MG3 vs Vauxhall Adam: which supermini is more super?

Image of John Simpson
Author: | Updated: 28 May 2014 14:10

The UK’s car-buying habits may have warmed towards SUVs of late but when it boils down to it, we’re still a nation of supermini lovers.

More than a third of all cars registered in 2013 were superminis (35.9%). We bought exactly 813,092 of the things last year, which is 224,000 more than next largest segment (C - 588,402).

Two entrants to the market in 2013 were the Vauxhall Adam and Birmingham-built MG3, both highly customisable and aimed squarely at young buyers, keen to be seen in something cool and cutesy but most importantly, their own.

Vauxhall Adam and Birmingham-built MG3, both highly customisable and aimed squarely at young buyers

With the range of options of exterior colour, interior design, engines, trims, extras available in both cars, you could look at more than a million different Adam and MG3 models before finding two identical cars.

We didn’t have the time to evaluate each possible combination so took out one of each for a spin to decide which deserves your attention more…

Exterior:

John Simpson says: Placed side by side, the Adam is undoubtedly the better looking car but it isn’t difficult to make the MG3 look outdated. It wouldn’t be fair to slate the MG as ugly but compared to the Adam, it certainly is bland and lacking in character.

Vauxhall has clearly grasped what its target market wants from this kind of car, playing the cutesy card to great effect, especially at the rear with the feline-like headlights and curvey C-pillars.

Meanwhile with the MG3’s rear, you can spot echoes of the doomed and dire CityRover, a car so bad that it effectively sank MG-Rover; frustrating for a new car created from scratch. In short, the MG3 is the Antiques Roadshow to Vauxhall’s Snog Marry Avoid.

Placed side by side, the Adam is undoubtedly the better looking car

James Fossdyke says: Choosing the best-looking car from the Adam and the MG3 is a bit like trying to pick the intelligent one from a Premier League dressing room: futile.

For me, describing the Adam is actually quite tough. I know John disagrees with me, but by making the car look more grown up than the MG or even the ridiculously cutesy Fiat 500, the GM subsidiary has made a supermini that looks exactly like all the others. The only real ‘feature’ is the big grille on the front bumper, which makes the car look like it has a permanent, idiotic grin.

The MG has more mismatched angles than a fourth-year geometry lesson, yet it’s still somehow featureless. Of course, customisation options like racing stripes add a little interest, but at the end of the day it’s still disappointingly dated and bland.

So neither will win any beauty contests, but, on balance, the Adam just edges the MG in the looks stakes. It has smoother lines and, despite the gurning ‘face’, it is a slightly more attractive car than the MG, which is just too old-fashioned and dull.

See our business leasing deals for the Vauxhall Adam 
and MG3

Interior:

James says: It’s not really a fair fight when it comes to the innards. The MG3’s interior is not only boring but also tacky. The plastics are low-rent and hard to the touch and even the ‘leather’ trim on the steering wheel feels like it came from the Longbridge plant’s local £1 shop.

Worst of all though is the build quality. Just reclining the seat reveals messy stitching in the upholstery and some of the trim pieces simply don’t fit together properly. Not since the Honda Civic of the early 2000s have I been in a car that feels so brittle.

I’d love to be able to tell you about the equipment, but it’s limited to air conditioning, a radio and a flimsy smartphone dock. In all fairness, the radio is actually quite good. The six speakers produce reasonable sound quality and though the interface looks and feels cheap, it is at least intuitive to use.

The Adam, on the other hand, comes bearing the legend ‘made in Germany’ and has stuck to stereotype by managing to show the Brits how it’s done. Granted, it’s no top-class Mercedes in there – it’s not even a VW – but it feels fairly solid and it’s a pleasant, comfortable place to sit. Sadly, the car on test was a White Link model with bright white trim guaranteed to stay clean for all of two minutes.

The MG3’s interior is not only boring but also tacky

John says: Second blood goes to Adam for me, too. The White Link model we drove in ‘Saturday White Fever’ *sigh* certainly made an impression with white accents on the steering wheel, gear knob, and handbrake.

Pretty it may be but you’d be petrified should anyone get in with a coffee. The very sight of a fast food drive-thru would instil sheer terror. Babies would be banned, why does this car even have ISOFIX? Any passengers ever so slightly notorious for their clumsiness would have to get the bus or sit on the roof.

Thankfully, Adam’s multitude of options means there are darker, less sensitive interior colour schemes. The angelic white look sure looks nice but it’d probably be ruined before the mileage reaches triple figures.

Vauxhall’s stripped back touchscreen isn’t the smoothest but there are worse out there. The switches and buttons are all fairly decent and the chrome on the steering wheel’s underside is a nice touch.

Compare that chrome to that in the MG3 and it’s outclassed yet again. Plastics are notably cheaper and despite the red trim around vents, you’d think the cabin was built seven or eight years earlier; certainly not in 2014. That contrast in quality is epitomised by how dark the MG3’s cabin is with vast amounts of black and dark grey.

The Vauxhall is hardly the last word in build quality and refinement but the MG3’s interior definitely disappoints.

The White Link Adam certainly made an impression with white accents on the steering wheel, gear knob, and handbrake.

See our personal leasing deals for the Vauxhall Adam 
and MG3

On the road:

James says: On the move, the 3 finally comes into its own. The steering may be heavy, but it’s precise and inspires plenty of confidence, while the gearbox and pedals are light but provide lots of feedback, letting you feel the mechanics of the car at work.

Like most superminis, the 3 is fairly tall and narrow, but somehow body roll is kept to a minimum and the chassis is so sorted that it’ll even forgive you for going completely bonkers. Stamping on the accelerator halfway around a tight bend (don’t try this at home, kids) results in nothing more than tyre squeal and the corner in question becoming a distant memory.

On the move, the 3 finally comes into its own

If I have a complaint about the way the MG drives, it’s the engine, which produces a perfectly respectable 106hp, but a comparatively low 137Nm of torque, so the 3 has to be in the right gear to have much go. The heavy steering and the constant need to change gear make driving the MG a physical experience, but also a rewarding one.

In contrast, it’s on the road where the Adam’s problems really start. Both the steering and the gearbox are vague and lifeless, and while the 1.4-litre engine is fine for pottering around town, it’s both less powerful and less torquey than the MG (87hp and 130Nm).

The Adam is slower to 60mph (12.5s plays the 3’s 10.4s), but it is only marginally more fuel efficient, returning 51.4mpg compared to the MG’s 48.7mpg – and then only because it is equipped with stop/start while the MG does without.

John says: Here’s where the MG3 pulls it back in a big way. For me, the handling of the MG3 felt much more comfortable and delivered some much needed balls to proceedings.

A nought to 62mph time of just over 10 seconds is never going to risk you making a mess in your pants but it’s 2.1 seconds faster than the 12.5s delivered by the 1.4 Adam.

With the ‘city’ button enabled, the Vauxhall is more nimble and demands less driver input on the twisties but the MG3 just gives more back to the driver on an enjoyment level. You feel more involved. Yes, the MG3 had greater body roll but neither were too leany round the bends.

the Vauxhall is more nimble and demands less driver input on the twisties

Final verdict:

John says: To drive, MG3. To look at, Adam.

If it was possible to take the MG’s handling and engine and plonk it in the slicker looking and better riding Adam, you’d have a truly super supermini. So on that basis, the MG would get my money, if only for the fact that as tested, the MG was nearly five grand cheaper.

For those who actually enjoy driving, the MG is the only choice but thanks to the Fiat 500, superminis have become more about how much they can be personalised and for some buyers, it’ll be a purely fashion-fuelled decision and which car looks the prettiest.

James says: Both cars here have fundamental issues. The MG’s looks are forgivable, but the interior isn’t, and though the Adam may be smart inside, it’s nowhere near as involving or as enjoyable to drive as the 3.

If I were in the market for a car of this type, I’d be very tempted to avoid both these cars and head straight for the Suzuki Swift, which is as good to drive as the MG and has a better cabin, especially in high-spec models.

But if I’m forced to go for one of these two, it just comes down to which is cheapest, and that mantle goes to the MG. The car on test was a 3FORM SPORT worth £10,136 – the best part of £5,000 less than the Adam we drove.

The MG’s looks are forgivable, but the interior isn’t, and though the Adam may be smart inside, it’s nowhere near as involving or as enjoyable to drive as the 3.

Adam vs MG3 in numbers:

Vauxhall Adam MG3
Length: 3698mm 4018mm
Width: 1966mm (1966 inc. mirrors) 1728mm (1887 inc. mirrors)
Height: 1484mm 1507mm
Wheelbase: 2311mm 2520mm
Engine options: 1.2 70PS, 1.4 87PS, 1.4 100PS 1.5 VTi-TECH
Fastest engine (0-62mph): 1.4 100PS – 11.5 seconds 1.5 VTi-TECH – 10.2seconds
Top speed: 115mph 108mph
Best fuel economy: 51.4mpg combined 48.7mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 117g/km (1.2) 129g/km (as tested) 136g/km
Starting price: £11,255 £8,399
OTR price as tested: £14,995 – White Link 1.4 £10,136 - 3FORM SPORT

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