We drive MG’s upcoming Ford Ecosport rival in China-spec; good looks and a smart interior bode well for the UK version
  • First Drive

    MG ZS 1.0T 2017 review

    We drive MG’s upcoming Ford Ecosport rival in China-spec; good looks and a smart interior bode well for the UK version

What is it?

The MG ZS might just be the most crucial car MG has made in years. Following the larger GS SUV, the ZS is the car most likely to crack the UK market, where MG’s sales have been sluggish since it was reborn under China’s SAIC Motor Corporation.

The ZS is aimed directly at the Ford Ecosport – which probably makes its life a little easier given that many would argue the Ecosport is Ford’s weakest product – and will almost certainly be priced to undercut its rival which currently starts at £15,400.

We won’t know how much the ZS will cost in Britain for sure until it is launched this November, but for now, we can gauge what sort of impact it might have on the market with an early drive of a Chinese spec ZS model.

The car we’re driving at SAIC’s Guangde Proving Ground in Anhui, China is a 1.0T LUX. This model’s three-pot will make it to Britain with the same 123bhp and 125lb ft of torque, sitting above a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that outputs 118bhp and 111lb ft.

Our Chinese-spec car uses a six-speed torque converter transmission, but UK automatic cars will almost certainly get a dual-clutch ‘box. The standard transmission will, however, be a six-speed manual.

What's it like?

Lookswise it’s fair to say the MG has its main rival beat, with its tauter body and more aggressive face making for a more mature exterior. Although you could argue that the win is partly due to the ZS borrowing a few lines and features from other brands, like its headlights and grille which look remarkably similar to those on a Mazda CX-5.

The car sits on 17in wheels in top spec which, despite coming in attractive designs, actually look a bit underwhelming under the car’s wide wheel arches. This problem will only be accentuated on lower models, with entry cars in Britain probably getting steel wheels, with 16s for mid-level versions.

There’s no denying the cabin is a significant step forward for the SAIC-owned MG brand. The centre console is almost Germanic in its simplistic design, and it gets an 8in LCD touchscreen in higher models. The touch and feel of the interior plastic trim is also a marked step up, and high-trim versions get leather seats with leather-clad door and dash trim.

Legroom in the back is better than the Ecosport and the boot is also generously sized despite featuring a space saver wheel under the floor. Admittedly, with the seats folded down, the Ecosport edges ahead for maximum storage, offering 1238 litres of space to the ZS’s 1166 litres.

Our drive in the ZS is limited to a coned off test track but immediately the technical course shows that the Chinese-spec car has a noticeably more body roll than the Ecosport and nothing in the way of steering feel.

The car also lacks the agility of sportier offerings like the Mazda CX-3 and even the Ecosport edges ahead for driver engagement, suggesting the ZS’s softer ride might hamper B-road enjoyment. Although, like the larger GS, there’s a strong chance that UK cars will get a retuned setup.

Our car’s powertrain feels strong and its three-cylinder tone as good as any other in this class. But the China-spec automatic gearbox is sluggish and unresponsive, emphasising the importance of a dual-clutch option for British cars.

Should I buy one?

If MG can adapt its ZS to the UK with a dual-clutch automatic option and also dial out some of the car’s body roll, the car stands in very good stead. Especially if it’s priced a good margin lower than its main rivals (we're guessing from around £12,500), who will offer better depreciation and brand prowess.

If MG can address all of that, the ZS will represent good value for money as well as being a refreshingly attractive new entry into this segment. It could therefore quickly become the marque’s best-selling model in Britain. No pressure.

Location China; On sale November; Price tbc; Engine 3 cyls, 1.0-litre, turbo, petrol; Power 123bhp; Torque 125lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight tbc; Top speed tbc; 0-62mph tbc; Economy tbc; CO2/tax band tbc

Join the debate


19 April 2017
"The car also can’t be aggravated into oversteer".

As anyone buying this type of car would care about such matters!

19 April 2017
Mikey C wrote:

"The car also can’t be aggravated into oversteer".

As anyone buying this type of car would care about such matters!

Then you might realise what patronising ass you sound.

19 April 2017
What's patronising that suggesting that someone buying a small crossover like this won't have much interest in oversteer and b road handling, but instead will buy on space, comfort, economy and price?

20 April 2017
I am with you Mikey C
Handling may not be the only reason, or even the main reason, why someone chooses one car over another. To assert otherwise, as beechie does, is to project his own preference onto others, while mistaking preference for universal reason.

19 April 2017
I really struggle to see how this will have the 1.5 TGI engine in. I think it will be more likely to have the 1.5 N/A engine that is in the MG3.

And will we get the 1.0T with a manual box? In China the "premium" option engine seems to be heading more and more away from being coupled to a manual option.

19 April 2017
If they can price it attractively against a Duster...

19 April 2017
Maybe it looks better live than it does in photos ( many cars do nowadays ), but to me this does not look good. Imo it already looks dated, and something is off with the proportions.

Wasn't this the car that was supposed th herald MGs return to continental Europe? Any news on that?



19 April 2017
yuck, like an old CX5 that has been humped by a Qashqai both having genetic defects and this is the love child. No thanks.

19 April 2017
I know looks are in the eyes of the beholder, but ... good looking? really? It looks like a Chinese knock-off of a Mazda CX-5 ... oh, wait!
The car-buying public gets what it deserves, unfortunately ...

19 April 2017
Hmm, 'refreshingly attractive new entry' - err, I don't think so and as others have said, no-one is going to hustle one of these down a B road and expect thr dynamics of a Macan. Sorry but (price aside) I just can't see a market for this vehicle in the west and in black it looks too much like a low-rent suv taxi.


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