MG ZS is trading on a faux past but retaining affordability
When he reflects on a catalogue of falsehoods issued by SAIC, MG’s Chinese owner, Iain Robertson admits to a mild case of acidosis that a bottle of Milk of Magnesia cannot correct, yet the ZS model’s appeal remains mostly understandable.
In the second act of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’, lead character, Major General Stanley, hides in the ‘family’ chapel and bemoans the fact that his ‘historical relatives’ are not really his at all, as he ‘inherited them’, when he bought the family home. Renowned for their biting Victorian humour, W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were always keen to point out the pomposity of the upper classes.
Somewhat more up to date, when German BMW bought British Rover Group from BAe in 1994, it ‘ inherited’ a history prior to selling off the remnants to the Phoenix Consortium for the princely sum of £10. Operating with a run of tenuous connections, BMW staked its claim on the Mini’s history, in a manner that inferred that the profitable Bavarian ‘giant’ was behind every step of the model’s development. BMW did a ‘Major General Stanley’, en-route to launching its significantly larger version of the former teensy, ten-foot ‘city car’. This observer’s biliousness continued.
Having lined-up an SAIC rescue deal in 2004, to save the Phoenix group from going bust, when it failed not quite a year later, the Chinese firm swept in, gathered up the wreckage and set about relaunching its more relevant MG brand element. Commercial history has shown us that the PRofC (People’s Republic of China) is exceptionally good at playing the game of brinkmanship across a series of western industries, not just automotive, where it is now heavily represented.
Although a much-reduced workforce was grateful to be offered employment in the south Birmingham unemployment blackspot, the resurrected MG story was just a pack of lies. SAIC had promised that full production would return to Longbridge. It never did. Yet, Chinese-built products were marketed through one of the former MG-Rover Birmingham sites, in the hopes of attracting age-old supporters of the brand.
The first of the new ZS compact SUV models was introduced in 2017. It had actually been designed several years earlier and was sold extensively in its home market. As a result, it was a car that lacked some important modern influences but it was relatively inexpensive, a factor sure to be of interest to buyers desiring a ‘new’ car but lacking in interest levels. In many ways, the marketing principles were little different to those exercised by South Korean Daewoo, which had ‘borrowed’ much of its GM foster parent’s engineering and technology, when introducing its mid-1990’s ‘no quibble’ deals through its company-owned outlets. GM sat on the side-lines just waiting for Daewoo to slide into ignominy, which it did a handful of years later in spectacular fashion.
SAIC now claims that its MG brand is the ‘fastest growing’ of any in the UK but, when this boast is based on percentages and not actual volumes, it is far less of a surprise. The typical MG ZS buyer, although some will have been engaged by the EV version, which is a less costly way into that market sector, is not really a knowledgeable lover of motorcars. The same type of buyer drawn to Daewoo, or Dacia, is likely drawn to MG.
While the ZS is not a tragically awful machine (it handles okay, it drives satisfactorily, it is well-equipped and is moderately frugal), it is just another Etch-a-Sketch SUV, which lacks character and a level of likability that could make it a monster seller. Yet, MG/SAIC can delve into proprietary Chinese parts catalogues and slap onto the car an array of fresher, Sino-produced components, such as LED headlamps, to give it a more modern appeal. As long as the quality is ‘acceptable’, the product’s life can be extended accordingly.
While an enthusiastic 1.0-litre ‘triple’ was available in the previous generation ZS, it has been dropped without explanation, which I must presume lies with its inability to meet future exhaust emissions requirements. How Ford, VW and other players in the ‘1.0-litre arena’ can manage the expectations acceptably amazes me. It is a pity, as the ‘old hat’ 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, 103bhp unit is unexciting on every level and, at 155g/km, its CO2 rating is not brilliant either. Yet, it soldiers on, clocking the 0-60mph dash in around 10.4s, before topping out at a modest 109mph, while returning around 41.4mpg (official combined).
There is a reduced choice of trim levels, down from three to two: Excite costing from £15,495 (monthly payments from £179 per month) and Exclusive from £17,795 (from £199 per month), both with 5-speed manual gearboxes and no automatic/automated-manual option until later in the year. While there is only one standard colour (white), for which there is zero additional charge, buyers will have to pay an extra £545 for a choice of black, blue, silver and orange metallic finishes, with the dynamic red paint factoring in an extra £695. My advice is to order the UN-spec version, if you are really keen to have a Chinese MG in your driveway.
As mentioned earlier, LED headlamps are now standard across the duo, with power/folding door mirrors, a 10.1-inch touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto linking on both trim levels. The Exclusive receives blind spot monitoring, 360-degree camera, heated front seats, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, digital instrumentation and a few additional trim fripperies.
Other design changes include a separate front radiator grille, new lower front and rear bumper treatments, alloy-look front and rear skid-plates and a revised rear lamp treatment. Allied to the cockpit upgrades, MG believes that the changes are ‘very exciting’. They are certainly subtle. If you are a typical Dacia-type of customer, the odds are that the MG offering will be most acceptable. However, buying what appears to be a ‘cheap’ car can result in on-costs in trade-in time. It is worth bearing in mind.
Conclusion: There are plenty of other compact/B-segment SUVs to choose from that provide better dynamics, greater frugality and markedly better residual values. Do not be gulled by what appears to be a value-for-money proposition. I would not give one space on my driveway.