First Drive: MG ZS

07th November 2017
Richard Bremner

Despite a revived MG car company having sold cars here for nine years, there are still plenty of people in the UK who are unaware that this famous British sportscar marque is still alive, and still launching new models. Since 2007 the Chinese owned brand has relaunched with small quantities of the MG TF sports car, followed by the large MG6 hatchback (and the short-lived Magnette saloon), the MG3 supermini – easily its most successful model to date – the mid-market GS SUV and now this all-new, smaller ZS SUV.


Apart from the TF, production of which finished in 2011, all of these models have been practical hatchbacks and crossovers rather than sports models, though all have a mildly sporting flavour. More striking has been their keen pricing, and in several cases a low-rent interior finish to go with it. All of which has meant pretty modest sales for a nominally British brand in its home market, and if sales have steadily climbed, the fact that awareness of this revived and reoriented marque is low confirms its limited impact here.

With its new ZS crossover, an alternative to the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur, Mazda CX-3 and Ford Ecosport, MG hopes to add real impetus to its sales. In its favour is the fact that the ZS enters one of the fastest growing segments, that it’s at least £2,000 cheaper than its rivals and well-equipped besides, and comes with a seven year, 80,000-mile manufacturer (rather than insurance backed) warranty. MG also claims that it’s built to a higher standard than its previous models.

The ZS is offered with two engines, both petrol, consisting of a reworked version of MG’s existing 104bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder, and a new General Motors-made109bhp three-cylinder turbo also found in various small Vauxhalls. This engine comes only with a six-speed automatic transmission, and provides a broader band of torque, and more of it, than the 1.5. There are three trim levels, the entry level Explore – including Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, air conditioning, a trip computer, three steering power assistance modes and LED lighting all round – Excite (8in touchscreen, DAB radio, alloys wheels, seat height adjustment, climate control and Apple Carplay) and the range-topping Exclusive which adds reversing camera, in-built navigation with traffic and faux leather seats. Absent are lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition and several other electronic safety features, but these will arrive next year, says MG.


The ZS’s interior is certainly of better calibre than recent MGs, positive elements including so-called jet airvents, a soft touch upper section, an attractive faux-leather steering wheel and for two of the three models, an eight inch touchscreen infotainment system. The houndstooth seat fabric of the lesser versions is appealing, too. More practically there’s a well-arranged driving position, despite the steering wheel being rake adjustable only, comfortable seats and the raised seating position that’s so attractive to SUV and crossover buyers.

The 1.5 manual is lively enough, this engine more civilised than previously. You only get five speeds, but the ZS is pleasingly quiet at a cruise, if less so when being revved hard. And occasionally there’s good reason to rev it, not because it’s short of go but because this crossover handles rather well, making it an unexpectedly enjoyable drive on a twisting road. It doesn’t roll much despite its height, and resists understeer with pleasing doggedness. As with most moderns the steering offers little road feel, but it’s precise and consistent. That weighting can altered across urban, normal and dynamic settings, the last of these this scribbler’s preferred choice. A shame the ESP anti-skid system intervenes a bit zealously at times, but this is a crossover that you can genuinely enjoy driving.

That also applies the 1.0-litre automatic, unpromising though that mechanical confection sounds for the keener driver. In fact, the turbocharged triple delivers more torque across a broader range than the 1.5, it’s a bit quieter at speed and comes coupled to a transmission that switches gears unobtrusively and effectively. The only negative is a tendency to shuffle indecisively between fifth and sixth at around 85mph. The three cylinder isn’t as smooth as it is when found beneath the bonnets of Vauxhalls, but it’s mostly pretty quiet, especially at a cruise when the ZS is rather more refined than its price implies. 


On most roads it rides adequately too. Small bumps are absorbed well, as are rolling crests and dips, but medium size bumps can turn the ride jostlingly busy on more challenging roads. But that’s probably a price worth paying for the XS’s mildly sporting manners. These are what you’d hope for of a car badged MG of course, but a compact crossover rarely provides a drive even mildly diverting for the keen.

The XS also scores with a generously scaled interior that includes a big boot, decent equipment, contemporary if not especially distinctive styling, that seven-year warranty and a price to make you look twice. MG aims to double its UK sales with the ZS, and stands a good chance. A full electric version of the ZS will appear next year, along with a new MG6 and further into the future, an all-electric sports coupe that will take MG back to its sporting roots in 21st century eco-style. Based on the recent E-Motion concept car, this model should help cement MG’s position as a serious player. In the meantime, the ZS certainly helps.

The Numbers

Engines: 1.5 litre four cylinder petrol, 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol

Transmission: 5-spd manual 1.5, 6-spd automatic 1.0

Bhp/lb ft: 104bhp/104lb ft, 109bhp/118lb ft

0-62mph: 10.9sec/12.4sec (1.5 litre, 1.0 litre)

Top speed: 109mph/112mph

Price as tested: £13,995-15,495

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