Small powerhouse inspired by Britain but driven by China
Touring a Shanghai factory two years ago, there were early signs MG was building momentum.
Attention had turned to quality and longevity under the famed British sports car brand.
MG was rescued from the automotive scrap heap in 2007 by Chinese manufacturing juggernaut SAIC and it’s now finding favour with Australians.
Sales are building rapidly, and it’s the ZS compact SUV which is driving the popularity.
From a minnow, MG has rapidly become a serious player. So far this year the ZS is on the podium of small SUV sales. Now leading the Hyundai Kona and Mitsubishi ASX, the MG has rounded up some industry stalwarts on the back of value pricing, attractive designs and a seven-year warranty.
While there has been plenty of good news for MG during recent times, our experience in the top-shelf ZST wasn’t all roses.
Bare-bones models are available from $21,990, but two ZST models come with a zestier engine and the latest technology. Essence models sit atop the range at $32,990 drive-away (the price increased by $500 this month).
Excite variants are $3000 cheaper, but the Essence gains the best features available inclusive of a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, faux leather trim, satnav, as well as flashier two-tone alloys along with red brake calipers.
Also standard is a six-speaker sound system partnered to a 10.1-inch touchscreen armed with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as push-button start.
White and black are the two complimentary colours, while blue, red and silver attract a $500 premium.
There is no capped price servicing program, but services are less expensive than most mainstream rivals at a forecast cost of about $1500. Capped price servicing is expected to be introduced in the near future.
Kia previously held the title of the industry’s longest warranty at seven years and unlimited kilometres. MG has matched that deal, but recently Mitsubishi trumped allcomers with a 10-year/200,000km offer.
Four stars were awarded to the ZS back in 2017, but it wasn’t tested with the array of ‘MG Pilot’ technology that’s standard on this model which also has stronger architecture.
Life-saving features like a braking system which can be automatically applied if a frontal collision is detected, along with an ability to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles while cruise control is engaged, are headline inclusions.
Other safety expectations are met with blind-spot and lane departure warning functions, 360-degree camera views to make easy work of parking, as well as rear cross-traffic alert which helps avoid bingles when reversing from busy carparks.
Some rival new vehicles have emergency braking that also works in reverse, an ability to autonomously steer within lines as well as cross-function alerts to warn of oncoming traffic at intersections — functions not currently available on the ZS.
Sporting a “Trophy” badge on the rear pillar, this model is a showcase of MG’s best product with limited use of hard plastics. Areas touched most are trimmed with soft materials, while across the dash are black, glossy finishes for an up-market look.
The faux leather feels soft, although it has a propensity for heating up on warm days.
Adding some extra pizzazz is the digital driver’s instruments. The massive touchscreen is another standout feature — no rivals can match the size, although the MG graphics already look outdated.
Rear seat space is limited if tall front occupants shift rearward, and there are no air vents in the second row.
Those in the back do get two USB ports, though. In front of the gear shifter is another pair of USBs, and a fifth is located in the rear-view mirror to make dashcam connection easier.
Drivers may also find the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment frustrating.
Boot space is competitive with rivals, just shy of 360L, which is good for a few carry-on sized suitcases. The rear seats fold flat for a useful load area.
Responsive to calls for acceleration, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine offers consistent performance. Don’t expect a neck-snapping experience, rather linear and strong.
Covering more than 1000km, the compact SUV did its best work around town and on smooth highways. Good surfaces offered limited road rumble, and only the coarse chip bitumen caused cabin intrusion.
But on one trip, after two hours of undulating rural travel, a driveline shudder became evident, and inclines became more challenging. With three people aboard, the ZST struggled to summit a challenging range and dropped to less than 60km/h with the accelerator flat to the floor.
Arriving in town, the vehicle stuttered into a park. When restarted, the ZS operated without issue. Journeys afterwards were also faultless … we’ll take it as an aberration.
Fuel consumption of premium unleaded was 7.4L/100km, which is only slightly thirstier than the official figure from MG.
Driving an MG has always appealed, at least now I can take the whole family.
With a whole heap more gear and much more power than the base ZS models, this MG is more cheerful than cheap.
MITSUBISHI ASX GSR $32,990 D/A
A long-time segment star, backed by bargain pricing and a 10-year/200,000km warranty. Having a similar driving experience to the ZST, this model sets itself apart with sporty black finishes, like a rear spoiler, 18-inch alloys, grille along with suede/man-made leather trimmed seats. Powered by a 123kW/222Nm 2.4-litre
4-cyl with fuel consumption of 7.9L/100km.
HYUNDAI KONA ACTIVE $31,879 D/A
Another strong seller with semi-rugged looks, it boasts improved dynamics from a 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl engine that delivers fuel consumption of 7.2L/100km. Doesn’t match the MG for features, but has leather trim as standard. Current deal includes two free scheduled services, but only a five-year warranty.
Taking a hefty step up from the base ZS model in price, it’s an equally big improvement in performance and features. You’d pay an extra $10k for similar features with some other brands. A competent and confident SUV.