MG ZS 2018 Review and rating and Road Test
What do the letters MG conjure in your mind?
For most of us, it is probably a small open-top sports car. It will have wire wheels, a wood dash, lots of chrome, and style by the truckload. There’ll be a stylish driver in a jaunty cap, aviator sunglasses and isn’t afraid to hold up a convoy of traffic
As well as the stylish convertibles, MG made cool coupes, and sensible but posh sedans. Its successes were many and varied, as were its fortunes. After a veritable conga-line of hapless owners, including BMW, MG came under the stewardship of current owner SAIC. SAIC now produces MG cars in its Chinese plants.
So far, sales have been modest. Equally modest, is the range. There are just 4 models: a small hatch, a sedan, and two crossovers. The latter blurs the edges between a family hatch and an SUV. As much as we tried to resist it, the segment is ever expanding. SUVs of all sizes continue to lure buyers here and overseas. For those not yet caught in the web, what’s all the fuss about?
First, any relation to ye olde English cars ends at the badge.
There are two models in the range but it isn’t immediately obvious which is which. The top model “Essence” 1.0TI shares 17” wheels and roof racks with the 1.5T” Excite” base model. An entry level model called “Soul” will come soon.
Large projector headlights have manual height adjustment with “London Eye” daytime running lights. A large 6-sided grille is trimmed in chrome, and gives the front end a touch of class. I’m in favour of any extra bling. LED headlights would have been nice.
It’s all underlined by a matte finish garnish meant to look like a stone guard. it sits along the underside.
The cross-over profile adds higher ground clearance at 164mm, and a coupe-like look to it with a waistline that kicks up at the rear end.
There is a “Stargazer” glass roof for those who appreciate that open-air experience without the risk of getting wet. You’re either love a sunroof lover, or you don’t.
I neither like nor dislike the look of the ZS. There is a certain ubiquity about it meaning that it shouldn’t offend or polarise buyers. It might make finding it in a car park an issue though.
The cabin is simple and neat. It is remarkably well equipped considering the entry level price.
Driver instruments are clear and easy to read with a small LCD screen between two large conventional dials. There are the usual facts and figures displayed, including a digital speedo. You know I like digital speedo or two.
The steering wheel is festooned with a mymarid of controls. Audio, phone, and cruise control are also clearly laid out, and backlit. You can operate them by feel which is something I can’t say about all cars. You can gently rub your finger tips over them to feel where you have to press.
The centre stack has the same crispness as the rest of the interior.
There are USB and power outlets living in a cubby hole behind the gear lever. Above it, manual air conditioning controls are about as simple as it gets. I’ve gotten very used to climate control so you’d think manual controls would seem slightly foreign, but not a bit of it.
There are buttons for flow control, and dials for temperature and fan speed. It’s worth noting that the system is electric. Most air conditioning systems use a belt between the engine and compressor which drains power from the engine.
Now there is electric steering too, so the only belt now turns an alternator.
Above and air conditioning zone are the audio controls and 8” LCD screen. Apple CarPlay is standard. Decent sound comes from a Yamaha 3D system with 6 speakers.
The clutter-free look is thanks to that infotainment system, where settings can be fettled. It keeps the centre stack free of the plethora of buttons we used to love to hate. The system menu is as simply laid out as the rest of the cabin, and takes no time to come to terms with. There is a familiarity about it, which I like a lot.
Face level ventilation is excellent. Eyeball vents can place airflow exactly where you want it. I dislike not being able to direct air away from me when I want to. Sometimes you want air flow directly on you, and sometimes you don’t.
Comfortable seats have a good driving position, and are covered in “knight black” synthetic leather. You may think pleather is a bit low rent but consider this: most entry level Mercedes Benz cars have synthetic leather. Rear 60/40seats fold flat and the boot has a slightly lower floor for extra capacity.
- Apple carplay
- Electric air conditioning
- Front cup holders
- Synthetic leather trim on doors and sears
- Push button start
- 6 speaker audio
- Front and rear fog lights
- Parking sensors
Drive and Engine
Don’t expect the 1.0L turbo petrol engine to be a power house. Nor it is sluggish.
There are two drive trains, a 1.5L naturally aspirated petrol 4 cylinder in the base model, and the 4 cylinder 1.0L turbo petrol the top model.
There is little difference in performance between the two models. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to drop the 1.5L/4speed automatic altogether.
The 1.5L puts out 84kw and 150Nm, whereas the 1.0L has 82kw and 160Nm. You don’t notice an extra 10Nm, but 6 gears instead of 4, makes a huge difference.
There is a pleasing throaty (3-cyliner) engine note. MG claims 6.7L/100k as a combined fuel figure, however our was no better than 10.8L/100k which I put down to mainly city driving.
The problem with smaller engines, particularly 3-cylinder ones, is that you want to put your foot on the carpet every time there is a green light. It’s not really necessary of course, but they sound so different that it is difficult to judge power by ear. Friends who own cars with tiny engines report similar experiences. The alleged fuel savings don’t seem to materialise.
Steering is quite light in the style of American brands.
The 6 speed auto tries to change up as quickly as it can. It’s all for economy but can be annoying. There are no paddles on the steering wheel, nor are there variable drive modes.
MG ZS was at home in the narrow city lanes in inner Sydney. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for a little more sportiness. I see the MG badge and I want to be able to throw it around like a rag doll, but no, it is not to be. Although handling is adequate, ZS is better being thought of as good economical transport.
It isn’t so precious that you’d worry about getting the back moist with your wetsuit and flippers. There is a ton of room for a bike with the seats folded down too. Areas that would normally see harder wear have hard plastic rather than soft surfaces that would be easily damaged. The cargo hold is all set for a weekend of activity.
It seems that MG has transformed from a sports car, to a car for sports people.
If all that seems too much effort, MG ZS makes a great first car because it is so easy to manage. It isn’t too big, or too small. It is easy to park and doesn’t cost too much to buy. CarPlay means being able to make and receives messages and calls without having to lift a finger. So, it is safe for younger drivers who might be distracted by pretty things on their phones.
The cabin is fairly quiet relatively speaking.
Chinese cars have had a bad wrap over the last decade. They weren’t very nice to drive, weren’t well made, and were fairly unreliable. MG ZS is none of those things. To assuage any customer concerns, MG has a 7-year warranty with roadside assist
Handling and performance are more than adequate. It feels nippy in town, and hums along pleasantly while keeping up with the traffic.
What MG have given us is an inexpensive city runabout with space for your stuff, and a hard-wearing interior wrapped. It does that very well.
ACAP gave MG ZS 4 stars in 2017. There is no AEB or lane warning
- 6 airbags
- Hill start assist
- Brake assist
- Delayed auto locking doors
- Active cornering brake control
- Automatic door unlocking in an accident
- Seatbelt warning lights front and rear
- Decent equipment level for price
- Nippy performance
Not So Good Bits
- Plastics feel too hard
- Economy higher than claimed
If I’m honest, I had no expectations going into the week. Some of my previous experiences in Chinese cars had been a bit so-so, but they’ve come a very long way in a very short time. The least you can ask of a car is that it is fit-for-purpose. The MG ZS is definitely that.
Its functional cabin layout is spacious and gadgets includes welcome features such as cameras, sensors, and CarPlay. Of course, some of the features found in expensive cars were absent, but the shekels you save on buying a ZS you could put towards a holiday, right?
Seats are easily folded down, and although compact on the outside, there feels to be plenty of room inside. The cargo hold has a lower floor to accommodate higher loads.
The bar has been moving upwards and buyers expect a lot for their money. There is plenty of choice, and car makers who don’t give buyers what they want will not last. It’s worth noting at this price, Peugeot 2008, Ford Ecosport, Holden Trax among others, are also in the frame. All of them have models at well under $30,000.
There is a current drive-away offer of $22.990 (for the base model) including a $200 fuel card, and a free 10,000km/1yr service for the Excite. It comes with a 4 speed automatic which would not be my choice.
Right across the world, passenger cars including sedans, hatches and sporty 2-doors, are in decline. Buyers are opting for SUVs and LCVs instead. It would be churlish of MG not to pursue that market.
Average is 5/10, but because of the features and performance are good for the price, MG ZS is worth a firm 6.5/10
Facts and Figures: 2018 MG ZS Excite
- Engine: 1.0L three-cylinder turbo petrol producing 82kW/160Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic
- Warranty: 7 years/ unlimited km
- Safety: Four stars
- Origin: China
- Price: from $25,990 drive away
Author: Alan Zurvas