► MG launches its smallest SUV
► 7-year warranty as standard, but…
► ...it’s soundly beaten by rivals
MG enthusiasts who have seen this article’s headline in Google’s search results will likely be more than a little excited at the prospect of an all-new MG ZS. After all, the 2001 ZS180 hot-hatchback was one of the British manufacturer’s better efforts of the 21st century.
Sadly however, the original ZS and the company that made it – MG Rover – are no more. Now, we have MG Motor UK Limited (owned by Chinese automotive company SAIC Motor) producing the all-new MG ZS… SUV.
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It’s the third all-new model to join the manufacturer’s range, and aims to build on the 4500 UK sales achieved by the MG 3 and MG GS in 2017. No mean feat when the ZS is up against compact crossover stalwarts such as the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, plus expensively-designed newcomers such as the Kia Stonic and Seat Arona.
Let’s start with the basics – is the new MG ZS practical?
Very. In fact, boot space is a class-leading 448 litres with the rear seats in place, rising to 1375 with them down. There’s also the handy presence of a dual-height boot floor, plus the usual 60:40 split-folding rear seats.
It’s a similar story for passengers, with oodles of leg and headroom out front and in the back. Sadly though, the narrow middle rear seat is only suitable for young kids – a shame when the transmission tunnel barely intrudes on legroom for those sat in the centre.
That said, storage space is generous all-round, plus there are some neat slots in between the front seats for storing parking tickets and other receipts.
'Excellent,' I hear you say. 'I can fit my family in and all of the associated bric-a-brac that comes with'. But would you really want to?
This sounds ominous…
It is. For while the ZS comes with the usual host of airbags, two ISOFIX points, ESP stability control and ABS anti-lock brakes, there’s precious little else in the way of safety kit.
So that means no autonomous emergency braking (AEB), no blindspot monitoring, no lane-departure warning, no cross-traffic alert and no multi-collision braking. Either as standard or as an option – none of this potentially lifesaving kit is available on the ZS.
What does that mean for the ZS’s safety rating? Owing to the lack of AEB the most it can get in Euro NCAP’s official safety rating is three stars. For a family car launched in 2017, that’s a worrying prospect, we'd say.
Does the MG ZS redeem itself with the way it drives?
There are two engines on offer – a 105bhp 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol motor, and the one we’re testing here – a 109bhp three-cylinder 1.0-litre automatic developed in conjunction with General Motors.
The good news is that while the idea of three-cylinder engine mated to an automatic-only gearbox might be questionable, it’s not as bad as it sounds. There’s a just-about-satisfactory amount of go – even if 0-62mph takes a whole 12.4 seconds – plus the six-speed transmission is perfectly usable and responsive.
It’s not a particularly refined engine though, nor is it that economical or eco-friendly. Claimed average fuel economy is 44.9mpg, while emissions come out at 144g/km of CO2 – far from competitive in this compact crossover class.
Ride and handling are a mixed bag. While the steering is quite direct and precise, there’s little outright finesse in the chassis. The suspension is not overly firm, yet often hops up and down over bumpy country roads and urban streets.
Roadholding is adequate – even if there is a fair bit of body roll – and the ZS is a fairly solid-feeling thing to pilot down a twisty road. MG has also provided a Dynamic steering mode (there’s also an Urban and Normal setting) although most drivers will find that it feels artificially heavy.
Is there much in the way of equipment?
Head straight to the top-spec MG ZS Exclusive model – likely to be the most popular spec, according to MG – and there’s a useful selection of standard kit on offer. This includes 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, fake leather upholstery, sat-nav (on an impressively responsive eight-inch touchscreen), Apple CarPlay (below), a reversing camera, air-con, Bluetooth and cruise control.
Sounds promising, but there are a few things missing. For example, there’s no Android Auto or hill-start assist on offer, plus the steering wheel is not configured for reach adjustment. And while we’re on things that aren’t configured, the up/down directional buttons on the side of the steering wheel have no functionality. Strange...
Another irritant is the recalcitrant cruise control system that, on our test car at least, proved laggy and frustrating to use – at times refusing to engage at all.
Just remember the pricing of the ZS range. UK pricing starts at £12,495 - making this a lot of car for the money if you want no-frills crossover transport.
What’s the rest of the MG ZS's cabin like?
Despite MG’s efforts to give it a lift with some soft-touch materials and carbon-effect trim, it both looks and feels cheap. That said, it’s hard to criticise the interior too much as it does appear to be very well made and should stand the test of time.
The view out is the usual SUV fare, with a high driving position and a good panorama of the road ahead. The standard-fit rear parking sensors and reversing camera are worth their weight in gold thanks to the chunky C-pillar blindspot – capable of swallowing a couple of full-sized adults. You have been warned...
The MG ZS is an undeniably cheap car and MG should be applauded for going headfirst into such a fiercely-contested sector of the market. However, while the ZS’s cash price is a few thousand pounds less than its rivals', it is a few thousand pounds less car.
The below-average drive and cheap interior may not be the end of the world for many buyers given the price, yet – for us – the serious lack of safety kit spoils the MG ZS as a prospective family car. Big space and a seven-year warranty may appeal, yet they don’t stop the ZS from being soundly beaten by almost all of its contemporaries.
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