First drive: MG ZS

MG has released its new compact SUV — but is it any good? Ryan Hirons finds out.

What is it?
The ZS is the latest offering from the Chinese-owned, British manufacturer, MG.

The crossover slots in the middle of MG's current range, sitting between the MG3 hatchback and MG GS SUV, and the company is billing it as its "greatest car yet". With six months of development just for the UK, MG hopes it will be living up to that statement.

With the crossover market so strong these days, MG is aiming to make the ZS stand out through a low price and a seven-year manufacturer warranty.

What's new?
Aside from the ZS nameplate — previously attached to a high-performance, Rover 45-based saloon — the crossover is an almost totally new car in MG's line-up.

Introducing a new design language for the brand, it showcases more angular styling cues and a much larger grille compared to its GS and MG3 stablemates.

A new engine joins the lineup as well — a range-topping, 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine developed in conjunction with General Motors.

What's under the bonnet?
Two petrol engines and gearboxes are available for the ZS — the aforementioned new 1.0-litre motor available exclusively with a six-speed automatic and MG's own 1.5-litre, naturally aspirated unit which is paired to a five-speed manual

We spent most of our driving with the 1.5-litre engine. It develops 105bhp and 141Nm of torque, taking the crossover from 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds and to a 109mph top speed. Fuel economy is a claimed 49.6mpg with CO2 emissions of 129g/km.

It's not the most responsive unit, feeling quite sluggish at the low-end, although it picks up fairly well in the mid-to-high rev range — albeit with quite a lot of unpleasant noise coming into the cabin.

A brief stint with the 1.0-litre motor proved a bit more engaging, as may be expected when the engineering might of General Motors has had a hand, but the automatic gearbox felt unresponsive and it's hard not to think MG have missed a sweet spot with a 1.0-litre manual combo.

What's it like to drive?
The MG ZS offers a perfectly fine experience in urban driving. A high seating position, good all-round visibility, soft suspension and parking sensors — coupled with a camera on high-spec models— make city driving easy and almost relaxing. However, do expect plenty of gear changes and high-revving at traffic lights because of the lack of low-end torque.

Country driving and long-distance trips don't quite match that, though. Overly-soft suspension makes the experience akin to being strapped onto a bouncy castle in a high tide at times and incredibly firm seats become uncomfortable after even a short while.

MG also makes a big deal of the car's three steering modes — urban, normal and dynamic. However, each setting makes no real difference to the overall experience — with dynamic adding a little more weight, and urban taking some away. The differences are noticeable, but not worlds apart and will likely be an untouched feature after a while of ownership.

First drive: MG ZS
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First drive: MG ZS

How does it look?

MG has introduced a totally new design ethos with the ZS.

It's by no means an ugly thing. In fact, it's arguably one of the better-looking cars in the crossover market — but it seems a little uninspired. The front-end reminds us a whole lot of the current Mazda CX-3 while the back-end is reminiscent of an earlier Kia Sportage.

We'd like to have seen something on the car that makes it stand out as an MG, rather than blend in with a sea of other machinery.

What's it like inside?

The interior of the ZS is visually quite impressive, offering a visual design of something in a much higher price bracket.

To touch though, it's borderline terrible. The leather-effect materials have a cheap rubbery feel to them and hard, scratchy plastics are scattered around the cockpit. It'd be hard to expect anything more at the ZS' price-point, but it makes it hard to justify the savings over its rivals if cost isn't your priority.

It's certainly a practical car, though — offering 448 litres of boot space with all seats in place. Compared with 354 litres in the Nissan Juke, 346 litres in the Ford EcoSport and 350 litres in the Mazda CX-3, the ZS offers class-leading space.

What's the spec like?
Considering the low price, the MG ZS is quite generously equipped.

Standard equipment on all models includes LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control.

We tested the Excite model, which included 17-inch wheels, air-conditioning, 'designer' fabric seats and parking sensors — coming in at £13,995.

Range-topping Exclusive models offer an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay, satellite navigation and a reverse parking camera — starting at £17,495, it massively undercuts the cost of rivals with similar level of equipment.

It's not the most dynamic car in its class, it's not the most inspiring and it's arguably far from the most desirable — but what the MG ZS does offer is sheer value for money that rivals such as the Nissan Juke, Ford EcoSport and Mazda CX-3 simply cannot match.

With prices starting at just £12,495, topped off with a seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty and zero per cent finance deals, it's a solid choice for anyone simply looking for a brand-new, practical crossover with the ease of knowing it can be relied on for a few years to come.

Model: MG ZS Excite
Base price: £12,495
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol
Power (bhp): 105
Torque (Nm): 141
Max speed (mph): 109
0-60mph: 10.4 seconds
MPG (combined): 49.6
Emissions (g/km): 129

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