The primitive feel of the 3’s driveline contrasts with the responses of its highly tuned chassis as starkly as the bright red of its cabin stands out against the black fascia to which it is fixed.

No £9000 car has any right to handle as keenly as this. For that price, simple dynamic adequacy is what you hope for – and it’s what you get in the likes of the Dacia Sandero and, just about, in a Proton Savvy.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
The intelligent stability control won't stop you from powering out of a slide, satisfyingly

Compared with those cars, the MG offers something genuinely remarkable. The car has body control to burn, generates plenty of grip in dry conditions and is as clean, direct and precise in its responses to your control inputs as many a warm hatchback. It also has consistent, perfectly judged steering weight and real feedback through the rim. Thank the old-fashioned hydraulic power assistance.

On top of all that, the incisive front end of a junior performance machine adds something quietly compelling into the 3’s handling mix, and it’s absolutely the last thing that you expect to get from a car this cheap: driver reward. This isn’t what you’d call any proper sort of driver’s car, but only because the powertrain isn’t distinguished enough to justify the billing.

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The MG 3 is an exceptional-handling car when you consider the budget that MG Motor must have had. The fact that we drove the doors off it on both MIRA’s wet and dry handling circuits without encountering so much as a hint of brake fade – never mind a disappointing stability control system or anything else that might betray a shortage of development spend – speaks volumes about it. And we had a ball every single lap.

Its cornering line remains admirably accurate as you up the pace. Its body control is very good and its balance of grip likewise, allowing you to attack apexes with the kind of gusto that you’d normally reserve for much more expensive specialist machinery. On the limit of grip, the car gently nudges into understeer, but its ESP is fully switchable and its cornering attitude is even a little adjustable if you’re smooth with your inputs.

In low-grip conditions, that chassis balance only makes for greater amusement, aided by the feelsome, honest steering system. The taut, engaging suspension tune – a credit to the skill of MG Motor's UK engineering outfit – is easily good enough for a junior hot hatch. It could handle another 50bhp as it is.

But as powerfully tempting as a half-price hot supermini will sound to many potential buyers, the 3’s chassis tune won’t suit everyone. Those sporting spring rates impose a jostling high-frequency ride on the car over less than perfect surfaces, as well as a slight shortage of low-speed compliance around town.

Those factors, combined with the engine noise, can make the 3 a wearing car after a while, when you’re not in the mood to take pleasure in its genuine handling verve.

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