What Car? says...
The trouble with SUVs is that they're more expensive than regular hatchback equivalents. At least most of them are, because the MG ZS is cheaper to buy than many conventional small hatchbacks.
The ZS is roughly the same size as its key rival, the equally budget-focused Dacia Duster. That means it's a small SUV, a bit bigger than vastly more expensive Peugeot 2008, but slightly smaller than the popular Nissan Qashqai.
While the regular MG ZS is available with a choice of two petrol engines, there's also a fully electric version. If you want to know more about that just head over to our MG ZS EV review.
So, is the MG ZS a credible, bargain alternative to the well-established competition, or is it a case of 'you get what you pay for'?
Keep reading and we'll tell you how the ZS stacks up for performance, ride comfort, practicality and safety, as well as which version of it makes the most sense.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The two petrol engines ultimately deliver very similar performance (0-60mph takes around 10.5 seconds). However, they do so in very different ways.
The cheaper 1.5 VTi-tech doesn't have a turbocharger, so you need to rev it hard to get the best from it. Meanwhile, the turbocharged 1.0T-GDI has much more low-rev pull, so acceleration is always more relaxing.
Ultimately, though, the extra cost of the 1.0T-GDI, and that fact you can't have it with our preferred Excite trim, makes the 1.5 the better choice.
Just bear in mind that you will need to go for the 1.0-litre if you want an automatic gearbox. It's a pretty old-school type of automatic 'box and blunts performance significantly (the 0-60mph time drops to 12.1 seconds), so it's best avoided unless you really don't want to change gear yourself.
Mind you, the six-speed manual gearbox that comes as standard with the 1.0 is horribly notchy, to the point it can sometimes be hard to engage first gear before pulling away. The five-speed manual gearbox that's fitted to the 1.5 is better, although with both engines it's difficult to drive the MG ZS smoothly at at low speeds – particularly in stop-start traffic.
Ride comfort isn't a strong suit, either. The ZS is less settled at any speed than the softer Dacia Duster, and tends to trip up more easily over road scars and expansion joints. You also hear more road noise at motorway speeds, so the ZS isn't a quiet cruiser at all.
You might not expect the ZS to be particularly fun on a twisty road, and you’d be right. That said, it is better than the Duster, thanks to its more precise steering, better grip and the fact there's less body lean through tighter twists and turns.
Still, if you want a small SUV that will genuinely put a smile on your face, take a look at the more expensive Ford Puma.
Strengths Precise steering; reasonably agile for a small SUV
Weaknesses Unsettled ride; notchy manual gearbox on 1.0-T-GDI; lots of road noise
The interior layout, fit and finish
Interior quality is remarkably good considering the budget price tag. You'll find soft-touch plastics on the dashboard, along with solid-feeling buttons and an impressive fit and finish throughout. Put simply, the ZS is much classier inside than its closest rival, the Dacia Duster.
All versions of the ZS have a 10in touchscreen infotainment system. The graphics are sharp enough, but the screen is positioned quite low down on the dashboard, and you sometimes have to wait an age between pressing an icon and anything actually happening.
Upgrading to Exclusive trim adds built-in sat-nav, but really there's no need to bother because all versions come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so you can just mirror a sat-nav app from your phone to the touchscreen.
Going for Exclusive trim also gets you an extra couple of speakers (six in total). Sound quality still isn't brilliant, though.
Even less impressive is the driving position. Yes, you do sit noticeably higher up than in a conventional small hatchback, but the seat lacks adequate lower back support (there's no lumbar adjustment), and the steering wheel moves only up and down, not in and out. If you're reasonably tall, you'll probably need to sit closer to the pedals than you'd ideally like to reach the wheel.
It's also a pity there aren't dials for adjusting the air-conditioning; you have to press buttons below the touchscreen instead. Mind you, that's preferable to being forced to use icons on a touchscreen, like you are in the Peugeot 2008.
Thanks to the raised driving position and thin front window pillars, it’s easy to see out the front of the ZS. Look over your shoulder, however, and the view isn’t quite so good, hampered by chunky rear pillars.
Luckily, rear parking sensors are standard on every ZS, while top Exclusive trim adds a 360-degree parking camera.
Strengths Surprisingly good interior quality; better infotainment system than Duster; noticeably elevated driving position
Weaknesses Limited steering wheel adjustment; no adjustable lumbar support; touchscreen slow to respond
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
One of the best things about the MG ZS is its roomy interior. Thanks to clever packaging, space in the front is good and on a par with more expensive small SUVs, so there's lots of head and leg room. Likewise, the width of the interior ensures there’s no rubbing of shoulders.
You get plenty of front storage for all of your gubbins, too. Indeed, the ZS’s two proper cupholders and large door bins trounce the limited stowage space you’ll find in the Dacia Duster. On top of that, you’ll also find a large glovebox and a handy space within the central armrest.
The trend for space continues in the rear, where the ZS once again offers more room than the Duster (and most other cars in the class, for that matter). In short, even those measuring north of six feet tall won’t struggle for leg room, nor will they feel their heads brushing the ceiling.
The rear seats don’t do anything clever, but then, that’s the same story in most small SUVs. Instead, all they do is split in a 60/40 configuration and fold down, for when you need to carry more than can be squeezed in the boot.
Talking of boot space, the ZS’s 448-litre load bay is officially slightly larger than the Duster's. In the real world, though, we managed to fit six carry-on suitcases below the ZS's parcel shelf, compared with seven in the Duster. This is because the latter has a squarer, more practical load area.
Mind you, the ZS still has one of the largest boots in the class and all versions come with a height-adjustable boot floor as standard.
Strengths Roomier rear seats than most rivals; plenty of space in the front; relatively big boot
Weaknesses Rear seats aren’t very versatile; boot shape could be more practical
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The MG ZS’s low pricing and seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty help the car stand out among other small SUVs.
Its list price comfortably undercuts those of most rivals, making it a cheaper cash buy than everything except the entry-level Dacia Duster. In fact, the ZS can actually be bought for less money than the Duster when you factor in discounts (you can find the latest offers on our New Car Deals).
The ZS is also predicted to depreciate at a slightly slower rate than the Duster, which is good news for people looking to buy on PCP finance or who plan to change cars every few years.
Official fuel economy is an identical 42.7mpg on both the 1.5 VTi-tech and 1.0T-GDI engines, which is nothing to write home about. The Dacia Duster is more frugal, while the Toyota Yaris Cross can average more than 60mpg in real-world driving. The Yaris Cross is vastly more expensive to buy, though.
Relatively high CO2 emissions mean the petrol MG ZS isn't a great choice for those looking to save money on company car tax. If you're a business user and want to buy a ZS, we'd suggest looking at the all-electric ZS EV instead.
Regardless of which trim you go for, you’ll be getting plenty of equipment. In fact, along with the infotainment touchscreen, entry-level Excite models have LED headlights, air-conditioning and cruise control.
Exclusive trim adds rain-sensing wipers, a digital driver display, leather-look upholstery and a panoramic roof, but we don't think it's worth the extra outlay.
When it comes to reliability, MG as a brand didn’t fare particularly well in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, claiming 25th place (out of 32 brands) in the overall league table.
In fact, the ZS specifically was reported to be one of the least dependable small SUVs in the survey, with a lower reliability score than the Duster.
The ZS doesn't impress for safety, either. When Euro NCAP tested it in 2017, it scored just three stars out of five, and it’s disappointing that you can’t have automatic emergency braking (AEB), even as an option.
The ZS performed badly for child safety and chest protection for adults sitting in the back. That said, the rival Duster was also tested in 2017, and was awarded a similarly disappointing three-star score.
Buying & owning overview
Strengths Generous standard warranty; plenty of equipment; incredibly low purchase price
Weaknesses Poor safety rating; so-so reliability; less efficient than rivals
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We class the MG ZS as a small SUV because it's less than 4.4 metres long. Its exact length is 4323mm, its height 1653mm and its width (including mirrors) 2048mm.
No. Every version of the ZS has front-wheel drive. The same is true of the all-electric MG ZS EV.
The ZS is incredibly cheap by small SUV standards. Just bear in mind that it has several shortcomings, including ride comfort, standard safety provisions and the fact there's limited adjustment in the driving position.
|RRP price range
|£18,320 - £35,495
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|39 - 42.7
|Available doors options
|7 years / 80000 miles
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£61 / £1,631
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£122 / £3,262