Priced from £12,495 Release date November 2017
The new MG ZS is described by its maker as the next chapter in its history, and it's probably this story's most important.
You see, MG has been in the automotive wilderness for some time. The once-great British manufacturer was taken over by China's Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation (SAIC) in 2005 and its development since then has been slow. The models delivered under the new owner have flattered to deceive, although there has been a much-needed upward trend in sales since 2014 and the launch of its GS small SUV.
By the end of 2018, MG expects its sales to double, and it’s pinning those hopes on its new model: the ZS. It’s a small SUV with a big task, as it enters a booming class teeming with rivals - if not outright quality. Among them are the Citroën C3 Aircross, Kia Stonic, Renault Captur, Seat Arona and Vauxhall Crossland X, to name but a few.
However, to stand out, the ZS gets an ultra-low starting price of £12,495 which undercuts those rivals by a couple of thousand pounds. There's a simple choice of three trims: Explore, Excite and Exclusive, with the majority of buyers expected to go for the top-spec model.
The engine choice is nice and simple too, with just two petrol units to choose from: a 105bhp four-cylinder 1.5-litre or a 109bhp turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0-litre.
So, is this new chapter in the MG story worth reading?
2017 MG ZS on the road
The ZS’s suspension has been tweaked from the model already on sale in China to cater for UK roads. However, the end result is far from perfect, with the ride unsettled at all speeds. It isn't downright crashy across ruts and potholes, but there is a lot of vertical movement, so expect a lot of head bobbing on anything other than smooth motorways.
The steering, meanwhile, is quite quick but gives little in the way of feel. Three steering modes are available – Urban, Normal and Dynamic – but it’s best left in Normal, because Urban is too light and Dynamic is too artificially weighted.
The ZS's handling doesn’t feel quite so limp as the C3 Aircross's, but it's still certainly some way behind the class leaders in this regard, the Stonic and Arona. When you push on in the ZS, there’s a lot of body roll in corners and the traction control system seems extremely eager to cut in harshly at the slightest hint of a slipping wheel.
MG's 1.5-litre petrol engine has higher CO2 emissions and worse claimed fuel economy than many of its rivals and is quite sluggish, needing to be worked hard to get up to motorway speeds. However, its power delivery is at least predictable and around town it’s a pleasant engine that remains relatively quiet at low revs. But while engine noise is acceptable, road and wind noise inside the ZS are far more intrusive.
The five-speed manual is the only gearbox available with the 1.5. It has a nice short throw, even if it isn't the slickest in the class. The control weights aren’t good, though; the clutch pedal doesn’t have much travel and is quite inconsistently weighted, so it’s difficult to drive smoothly.
2017 MG ZS interior
Glance quickly inside and you could initially be surprised that the ZS can be offered at such a low price. However, sit down, look a bit closer and prod the dashboard and door cards and the cost-cutting becomes apparent. The dashboard is far from inspiring, with drab, cheap-feeling plastic, but the worst is around the transmission tunnel and handbrake, all of which is made from very hard and scratchy plastic.
It’s more impressive that an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system comes as standard on every model and the graphics on it are crisp and clear. The screen is very responsive to touch, too, more so than many other infotainment systems in the class, although it is a little fiddly to navigate its menus on the move.
Standard spec is impressive throughout the range, considering the ZS's price. Along with the touchscreen, base-spec Explore models get 15in steel wheels, Bluetooth and cruise control. Excite gets you 17in alloys, air conditioning and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, while range-topping Exclusive adds sat-nav, a rear-view camera and a leather-style interior.
But the most impressive thing about the ZS's interior is its spaciousness. Up front, space is good and on a par with the rest of the class, with plenty of head and leg room for the driver and passenger. Leg room in the back is certainly up there with the most spacious small SUVs, too. Similarly, the boot is an impressively large size, even taking into account its noticeable wheel arch encroachment.
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