Icon concept takes MG in a radically new direction

MG Icon front three-quarter viewThanks to Chinese ownership, a legendary British carmaker is back from the dead. Whether it will rise to a Phoenix-like blaze of glory or sink back into obscurity remains to be seen. MG, maker of classic sports cars like the MGB and TC, is back. The company is already selling cars in China and Europe; it will also unveil a new concept at the 2012 Beijing Motor Show.

The MG Icon is a small crossover that looks like the love child of a Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke. Like the Mini, it applies vintage styling cues to a type of vehicle that didn’t exist during the company’s glory days. The contrasting roof is a retro touch, and makes two-tone color options possible. The grille looks like it was pulled off one of MG’s products from the 1960s, as do the taillights.

The Icon has plenty of modern touches too. The high side mirrors indicate a high beltline, creating the armored car effect that makes drivers feel safer. Bulging wheel arches make the Icon look sporty, and camouflage the rear doors. Overall, it looks like MG was copying the Juke. It even has two sets of headlights, just like Nissan’s small crossover. The Icon’s lights look even weirder, though. The protruding lower lights look like they could impale pedestrians, and don’t really match the round, full-size headlights.

Since 2005, MG has been owned by Chinese automaker SAIC Motor, so the brand is essentially British in name only. It used to make small, nimble sports cars, but now the only cars wearing MG badges are plebeian sedans and hatchbacks, based on cars made by SAIC’s Roewe brand. The Icon is based on SAIC’s ZP platform, which forms the basis for the Roewe 350 and MG3.MG Icon front rear-quarter view

The Icon is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 135 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The Juke’s 1.6-liter engine has a turbocharger, and makes 188 hp and 177 lb-ft. The base Mini Countryman only makes 121 hp, but the sportier Countryman S makes 181.

If SAIC really wants the Icon to live up to the MG name, it will have to be fun to drive. The old MG’s sports cars were never the fastest, but they went around corners like nothing else. They introduced American G.I.s to the concept of sports cars, helping to bring that type of car to the U.S. A small crossover in the vein of the Juke and Countrymen seems like a good way to update the old MG magic, since it could offer fun driving in a trendier package.

However, given what MG is currently making, that seems like a long shot. Badge-engineered hatchbacks like the MG3 make the company look like an automotive zombie, reanimated so a new owner can milk its historic name for all it’s worth. The Icon is at least interesting, but don’t expect MG to start an “Imported from Longbridge” ad campaign anytime soon.