MG ZS Essence

New car review.

Iconic name MG is back in the new car market.

Forget, though, any notion of a sporty roadster offering a quintessential top-down driving experience, as in the classic MG A, B or Midget. No, the MG of the 21st century shapes up as a British-designed, Chinese-owned (SAIC Motor) and built SUV.

The ZS is the Compact segment offering in a four-vehicle range. There’s a choice of two variants: entry level Soul with a 1.5-litre, 84kW/150Nm petrol four-cylinder engine and four-speed auto ($20,990), and the higher spec Essence powered by a 1.0-litre, 82kW/160Nm turbo petrol three-cylinder ($23,990).

As can be the case with new-to-market brands, the MG ZS is a sweet-and-sour offering.

First, the sweet.

Compared with other similar-sized and configured engines in the Compact 2WD SUV segment, the Essence’s power and torque outputs are just behind the Ford EcoSport and better than the Renault Captur Zen. The combination of turbo triple mated with a six-speed auto makes for acceptable performance around town and cruising the open road.

Creature comforts include 8.0-inch colour touch screen with Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay, reversing camera, rear park sensors, (synthetic) leather seats, panoramic sunroof, keyless start, roof rails, front/rear fog lights and daytime running lights.
It does space well, particularly passenger head room and cargo capacity (359 litres VDA, which expands to 1166 with the rear seats flat folded). Fuel economy is decent (ADR combined cycle 6.7 litres/100km, same as the EcoSport) and, significantly, the ZS comes with equal market-leading 7-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

Now, the sour.

Handling and ride quality are well short of the best in class (think Mazda CX-3) with a prevalence of body roll and lack of compliance under cornering. A step forward would be to tune the suspension to Australian conditions, i.e., coarse chip bitumen and rougher surfaces.

Built-in satellite navigation is an omission (instead, Google Maps need to be sourced through your smart phone.

In ANCAP testing, the ZS achieved a four (out of five) star rating after scoring 10.46 out of 16.00 points in the frontal offset crash test. Protection for the driver’s knee area was also deemed insufficient and there is no autonomous emergency braking, lane support functions or centre headrest in the rear seat.

If the ZS is to challenge the likes of our Australia’s Best Cars awards top trio of Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Hyundai Kona, MG has some work to do.

KEY STATS

  • MLP $23,990 (excludes on-road costs).
  • ENGINE: 1.0-litre turbo petrol inline three-cyl.
  • ANCAP SAFETY RATING: Four stars.
  • TAILPIPE CO2 (g/km): 157.
  • FOR: Equal-leading warranty, good occupant and cargo space. 
  • AGAINST: Four-star safety, handling and ride deficiencies.