MG has retained a sense of style, but will its family SUV deliver practically?
The MG (Morris Garages) nameplate has a rich history that goes back nearly 90 years and is best known for its British-built two-seater open top sports cars.
In more recent years the badge has been bought by Chinese conglomerate, SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, a company that has sold over seven million cars since 2017.
Today the sports cars have been replaced by a range of SUVs and passenger vehicles with the mid-size GS and small ZS SUVs the first models available in Australia.
While the new breed of MGs are far-removed from their predecessors, they still boast eye-catching design elements.
The ZS is available in two variants, the entry-level Soul priced at $22,990 drive-away, which we have been provided for testing, and the higher spec’d Essence that cost an additional $3000.
Strap ’em in
The ZS is one of the bigger models in the small SUV category offering good rear seat and cargo space.
When it comes to fitting a rear-facing baby seat in the back you need to push the front seat a long way forward, as you do with most vehicles in this segment.
When sitting in the front passenger seat with the baby seat set up behind my knees touch the glovebox and I could not drive with a rear-facing seat behind the driver seat but again this is fairly common in this market segment. (I am 180cm tall).
My wife, who is about 15cm shorter, has enough knee room in the passenger seat to be reasonably comfortable but neither was she able to drive with the rear facing seat set up behind her.
There are two ISOFIX anchor points and three top-tether attachments for the rear seat. The only issue is the anchor points for the top tether are positioned low on the back of the rear passenger seat so you will need to purchase an extension to secure them.
You also need to unclip the cargo cover so you can get the strap down the back of the seat which would become an annoyance if you were taking the seat out of the car regularly.
This is one of the strengths of the ZS. The cabin has a quality look and feel with a well laid-out dash, highlighted by an 8-inch touchscreen to control the infotainment system.
There also is a nice mix of soft-touch plastics and faux chrome highlights.
The steering wheel has a nice look and feel (I reckon they may have studied the VW steering wheel quite closely before designing their own – it is just a pity they did not extend that to include reach adjustment along with height) and the seats are comfortable.
The seats are covered in “man-made” leather (a description that has become the norm in the motoring industry in recent years) which at least means they are easy to clean.
While the cabin looks great, it is lacking a little when it comes to storage with no closed in centre console (I really missed the armrest too) and small storage pockets, which do not include a drink holder, in the rear doors.
Neither is there a centre armrest in the rear seat, another opportunity to add cupholders gone missing, or any air conditioning vents.
The rear doors are a good size which makes getting the bub in and out of the car easy and with ground clearance of 164mm, about 10mm higher than the top-selling Mazda CX3, I did not need to lean down too much either.
The cargo space is very good for this class. With the seats in use, the boot is 359-litres (95-litres more than the CX-3) which means one of those popular, large prams fits comfortably.
While there is not a lot of additional space after putting the pram in the back there is enough room to fit some shopping or all the bits and pieces you often need when taking the family on a day out.
The rear seat can be spilt 60/40 to create additional space. With the back seat folded down space grows to 1174-litres, though the ZS would be one of the few models on the market today that does not create a flat floor with the seats folded.
There is a space-saver spare tyre under the cargo floor.
As I mentioned earlier the ZS has an 8-inch touch screen to control the infotainment system which comes standard with Apple CarPlay but does not have Android Auto, so as long as you have an Apple phone the lack of features like Satellite Navigation can easily be overcome.
The stereo also features six speakers with Yamaha 3D sound. There is a USB point and 12 volt power outlet tucked away in the front of the centre console but nothing for the rear seat passengers.
Driver assist technologies like autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert are not available on either model.
It does have a reverse camera and the picture on the screen is as good as I have seen in this class.
ANCAP Safety Rating: 4 Stars
The ZS was crash tested in December, 2017 and scored four stars with a score of 31.46 out of 37.
It lost all of its points in the frontal offset crash (head on collision). It was given a score of 10.46 out of 16 which the testers labelled as “sub-standard”.
In the test, the passenger airbag did not inflate sufficiently and did not stop the crash dummy’s head from hitting the dashboard. It scored 16 out of 16 in the side impact test and two out of two in the pole test.
It comes standard with six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), a reversing camera, and rear parking sensors.
If you are a person who enjoys driving and wants a car with some performance credentials, the ZS is probably not going to meet your needs.
If you are one of those people who cares more about how it looks than it performs, then it will fit the bill.
For me, the biggest issue with the 84kW 1.5-litre engine was its lack of response in the mid-range – it seemed to take an eternity to react to any input on the accelerator.
This issue is not helped by the MG using a four-speed auto while most of its competitors have six.
I found one way to partially combat that was to drive it in sport mode and keep the revs up. Steering is also a bit vague and inconsistent, especially in urban or normal modes.
It comes with three options, the two just mentioned and dynamic. I opted for Dynamic as it was the only one with a little bit of weight so you felt like you had some control.
In an urban environment, the suspension, which is on the soft side, does a good job of soaking up any road imperfections providing a pretty comfortable ride. Tyre noise is noticeable but not overbearing.
Fuel consumption is 7.1L/100km, we used about a litre more during the test, which is on the thirsty side in this segment, and it runs on Premium 95RON which adds to the cost at the pump.
The wife’s take
If, like me, you are impressed by a pretty exterior and a badge you are going to really like MG ZS.
It is a VERY pretty car and, for me, the badge conjured up images of sleek, British sports cars. I was surprised to hear it was no longer British, no-one told me the MG brand name had been sold to a Chinese company and judging by recent conversations, quite a few other people also missed that change.
Our car was a vivid blue colour, which I really liked and thought suited its sporty, compact design.
Inside, the cabin looked really smart, especially the seat and door trims. Driver visibility is good, but I found some of the controls a bit tricky to access or monitor.
The first time I drove the car the lack of power concerned me. It was slow to take off from a standing start going up a hill. However, on subsequent drives, with the transmission in sport mode, there was a noticeable improvement in acceleration.
Overall, the ZS is a smart looking car with a badge that might impress the neighbours.
“The badge conjured up images of sleek, British sports cars.”
There is a lot to like about the MG ZS but it also has some areas of concern so we will start with them first.
The biggest issue is the 4-star crash test result. Very few new passenger cars score less than 5 stars today, and a lack of driver assistance technology, even in the top spec model, is a cross.
In the cabin there is a lack of storage and no air conditioning vents or power options in the back seat.
On the positive side it is one of the nicer looking cars in the segment and its interior is right up there too.
Space is good, with enough room to comfortably handle two forward-facing baby seats in the back.
Most people would also be OK with a single rear-facing seat being used but I would suggest taller people fit one to make sure before taking the plunge.
Performance is adequate, especially if the car is going to be used as a suburban run about, and it is reasonably comfortable to drive.
Mazda CX-3 Neo 2WD
Price: $22,490 RRP
Engine/Transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder (109kW/192Nm) with six-speed automatic transmission.
The CX-3 is the top selling model in the segment with its entry level model accounting for about 25 per cent of its sales. It is more expensive but comes with a bigger, more powerful engine and better fuel economy. Inside, the ZS is bigger with more back seat and cargo room. They offer pretty much the same features but in the Mazda you can add a safety package that includes blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking.
Mitsubishi ASX 2.0 LS 2WD
Price: $25,000 RRP
Engine/Transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder (110kW/197Nm) with Continuously Variable Transmission.
The ASX is another top-seller in this segment and it is the most expensive in this trio by quite a bit. The extra investment gets you a bigger, more powerful engine and it is the biggest car in its class both inside and out (it has a much bigger presence on the road than its competitors). Though it has been a while since it has been updated, its clean, simple interior layout and practicality make it a popular choice.
Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente 2WD
Price: $22,790 RRP
Engine/Transmission: 1.5-litre three-cylinder (90.5kW/150Nm) with six-speed automatic transmission.
This is the closest of the trio in terms of power and performance but it more economical than the ZS. It is also offers similar space in the rear seat and cargo area and it has similar features, though it only has a 6.5-inch touch screen and rides on steel wheels instead of alloys.
- Price: $22,990 Drive Away
- Warranty: 7 year unlimited km with 7 year roadside assist
- Servicing: Every six months or 10,000kms
- Fuel Consumption: (Official) 7.1L/100km (On Test) 8.0L/100km
- Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder
- Power: 84kW/150Nm
- Transmission: 4-speed automatic
- Visit HBF for a tailored insurance quote
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