It’s a name most American motorists have long forgotten but there was a time when the products of British brand MG were a common sight on U.S. roadways. Once known for its droptop roadsters, MG is today owned by China’s SAIC which has turned it into a relatively mainstream producer of crossovers, sedans and hatchbacks.
Now, though, MG is returning to its roots — more or less. It has been hinting for some time it was developing a two-seat ragtop and, weeks ahead of its formal debut at this year’s Shanghai Motor Show, we’ve gotten a sneak peek at the new MG Cyberster.
This is no retromobile. As the name suggests, the MG Cyberster adopts a strikingly modern take on roadster design and technology, making use of high-tech features like its distinctive “Magic Eye” headlights which appear to vanish when turned off.
Golden days gone
If anything carries over from the golden days of British sports cars, it’s the low, long and wide dimensions of the MG Cyberster. But, even there, you won’t confuse it for a classic MG TC. The nose is far more aggressively raked, with a very modern-style lower grille and splitter, all critical for aerodynamics.
The back end goes with a relatively blunt, squared-off shape and the double-bubble rear deck features twin headrests serving dual duty as a built-in rollbar.
The lighting is all LED and the Magic Eye lamps are perhaps the most distinctive feature. Much as Hyundai has done with the seemingly chromed strips on the latest Sonata that turn into light bars, the Cyberster’s round headlamps vanish entirely when turned off.
Though MG may be Chinese-owned today, SAIC and its London-based design team paid homage to the brand’s origins by using strip-style taillights that recreate the familiar Union Jack.
Inside, the high-tech nature of the new roadster becomes even more apparent. There are fully five videoscreens on the instrument panel: one handles gauge cluster duties, another managing the infotainment system. A third has been mounted inside the yoke-style rectangular steering wheel. Two others display images from the small cameras that replace conventional sideview mirrors.
We expect to learn more about the MG Cyberster during the Shanghai Motor Show later this month. That should include some specifics about its fully electric drivetrain. So far, we only know that the roadster is expected to deliver 500 miles per charge. That’s using the WLTP standard, but even if it were to be cut down a bit by the EPA it would make for an impressive number.
Performance unlike classis MG roadsters
The Cyberster also will be able to launch from 0-60 in under 3 seconds, according to MG. Keep in mind that classic British roadsters never made that much power or offered all that great acceleration. The real appeal was in the overall driving experience. The modern-day Mazda MX-5 Miata is the closest we have to that era. Among the questions to be answered: how many motors are used in the Cyberster. These days, it’s becoming commonplace to mount separate motors on each axle. Going the equivalent of all-wheel-drive would be a big change from traditional MG roadster design.
For now, at least, the MG Cyberster is a concept vehicle so another subject likely to be dealt with on April 21 in Shanghai is if a production version is in the works.
Opportunity for a U.S. return?
Of course, there’s also the question of whether a production MG might be used to open the door to the United States — much like Alfa Romeo turned to the 4C to relaunch itself in the States. MG left the U.S. market in 1980 after years of declining sales. Its various owners have, throughout the years, repeatedly signaled a desire to make a return.
Breaking in isn’t easy, as a number of brands have discovered the hard way. Peugeot last month scrapped brands for its own American revival. That said, the emergence of the EV appears to be shaking things up — as Tesla demonstrates. Perhaps, MG might see an opportunity to gain a foothold with the Cyberster alongside other totally new brands like Fisker, Lucid and Lordstown.