New petrol-powered crossover aims to woo buyers on space and price
Now owned by Chinese company SAIC, the MG brand is on the road to redemption in the UK. 4500 MGs were sold here in 2017, and the firm is hoping that this new compact SUV will double that number in 2018.
Of course, these are pretty tiny numbers in global car industry terms, but with persistence MG might eventually become a world player on the ‘small acorn, mighty oak’ principle. The first serious acorn being this ZS.
It’s arriving with the big temptation of low pricing. Targeting Nissan’s Juke and Mazda’s CX-3, the cheapest ZS – the Explore model – costs just £12,495. That’s £2385 less than the most affordable Juke.
MG ZS 1.5 DOHC VTI-tech Excite
Engine 4cyl, 1498cc, petrol
Torque 104lb ft
Gearbox 5-spd manual
Top speed 109mph
Fuel economy 49.6mpg
CO2 rating 129g/km
On top of that, the ZS has a seven-year/80,000 mile manufacturer warranty that, along with the car’s interior dimensions and its value for money, is claimed by MG to be class-leading.
We’ve been trying out the £15,495 top-of-the-range Exclusive. Although MG reckons the ZS is bringing in a new era for the brand, the overall style isn’t what you’d call standout. From in front, It has a Mazda look about it, and there’s a Kia feel about the back end.
Still, it’s not unattractive, and there are some nice design touches. The leather-look interior has some soft materials on the upper dash, and there’s Apple CarPlay on the standard eight-inch infotainment touchscreen. The cost-cutting measures become a bit more obvious when you find no reach adjustment for the steering wheel and you bump up against some of the harder plastics elsewhere in the cabin.
Thing is, affordability is key in the compact SUV market, and the contrast between a ZS and a Juke is not as blazingly obvious as you might expect. There’s no argument about the amount of space on offer, with no worries for any tall adult sitting behind a similar one and a 448-litre boot said (by MG) to be the biggest in class.
Under the bonnet will be one of two petrol engines, a 1.5-litre 105bhp four with a five-speed manual gearbox or a 1.0-litre 109bhp turbo triple with a six-speed automatic. They’re both front-drivers: no 4WD cars will be offered.
The 1.0 cars are £2000 dearer than the 1.5 equivalents, but even so we’d go for the 1.0 option unless you’re dead set on swapping gears manually because the non-turbo 1.5 four-cylinder feels rather limp in its power delivery, despite revving willingly to 5500rpm. The turbo three has more meatiness to it and works well with the smooth automatic.
In terms of handling, MG’s programme of tuning the ZS chassis for UK roads has worked quite well. You’ll notice lumps in the ride, but the body doesn’t lean too hard in corners, the suspension deals more than adequately with potholes and the steering is light and positive. You get three steering modes – Urban, Normal and Dynamic – but most owners are likely to leave it in the catchall Normal mode. Intervention from the ESP is fairly abrupt if you steam into a corner with too much gusto.
Summing up, there are certainly better crossovers to drive than the ZS, but it claws back plenty of appeal through value, not only from that seven-year full manufacturer warranty but also from the 0 per cent finance packages that will be on offer.