Every manufacturer wants a small SUV these days and MG wants one more than most. While more consumers now recognise the modern, Chinese-owned incarnation of the once iconic British brand, people that buy MGs have until recently still tended to be over 65, with nostalgic memories of MG-Rover.
The MG3 supermini and the larger GS SUV started the brand on the road to recognition, and MG claims that the average age of its buyers is now 45 – still high for a budget brand. The MG ZS, however, is regarded as the game-changer.
A combination of a budget price, strong specification and a seven-year warranty is expected to persuade around 4,500 UK buyers into an MG ZS in 2018 – and that’s double MG’s entire current annual sales in the UK.
These buyers, MG hopes, will be predominantly young families and single people, attracted by a car that looks – well like several of the other compact SUVs now flooding the market.
The ZS is by no means an unattractive car, but it appears that MG believes replicating the mainstream at this stage of its development is a safer option than adventurous styling. Without looking at the badges you will struggle to distinguish the ZS from its established rivals such as the Mazda CX-3. And this, we are told, is the new ‘Emotional Dynamism’ design direction set to future on future new models…
Buying and owning an MG ZS
The MG ZS goes on sale with a choice of two petrol engines and three trim levels. All cars are front-wheel-drive – there won’t be an all-wheel-drive sister because buyers don’t want one and there are no current plans for a diesel either.
The core engine is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit with 106hp. It’s matched as standard to a five-speed manual gearbox and available in all three trims, dubbed Explore, Excite and Exclusive.
MG is banking on a budget price being a major draw to the ZS. The cheapest Explore version costs from just £12,495, and its specification includes LED daytime running lights, cruise control, and Bluetooth and MP3 connection on the radio.
Jump up to Excite, at an extra cost of £1,500, and you gain quite a lot of significant upgrades. There are 17-inch alloy wheels instead of 15-inch steel versions. The steering wheel gains leather and audio controls, the mirrors are electrically adjustable and heated.
You get air conditioning and an eight-inch colour touchscreen that includes smartphone integration, but only at present for Apple CarPlay. More usefully perhaps, there are three steering modes, dubbed Urban, Normal and Dynamic, and parking sensors.
Range-topper is Exclusive, for another £1,500 and the toys include ‘leather-style’ upholstery, satellite navigation, and a reversing camera alongside the parking sensors.
MG expects most customers, however, to choose the rather more modern three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine, developed with former Vauxhall owner General Motors. It’s more powerful, at 111hp, but at 12.4 seconds it’s also half a sec slower to 62mph than its 1.5 sister. Economy and emissions are not as good either, due entirely to the fact that it only comes mated to a six-speed auto transmission. You can only buy the 1.0 version in Excite or Exclusive form at a £2,000 premium over 1.5 versions.
At the time of writing the ZS has not been crashed into things by the testers of Euro NCAP. The standard safety specification does include side and curtain airbags, electronic braking and anti-rolling aids, and a hill-hold function, but the industry’s current favourite phrase of autonomous braking does not appear anywhere in MG literature.
What may have surprised rivals is MG’s launch, alongside the ZS, of a seven-year warranty. Currently only applying to the new small SUV, it’s capped at 80,000 miles, unlike Kia’s well-known seven-year offer which stretches to 100,000 miles.
MG claims, however, that its warranty is the best in the business because it enjoys full support by the factory from day one to day 2,555, whereas the direct manufacturer support for rival long warranties declines the longer they go on. And like the Kia warranty, it’s transferable to a new owner if the ZS is sold on.
Inside the MG ZS
On slipping inside the MG ZS one is impressed by the space. It’s a notably bigger car than the segment-leading Nissan Juke (almost 180mm longer, more than 40mm wider and higher), and MG claims interior space comparable to the Juke’s larger Qashqai sister.
Certainly there is no shortage of room to move about whether sitting in the front or back of the ZS, and it also scores on boot space – at 448 litres it’s not only claimed to be the best in the class but also measures up at over 90 litres more than most of its perceived rivals.
MG bosses used the word ‘premium’ a lot in the launch presentation and a fair amount of effort has been expended on at least the more visible areas of the interior. The soft touch plastics around the dash are well finished and the general layout good, if very traditional.
Controls come readily to hand and it is easy to get reasonably comfortable, though forward and back adjustment on the steering wheel would be welcome. The eight-inch touchscreen offered on all but entry-level models works well enough, with an easy-to-understand menu system.
In summary, premium is perhaps an optimistic way to describe the interior of the ZS, but it is a big improvement on previous offerings from the brand. Your reviewer has driven four new small SUVs in the past month alone and the MG lags behind none of them in terms of interior quality.
Driving the MG ZS
The Car Expert drove cars fitted with both engine options at the launch event and would advise buyers to follow MG’s prediction and choose the 1-litre engine – even if it means giving up manual gear changes.
The 1.5 appears to offer enthusiastic acceleration, but this does not translate to actual power delivery and it struggles for versatility, while the five-speed manual gearbox is a touch indistinct in its shifts.
The 1.0-litre feels far more potent, and combined with the auto gearbox presents a more sorted proposition, with smooth acceleration and comfortable high-speed cruising. However while the auto gearbox is reasonably smooth in its shifts, it does sap speed, and more importantly economy and emissions – the ZS does not measure up well in this area amongst rivals.
MG claims to have spent many months specifically tuning the ZS for UK roads and overall it’s a comfortable car to ride in. On the urban crawl it soaks up the less than perfect surfaces of town-centre roads and out in the country at higher speeds it maintains is poise, with the body staying reasonably upright when cornering.
The steering is light, but not over-so, and provides enough feedback to maintain confidence in bends. The three steering modes effectively change the level of power-steering assistance and while the extra lightness of Urban mode can be useful for negotiating tight urban streets, leaving the setting in Normal effectively provides all one needs.
The MG ZS won’t write any great headlines, but then it doesn’t really need to. MG needs a car in a big market that competes on the level with much better-known rivals, and the ZS does just that.
Buyers searching for the best economy and emissions won’t be detained long by this car. However those looking for a small crossover that is easy to live with, comes at a budget price and with a reasonably strong specification, plus that seven-year warranty, should certainly check out the MG ZS.