Gareth Butterfield tests MG’s new ZS
LET’S take a quick look back at the recent history of MG. And I don’t mean the era when it was re-badging old Rovers, I mean the era which saw its rebirth at the hands of the Chinese.
We all thought MG had gone to seed, never to be seen again, when the reborn firm announced it was making a new family car, the MG6. I liked the MG6; it was a cheap, honest and well-intended first stab at bringing the brand back to the mainstream.
But, despite its fine handling and its generous equipment levels, a few quality issues and its reliance on old engines meant it failed to succeed and it’s recently been killed off.
Then there was the MG3. This is a great-looking supermini which is priced keenly and drives pretty well – but stiff competition has meant it’s been a slow burner.
More recently MG launched its small SUV, the GS. It’s another decent little car at a decent little price, but you don’t see many about. Which is a shame.
But now MG has launched a new, larger SUV called the ZS and this is, on the face of it, feels like its most accomplished car yet. But will it succeed?
On looks alone, it seems to have the right recipe. It’s attractively, if rather safely styled.
Rather than go all extreme and outlandish, MG seems to have copied cues from other cars. The front end, for example, smacks of Mazda’s CX5, while the side profile is very Nissan X-Trail and the rear end is more than reminiscent of the Renault Kadjar.
It actually all works together quite well, but the imitation approach makes the car seem rather anonymous from the outset, and that’s a shame because there’s a lot to like.
Let’s start with the price. A base-model ZS Explore can be had for £12,496 – and it’s a lot of car for the money.
Even the top-spec Exclusive, which comes with a very comprehensive kit list costs a mere £17,495.
So it’s definitely a lot cheaper than its European and Japanese rivals, but is it anywhere near as good?
In some respects, yes, it is. It’s picked up the current family trait of driving really well. It has a superb chassis, plenty of grip and responsive steering. For a mid-sized SUV it’s very agile.
It’s also quiet and comfortable. There are the usual Chinese cheap plastics here and there, so don’t expect amazing build quality, but the cabin is a nice place to be with a great infotainment system and some nice storage touches.
There’s plenty of space for three people in the middle row and a decent boot, along with good visibility for driver and passengers.
So it’s all going well, you assume. Now let’s talk about the engines on offer. It won’t take long, there’s only two.
There’s a one-litre, three cylinder and a four-pot 1.5-litre unit on offer. The one-litre engine in my test car was pretty good but, with just 109bhp felt a tad slow. This was made worse by its automatic gearbox, which felt outdated and sluggish. It stifled the engine’s progress somewhat and that was a shame.
Although the one-litre engine is the more powerful of the two, it’s only available with the auto box and I suspect it would benefit enormously from a manual system. Although, if you want to select the gears yourself, you’d have to go for the 1.5.
That said, the larger engine professes to be the more economical, strangely, and it also serves up less CO2, with emissions of 129G/KM against the smaller engine’s 144G/KM.
The cost-cutting approach is also evident in a lack of safety kit, especially when compared to some of its rivals. Hopefully this will be addressed over time, it’s still early days.
But the MG ZS does offer some bargain-basement charm that you see in some of the other cheap SUVs and Crossovers.
It’s fun to drive, spacious, and rides well. It might not stand out from the crowd but the badge certainly does.
That said, MG is desperate to find the sweet spot, and it certainly hopes the ZS will be the car that finally brings it back to the mainstream.
Whether the ZS will be the car that finally drags it out of underdog status will remain to be seen. But it should do. On the whole, it’s a good car.