Cheap AND Cheerful? MG ZS Review

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Think of the MG ZS, and you’ll probably think of the V6 powered performance saloon of the early noughties, but there’s a new version, although it’s not quite the car you may be expecting… The new ZS is actually an SUV, a cheap one at that, but is it worth having? I’ve been driving it recently to find out.

Design and Styling

To look at, the ZS is a rather attractive car, more so than the slightly bulbous looking GS. However, it lacks originality if you ask me, as it has a front end that a Mazda CX-5 would recognise and a rear end that would make a Kia Sportage ask questions. The car is even finished in a triple-layer shade of red, remind you of anything?

The model tested here, is the mid-range model, called ‘Excite’, and as standard you get 17” alloys, which look alright, but I do think they look a bit lost in their arches somewhat. Sadly, bigger wheels aren’t available as an option, and the range-topping ‘Exclusive’ model also receives 17” alloys – albeit with a different design.

Step inside the car and you will find it’s nicer than you would expect from car as cheap as this. Yes, there are quite a few hard plastics, but frankly, you would expect that. What you might not expect though, is the soft touch dashboard, which helps to give the cabin a premium element. You also get a flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in leather, and fabric seats with a rather fetching dogtooth design. I’ve got to be honest though, I don’t much care for the fake carbon fibre effect – nope, not for me.

Rating: (3.5 / 5)

Equipment

With a starting price of just £12,495, you’d be forgiven for expecting a car with about as much luxuries as a prison cell, but even the base model, named ‘Explore’, is able to offer goodies such as electric windows, cruise control, Bluetooth, LED daytime running lights and USB/AUX connections.

Pay £13,995 and you’ll get the ‘Excite’ model, which is on test here. This adds 17″ alloys, 8″ touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and DAB radio, rear parking sensors, and air conditioning.

That leaves the ‘Exclusive’ model, which starts from £15,495 and is able to offer leather style seating, 17″ alloys, navigation, and a rear parking camera. Unfortunately, autonomous emergency braking is not standard, and it’s not even an option. Because of its lack of safety tech, the ZS gained just three stars from Euro NCAP, so if family safety is a priority, you may want to look elsewhere.

Rating: (3.5 / 5) (more safety equipment would have given a higher score)

Space and Comfort

This is an area where the MG ZS starts to come in to its own as it offers a great amount of space for a car of this price. Space in the front is good, although getting a good driving position could be tricky for some as the steering wheel adjusts for rake only. I also find that the steering column obstructs my left knee when getting out the car, and that’s with the steering wheel set to its highest and my seat to its lowest.

There are some decent cubbyholes about, and the door bins should be able to swallow a medium sized bottle of water with little problems. There are two cup holders in the middle as well as some small storage slots, and the glovebox should be able to swallow a few small items as well.

Space in the back is ample – even with the driver’s seat set up for my height (6’2″) I still have a very good amount of legroom in the rear and the headroom is also more than agreeable too. The spacious theme continues to the boot, where you’ll find 448 litres to use, making it one of the biggest in class. Fold down the 60/40 rear seats and you’ll be greeted with 1,375 litres of space, making the ZS a very practical car indeed.

Rating: (4.5 / 5)

What’s it like to drive?

Just two engines are available for the new ZS; a 1.5 litre naturally aspirated petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual, or a 1.0 litre turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 6-speed automatic. The former offers 105bhp with 141Nm of torque whilst the latter offers 109bhp with 160Nm of torque.

The 1.5 litre engine is the one in the model on test here, and because of its N/A delivery it’ll need a lot of revs to wind the four-cylinder engine up. 62mph arrives in 10.9 seconds (1.5 seconds faster than the 1.0 turbo) and the top speed is 109mph (112mph for the 1.0 turbo). For those of you looking for a diesel option – or indeed four-wheel drive – you’ll need to look elsewhere as no ZS models offer this.

MG ZS Review

The 1.5 litre petrol should just about have enough power to suit your daily driving, but you’re likely to find that not much happens between 1,000 and 2,000 revs, and that the engine won’t start to really wake up until you approach 3,000 revs. Because of this, you’ll need to work the five gears well to ensure that you always have the right power for the situation, which may prove wearing for some. This wouldn’t be so bad if the 5-speed manual was a competent tool, but I’m afraid the changes are rubbery and notchy.

MG ZS Review

The ride isn’t perfect either; it’s unsettled pretty much all of the time, that is unless you’re able to find a perfectly smooth road in the UK. And let’s face it, that’s about as easy as needle in a haystack. Overall, the ride is so-so, but how does the car handle? Well, again, it’s not brilliant.

There’s a fair amount of body lean to contend with, and the steering doesn’t offer much feedback. Yes, you can select three different modes for the steering to change the weight, but it never feels alive. One the plus side, the weight is quite decent, as long as you don’t leave it in urban mode for those more spirited drives.

MG ZS Review

As we’re on the topic of weight, let’s talk about the brake pedal, which to me has a rather odd resistance to it. Give the pedal a quick dab and you’ll find not much happens, and it’s not until you depress the pedal further to get the brakes going, which doesn’t inspire the highest amount of confidence.

The traction control also cuts in a bit too soon for my liking and there were even a few occasions where I was able to make the hazard lights come on, even though I wasn’t braking particularly hard. So, if you’re expecting it to handle like MG cars of old, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

Rating: (3 / 5)

Fuel Economy

As there is no option for a diesel, the ZS won’t be the most frugal car in its class, but the 1.5 litre petrol is far from awful. On a combined run, you can expect up to 49.6mpg, and in my experience I was getting around 45 or so. Now, you would expect that the 1.0 litre turbo model would be more efficient as it’s a smaller engine and it has the help of a turbo, but in fact mpg comes in 44.9mpg, so if you want the most frugal model, go with the 1.5 litre petrol.

In regards to CO2, the 1.5 litre engine emits 129g/km of CO2 emissions, meaning you’ll pay £165 for the first year of VED, and if you go for the 1.0 turbo, you’ll need to pay £205, as it emits 144g/km of CO2. For those of you looking to use this as a company car, BIK is 26% for the 1.5 litre petrol, and it’s 29% for the 1.0 turbo.

Rating: (3.5 / 5)

Final Thoughts

I think it’s safe to say that the MG ZS is not the best car to drive but let’s not forget its pricetag. Here we have one of the cheapest SUVs on the market and it still offers a good amount of space and practicality for everyday family life. It also offers a decent amount of kit, and better still, it comes with a 7 year warranty. The ZS then, is cheap AND cheerful.

Car Obsession Rating: (3.5 / 5)

MG ZS Review

Pros:

  • Great value
  • Good looks (albeit not original)
  • Pleasant intrerior
  • Spacious
  • 7 year warranty

Cons:

  • Not very good to drive
  • No diesel option
  • No four wheel drive option
  • Very limited safety features
  • Small dealer network

Rivals

Citroen C3 Aircross ReviewCitroen C3 Aircross

Like the ZS, the C3 Aircross offers a good amount of space, plus it also has the largest boot in class. It may not be the most dynamic to drive, but it’s more pleasurable and comfortable than the ZS, plus you can have a diesel if you should want one. It also offers more kit and better safety features, although it’s a more expensive car.

New SEAT AronaSEAT Arona

The Arona is arguably one of the best looking cars in its class, and it offers a rewarding drive as well. Granted, it costs more money, it’s boot isn’t as big, and it’s not quite spacious, but it’s a compact SUV that still offers a fair amount for your hard earned cash. It also offers a better choice of engines, too.

Dacia Duster

It’s no secret that the ZS is a cheap SUV, but what you may not know, is that the Dacia Duster is even cheaper, plus a brand new model has just hit showrooms. It’s also available with four wheel drive in case such a feature is needed, and you have more equipment to choose from.

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