MG ZS review
Look at the competition, and it quickly becomes clear the MG ZS has a tough battle on its hands. The compact SUV sector is full to bursting with excellent rivals, and while the Chinese-built MG looks decent enough on paper, it lacks the visual and dynamic flair to really trouble the class leaders. Despite this, buyers who want to jump on the SUV train but haven’t got the budget for a European, Japanese or Korean rival, may easily be tempted by what the ZS does offer at the price. It’s comfortable, decent looking and well-equipped, and the entry-level model especially looks stonking value. Crash safety ratings could be better, though.
21 Jan, 2019
The MG ZS is fairly unremarkable from a design point of view, although it’s handsome enough in a generic sort of fashion, with hints of its stylish Japanese rival the Mazda CX-3 from some angles, and more Korean feel from others. Either way, with its bold chrome-highlighted grille, projector lamps and smart alloy wheels, all but the entry model manage to present quite a respectable air. And even the entry model avoids looking like a bargain basement offer.
The five-door body features quite a bluff nose and heavily accentuated wheel arch bulges which give it a slightly ponderous air, while the rakishly angled rear side windows and roofline that tapers towards the rear hatch help to mask the overall boxiness of the shape. Paint colours can make a big impact on a car like this, and MG offers a bright Spiced Orange hue for those who want to stand out a little more than the otherwise fairly standard choices.
Underneath, the ZS utilises a platform designed by MG for the SUVs, and which is shared by the GS its bigger sister and the Roewe RX3, which is a related model sold in China. Neither the engineering or electronics platforms appear particularly exotic by the standard of more expensive rivals, but they serve their purpose at the ZS’s price.
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The same can be said of the ZS’s interior, which is one of the best we’ve seen from the marque and certainly won’t disappoint at the price point. Material quality feel isn’t up to the level of Europe’s contenders, but the facia is pleasing to look at and feels durable and decently put together.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The entry level ZS Explore comes with a basic radio set-up although you can stream music via USB or Bluetooth. The two plusher models both come with a central infotainment touchscreen and DAB audio, and while the screen has crisp graphics and responds well to the touch, its menus are not as intuitive as they might be. Only the top Exclusive model gets navigation as standard.
Unlike MG models of old, the current crop don’t make too much of a pretense of being fun to drive. The ZS is reasonably comfortable on the road, but there’s a lack of sophistication evident even though the suspension effectively soaks up the bumps and potholes that pockmark British roads. It feels more wallowy and less compliant and supple than the Citroen C3 Aircross, for example, and things get markedly worse if you try and make faster progress.
Push the car harder into a bend and excessive body roll becomes apparent fairly early, deterring the driver from pressing on. There’s also too much fore and aft pitching and diving, especially under braking, but for a driver who takes things gently this is unlikely to be too much of an issue
The steering is relatively heavy in normal mode, but you can select Dynamic or Urban settings. The former adds weight but no more feel or responsiveness, while Urban usefully lightens the helm for town duty and is a worthwhile addition.
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Engine noise is decently muted, but again the Chinese made MG’s lack of sophistication is revealed by wind and road noise – it’s not too terrible, just not as good as rivals.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
There are two petrol engine options only, and the entry-level is the 1.5-litre four-cylinder model. This engine is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox, and it drives the front wheels as the ZS has no 4x4 option. It’s a fairly old-school combination, and performance is pretty stodgy although the quoted 0-60mph time of 10.4 seconds isn’t too bad.
The pricier option is a three-cylinder direct injection turbocharged 1.0-litre developed in conjunction with General Motors. It comes with a six-speed automatic gearbox and is actually slower in the sprint to 60mph at 12.1 seconds, although it’s peppier in the 50-70mph zone which should aid overtaking.
The cut-price nature of the MG ZS starts to make itself felt in more significant fashion here, as clearly the safety aspects of the car have not been as well conceived or developed as many rivals.
The lack of any sort of automatic emergency braking (AEB) – or other systems designed to mitigate in accident scenarios – contributed to a low score in the Euro NCAP Safety Assist category, but arguably more worryingly the occupant safety scores look poor compared the rivals like the SEAT Arona. Where the ZS scores 71 per cent and 51 per cent for adult and child crash protection, the Arona scores 90 per cent and 80 per cent. As a result of all this, the MG ZS Euro NCAP score of just three stars looks pretty weak.
Reliability has not been shown to be a particular issue, although MG as a brand hasn’t scored well in our Driver Power owner satisfaction surveys. That’s based on older models though, and the MG ZS has yet to make it into the survey. Factors such as running costs and dealer service charges have played into the poor ratings, although styling and fit and finish rank higher – suggesting owners are happy with build quality of their cars.
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(MG offers a seriously generous warranty on the ZS. It runs to seven years and 80,000 miles – the same length but 20,000 miles short of Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile cover. Still, there’s nobody else even in the ballpark, so MG deserves significant credit. The warranty is transferable too, so can be passed onto a new owner if you sell.
MGs service intervals are annually or at 15,000 miles, and you can buy service plans from dealers to help spread the cost.
The MG ZS is very well suited to family life thanks to its boxy five door design, and it’s roomy for five people and their luggage - there’s no seven seat option, or any other body configuration.
The driving position is good with lots of driver’s seat adjustment to accommodate all shapes, but while the steering wheel tilts it doesn’t slide in and out for reach which is a bit of a disappointment. The seat is well bolstered and comfortable for long journeys though, and five people can travel in reasonable comfort, although a middle passenger in the rear will be somewhat squeezed between the two main seats. Visibility from the driver’s seat is good, and the ZS has good cabin storage with large door pockets and cubbies around the passenger space.
The MG ZS is a little bigger than most of its direct competitors, and measures up at 4,314mm long, 1,809mm wide and 1,611mm tall. The Renault Captur is 4,122mm x 1,778mm x 1,566mm. The shape of the C pillar means there’s quite a blind-spot at the rear when reversing, so park sensors are a valuable addition to the spec.
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Leg room, head room & passenger space
Leg and headroom is good for all four passengers in the primary seats, but the middle seat on the rear bench is on the narrow side. The transmission tunnel doesn’t intrude too heavily on legroom for the middle passenger though.
The MG ZS has pretty generous boot space with 488 litres of luggage volume on offer – that’s nearly 100 litres more than the Nissan Juke.
The MG’s rear seat splits and folds 60:40 when necessary, and with all the seats down luggage volume goes up to 1,375 litres. Unfortunately, the seats don’t fold completely flat, which makes loading longer items potentially more awkward.
There’s no doubt the MG ZS is cheap to buy, and it should be reasonably cheap to run too, although it’s not exactly an economy star when you compare its efficiency to that of rivals.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is the more technically advanced option, and you might hope for better figures than it actually delivers. It only musters 45.4mpg on the combined cycle using WLTP measures, while we’d have hoped for it to crack 50mph like key competitors. CO2 emissions of 145g/km don’t look great either, and we suspect the automatic gearbox is the culprit. But of course you’ll have to drive a long way before any economy disadvantages eat up the savings you’ve made in the showroom by opting for the MG instead of a European competitor.
Plump for the larger but cheaper 1.5-litre engine with its five-speed manual gearbox, and the official figures promise 47.1mpg and 140g/km of CO2. Road tax will be the same whichever model you plump for at £140 per year.
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The lack of performance and cheap pricing mean the MG ZS will be cheap to insure, with the 1.5-litre sitting in group 11 and the 1.0 in group 10 for quote purposes. It’s not quite as attractive as the group 9 rating for the smallest engined Renault Captur but it’s close enough to have a minimal effect on premiums.
Residual values for the MG range haven’t been on a par with European built rivals, and the fact that there’s no factory PCP option for the ZS that may be an indication that depreciation levels will be relatively harsh. Dealers instead offer a five-year zero per cent finance deal with deposit that gets the Exclusive model down to £199 a month, but you’ll own it outright at the end with no guaranteed value.