybrid+ Trophy

Engine 4cyl, 1498cc, petrol, plus electric motor
Power 192bhp (combined)
Torque 313lb ft (combined)
Gearbox 3-spd automatic
0-62mph 8.0sec
Top speed 106mph
Official fuel economy 64.2mpg (combined)
CO2, tax band 100g/km, 25%

Specifications: Suzuki Swift 1.2 Mild Hybrid Ultra

Engine 3cyl, 1197cc, petrol
Power 81bhp at 5700rpm
Torque 83lb ft at 4500rpm
Gearbox 5-spd manual
0-62mph 12.5sec
Top speed 103mph
Official fuel economy 64.2mpg (combined)
CO2, tax band 99g/km, 24%

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