Road tests

New MG ZS 2017 review

The MG ZS is the latest car to enter the small SUV market. Is it a contender?

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

The ZS certainly feels like a step forward for the MG brand, thanks to eye-catching looks and a more pleasant interior compared with other models in the firm’s range. Make no mistake, though: while the cabin looks better, it’s still cheap to the touch, and though refined, the 1.0-litre engine is a sluggish and not all that economical. If that doesn’t matter to you and all you’re after is a cheap, comfortable and practical small SUV, it should earn a spot on your shopping list, though.

It feels like a new crossover enters the UK market every week at the moment. The industry is locked in full-scale small SUV battle, and for one good reason: these cars are goldmines. Now Chinese-owned MG is the latest brand to try and cash in on the crossover craze. 

The firm already has a presence in the market with the GS, though its new challenger – the ZS - slots into the compact SUV segment currently populated by the likes of the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, plus newcomers like the SEAT Arona. So high are MG’s hopes for the ZS that the firm believes it could more than double its current UK sales tally. With a target of 4,500 sales across all MG models targeted by the end of the year, 10,000 cars in the UK per year is seen as the next step - and this is the car that could deliver these numbers.

Best small SUVs and crossovers

We’ve already driven the ZS in China, but MG says that since then it has dedicated six months of its time to honing its new small SUV for British roads, in a bid to make sure it arrives on the crossover scene ready to take on a hatful of established rivals.

UK buyers will be offered three trim choices. Basic Explore models come priced from £12,495, with mid-range Excite cars from £13,995. However, MG UK reckons that the most popular choice will be the Exclusive model, priced from £15,495 or £17,495 as tested here with a new 1.0-litre three cylinder engine co-developed with General Motors, and a six-speed automatic gearbox. 

The new engine develops 110bhp and 160Nm of torque, meaning it’s potent enough alongside the bread-and-butter 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol units found in many of the ZS’s rivals. However, it’s mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox as standard. It’s not all too snappy and attentive, and it also means that the 1.0-litre unit isn’t as economical as you would have hoped; a claimed 44.9mpg on paper leaves it lagging behind the 50mpg benchmark set by many other 1.0-litre cars in the class, while tailpipe emissions of 144g/km are high for the segment too. 

It’s refined, however, keeping to itself under the bonnet. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the ZS is a quiet place to sit though, because there’s noticeable wind and road noise picked up through the bodywork and windows.

At town speeds, MG’s UK development time seems to have paid off with a soft ride compliant with Britain’s pothole sullen roads. The suspension set-up soaks up everyday bumps to ticks the comfort boxes, but nothing more; at speed body roll is ever present, and the ZS can’t help but pitch and dive. It seems a little out of tune with the car’s steering set-up and the three selectable steering modes. By default the car’s steering is short on feedback – not a great sin in this class – but it relatively heavy. Dynamic adds even more weight and not much else, but the Urban setting releases some of the heft from the wheel, making the steering much lighter for city driving and manoeuvres. 

Practicality is one of the big selling points MG is keen to stress with the ZS. Boot space looks particularly generous, with  448 litres on offer with all seats in place; that’s 94 litres more than you’ll find in a Nissan Juke. Room in the cabin is impressive too, with decent legroom up front and in the back, and plenty of headroom. 

To look at, the interior itself feels a big step up in quality from previous MG efforts, with an all-new, cleaner design focused around the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system tilted towards the driver. The materials themselves still feel pretty cheap, hard and scratchy. The seats are supportive and comfortable, but some will find the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel counters this a little.

The eight-inch infotainment system is offered on all but the basic model. It’s clean and crisp to look at and responds well to touches, but the way some of the controls are laid out doesn’t make it the easiest to use on the move, and the first time you drive the ZS you’ll have a job on working out how to return to the home screen; it’s an unlabelled button placed in the centre of the volume knob that’s very easy to miss.

You’ll have few complaints about the list of standard equipment thrown in on the Exclusive model. The touchscreen system boasts satellite navigation and is linked to a reversing camera. Apple CarPlay is included, but Android Auto is absent. Both the Excite and Exclusive models get 17-inch alloy wheels too. Elsewhere, cruise control and Bluetooth are standard fit across the entire range, as are hill start assist, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights and electronically adjustable mirrors.

Equipment and the new generation interior aside, this still feels like a cheap car, so the ZS will still have to enter battle with value for money and a generous seven-year warranty as its primary weapons. On list price it offers greater specification and space than rivals at a cheaper cost, but the new 1.0-litre engine and automatic gearbox combo is priced £2,000 higher than cars with the more basic 1.5-litre unit and its manual gearbox.

PCP finance schemes should help to address the difference in cost between the two-powertrain options, but we’ll have to wait a little longer to see how it competes with outside rivals on a monthly deal. Presently MG UK is only touting a five-year conditional sale scheme, with zero per cent interest on deposits covering 20 per cent of the value of the car. It means that the range-topping ZS Exclusive is available from £199 a month, but you’ll be buying the car outright and have no option to hand it back at all. 

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