MG ZS: Boldly Going Where No MG Has Gone Before
I love an MG. Yes, I know a great deal of these charming British sports cars of yesteryear will spend a good portion of their life on a hoist or making use of their nightly oil bedpan, but they have so much character and charm on the move that it is impossible to be just a little bit impressed, regardless of your automotive prejudices. The last MG I drove was a 1948 MG TC, regarded as one of the greatest of all wire wheeled British sports cars, and it was an utter delight.
While the brand founded by Cecil Kimber is around today, the new MG line-up, as we all know, is lightyears away from its humble beginnings in Abingdon. Chinese Mega Company SAIC who own the rights to the MG brand, have certainly done all they can in turning MG from maker of fun simple sports cars, to inexpensive mainstream family run arounds. The first Chinese built MG arrived on New Zealand shores in the form of the MG6 Saloon. I tested this back in 2012, and while it was a bit rough around the edges, it definitely showed promise. So here we have SAIC’s MG for the soft roading family, the ZS. Time to get stuck in.
MG have made no bones about stating the ZS is the most affordable new small SUV on the market today, with the range kicking off with the entry point Excite at $23,995. My test car, supplied by Cockram Motor Group in Christchurch in case you didn’t know, was the flagship ‘Essence’ at $27,990. With a five-year warranty on all models in the range, its easy to see why a number of car buyers are flocking to MG dealerships and signing on the dotted line. However, what exactly do you get for your sub $30,000 SUV?
First up, the looks. The ZS shares nearly all styling cues with the grounded MG3 Hatch, which in my opinion, isn’t a bad thing. The ZS certainly looks good front to rear and the body sits 164mm off the tarmac. With a wheelbase of 2585mm, the ZS is 4314mm in length and 1809mm wide including the wing mirrors, so it still manages to remain relatively compact. The 17inch alloys comes as standard and you have six colours to choose from. Though if you choose the base or mid-range Excite Plus, you will have to miss out on the Electro Orange which adorned the car you see here.
Two powertrains are on offer, with the Essence in my care housing a 1.0L turbocharged Netblue three-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic box, this means 82kW and 160Nm of torque being sent to the front wheels only. Not a powerhouse then, but it still pulls rather well, but more on that in a bit. Buyers get a 48-litre fuel tank and MG claim fuel consumption figures of 6.7L/100km, not too bad at all.
If there is one word you could use to sum up the ZS interior, it would be ‘Functional.’ Hop inside and while the layout is very pleasing to the eye, the ZS has a whiff of bare essentials about it. The fit and finish to be honest isn’t the greatest, with some materials feeling rather hard and some toggle switches feeling a bit second rate. The ZS claws back however by providing a very clear and concise 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which this writer could swear took inspiration from a computer running Windows 10 software.
Standard kit for the ZS includes the following, Apple Car Play/Android Auto, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, one zone air con, tyre pressure monitoring, heated door mirrors, cloth trim seats with leather accents and a leather rim steering wheel. The Essence in my care comes with a very illuminating panoramic sunroof, sat nav and keyless start.
All bits and bobs operated by the infotainment screen are easy enough to use and respond with no delay as you would expect, however once the sunroof has receded, the glare from our solar system’s closest star makes it difficult to read.
In terms of room to slob out the ZS provides plenty of space. Lanker folk will be well suited and while the seats themselves aren’t exactly the plushest hip huggers around, lateral support could also be improved but they still provide a decent place to sit. Rear head and legroom are also very nice, and you also get a 60/40 split folding rear seat set up, allowing the boot space to increase from a modest 380 litres, to a dog swallowing 1166 litres.
Fire up that plucky three pot, select drive and you are away. While you will not be making swift progress, the ZS feels very mechanical and dare I say it, old school when negotiating the perils of inner-city motoring. One aspect which deserves to be commended is the level of ride comfort, I was initially expecting bumps to feel like mountain ranges but no, the ZS manages rather well to keep the thud of potholes at bay.
The six-speed box shifts well however it would have been nice to flick up and down using shift paddles, but hey for $27k, its pretty good. At high rpm, the Netblue three pot begins to sound like an old Porsche 911, and utilises all its torque right up the redline of 6,500rpm, making the ZS feel rather meaty in the process.
When you get the open road twisty stuff, the ZS makes itself known as being more at home on the urban commute, while it can do the corners well, you get the sense it isn’t really enjoying itself. Push hard and it gets quite roly poly and the steering feels rather vague. That said, this is no hot hatch and when you cruise State Highway One at the legal limit of 100 clicks, things settle down nicely and sub-par interference from the world outside making its way into the cabin.
Is the MG ZS the bargain MG claim it is? Yes and no. Some will be deterred by the moderate fit and finish, and the slight underwhelming driving dynamics. However, when you consider what you get in terms of kit, space, economy and above all value, there is still plenty to like. It’s not perfect, not even close, but like the MG’s of old, it’s hard not be just a little bit impressed.
Needs Tweaking but pretty decent for a sub 30k SUV