2018 MG ZS
– Surprisingly low price
– Cabin trim and space
– Fair ride and handling
– Among the slowest cars ever
– No rear a/c vents
– Ancient 4-speed gearbox
Morris Garages was a popular car brand in the UK that dabbled in performance cars quite a lot back in the day, when it was under Rover’s ownership. When the latter company got parted out, the Rover name was kept by BMW, and China’s SAIC Motor eventually got the rest, including the MG brand name. What then followed was a string of economy cars using the MG badge, until someone at SAIC had the idea to start marketing SAIC crossovers under the better-known MG brand internationally. And so here we have the MG ZS, one of the firm’s three compact crossover that debuted recently.
The truth is, only Brits are familiar with the MG brand, and it’s still pretty much starting from scratch in this region in terms of brand-building. There is no fixed corporate face on the cars yet, as all three of their crossovers — GS, RX-5 and ZS — look completely different from each other. The ZS is still fairly handsome though, with a chrome-lined grille, LED running lights and tails, matte-aluminium roof rails, optional 17-inch alloys and clean rear styling, even if some bystanders may call it derivative. Fit and finish is largely as good as any other car at the same price-point, aside from the bumpers appearing to be a slightly different colour from certain angles. It’s about the size of a Hyundai Tucson, but no one will be able to guess that it’s priced at the level of a Hyundai Accent.
Inside, it keeps up the looks-more-expensive-than-it-is theme with a nicely-done stitched-leatherette dashboard top, with matching padded door inserts and armrests. The rest of the door panels and window sill are hard plastic. There are also faux carbon-fibre patterned plastic frame around the touchscreen, and in a big surprise, the circular a/c vents seem to be made of metal. The centre-console design is clean and clutter-free, while retaining the most important a/c and radio functions as buttons.
There is pretty good space inside, including rear legroom. The front seats are well-bolstered and look stylish. The front-seat rails are raised very high, so there is a lot of foot room underneath for rear passengers. The rear bench seat has three headrests and is of the 60/40 split-folding variety, though it doesn’t fold fully flat and there is no pull-out centre armrest. Up front, the steering column is only height-adjustable. Cup-holders are limited to front passengers, while all doors get bottle holders. The boot is of a good size, with as much floor space as most compact crossovers.
There are three trim choices, with the base one getting 16-inch wheels, manually-adjustable fabric seats, manual a/c, split-folding rear seat, Bluetooth and a 4-speaker stereo with 1 USB port. The mid-range model adds LED running lights (while retaining halogen projector headlights), front fog lamps, good-looking faux leather, roof rails, cruise control, additional USB port, 8-inch touchscreen with Apple Carplay and 6 speakers, steering wheel buttons, parking sensors and more. The top model only adds 17-inch alloys and a rear camera.
The touchscreen is fairly responsive, with large icons for the most part, and kept simple to use. The rear camera even has guiding lines. As for basic tech, the a/c worked well enough in early May weather but there are no rear vents; the keyless entry requires pressing a button on the key, yet it comes with push-button start; and there is no sunroof option.
All versions get ABS with EBD, ESP, tyre-pressure monitor, ISOFIX latches and seat-belts with pretensioners. The base model gets front airbags, while the rest also get side airbags.
While the front-wheel-drive ZS is unfathomably well-equipped for the price, MG has clearly accounted for it with the engine. It is a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder with 114 hp at 6000 rpm and 150 Nm of torque peaking at around 4500 rpm. That doesn’t look so bad compared to, say, the Nissan Kicks. However, the Kicks is smaller, lighter and gets an efficient CVT, so it feels pretty spritely. On the other hand, the 1258-kilo MG ZS is saddled with an ancient 4-speed automatic that’s tuned so poorly, the tall first gear feels like you’re already in third gear, because acceleration is beyond lethargic. It wasn’t so obvious when we drove it on the lower-speed roads of Oman earlier, but it was very obvious on Dubai’s high-speed highways and city streets.
The 0-100 kph run was dispatched in 13.5 seconds, but in return for the slovenly performance, you get decent fuel economy even if you have to floor the throttle everywhere.
We managed 10.6 litres/100 km (9.4 km/l), although it’s a far cry from the claimed GSO rating of 5.8 litres/100 km (17.3 km/l). However, most Japanese cars with 50 horses more can match the ZS in the real world.
Once up to speed though, and you can see that the chassis engineers did their part very well, even if all they had to work with was independent front and torsion-beam rear suspension. The handling is fairly good, with respectable grip from the 215/50 tyres and limited body roll. There is a tiptronic feature to select gears as well, so if you know how to use it, you can keep up the pace on mountain roads and such.
The ride quality is pretty good, with moderate wind noise at 120 kph, well within class standards. The brakes have fair stopping power, with linear pedal action. And the variable-weight power steering is very light even in the so-called “sport” mode, with little feedback.
The ZS is not an offroader in the slightest, as it only comes in front-wheel-drive form. But it does have reasonable ground clearance, so you shouldn’t hit any untoward curbs and cats.
The MG ZS is excellent value for money, and a hugely attractive alternative to a little sub-compact hatchback. However, you have to be content with being the slowest-accelerating car on the road and take your time with risky moves. If you want a better engine, MG themselves have better offerings for a slightly higher price.
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