MG is gradually re-establishing itself in the UK market. The brand, now owned by Chinese company SAIC, is on target to sell 4500 cars on these shores in 2017.
And with the launch of this new ZS compact SUV, MG expects that number to double year-on-year. The likes of Ford and Renault will barely take notice of such minuscule volumes, but if MG can sustain that rate of growth for several years, it might one day represent a threat to the market leaders.
The ZS is aimed at the likes of the best-selling Nissan Juke and Mazda CX-3 and majors on affordability. The entry-level Explore model costs just £12,495, meaning it undercuts the cheapest Juke by a useful £2385. The model tested here is the range-topping Exclusive, which costs £15,495 and comes equipped with a leather-look interior and Apple CarPlay on the standard 8.0in infotainment touchscreen.
Perhaps the ZS's real selling point, though, is its seven-year/80,000 mile manufacturer warranty, which MG claims is class-leading.
The MG ZS’s selling points
MG also makes class-leading claims for the car’s interior dimensions and value for money, but it stops short of describing the ZS as the most adventurously styled compact SUV on the market.
In fact, the ZS, although basically quite attractive and finished off with some very sharp and well-executed design flourishes, could very easily be a Mazda from the front or a Kia from the rear. MG says the ZS introduces a new era for the brand, so it’s a pity that its overall aesthetic isn’t in any way distinctive or individual.
The interior is reasonably well appointed with soft-touch materials on the upper section of the dashboard, but you can tell where costs have been contained. There’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, for instance, and you won’t have to look hard to find brittle, scratchy plastics. But these compact SUVs are built to be affordable and you certainly wouldn’t feel put out if you stepped into the ZS from a Juke.
As for trims, there are three to choose from – Explore, Excite and Exclusive. Entry-level models get LED day-running-lights, electrically adjustable door mirrors, projector headlights and 15in alloy wheels as standard on the outside. Inside there is manually adjustable front seats, air conditioning, cruise control and USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
Upgrade to Excite and the ZS is equipped with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay, climate control, heated wing mirrors, front foglights and 17in alloys, while the range-topping Exclusive model adds rear parking sensors, leatherette upholstery and a reversing camera.
What you will also find inside the ZS is plenty of space. A tall adult will happily sit behind another while the boot offers 448-litres of storage capacity, which MG says is the biggest in this class.
Powering the MG ZS forward
There are two engine options, both of them petrol. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder develops 105bhp and is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged unit is a little more potent with 109bhp. It drives the front wheels (there will be no four-wheel drive option) through a six-speed automatic 'box.
Like-for-like, the 1.0 models cost £2000 more than their 1.5 counterparts. Despite that premium, the more expensive drivetrain is the one to go for, unless you really must shift gears for yourself. The normally aspirated four-cylinder does rev quite keenly to 5500rpm or so, but it’s asthmatic in its power delivery and gutless on the motorway. The torquier three-cylinder at least has a little meat to it and the auto ‘box is smooth and refined.
The ZS has been tuned for UK roads and in dynamic terms, it isn’t at all bad. The ride can be a touch lumpy, but there’s decent body control and not too much roll in bends, the steering is light and direct and the suspension does a good job of brushing off potholes and broken patches of road. The ESP, meanwhile, quickly and quite abruptly intervenes if you enter a corner with any degree of enthusiasm.
As standard, the ZS offers three steering modes - Urban, Normal and Dynamic - which give varying levels of power steering assistance. Once you’ve tried each mode for half a mile or so, though, you’re unlikely to make a habit of switching between them as your environment changes. Besides, Normal mode does a very good job of covering all bases.
The ZS isn't about to dethrone the best in the crossover class, but if value and affordability are your priorities, it’s certainly worthy of consideration. Its seven-year full manufacturer warranty is likely to be a significant draw, too, while 0% finance packages make the ZS one of the most affordable cars of its type.