Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
If you’re yet to reach the half-century, there's a good chance the name MG means nothing to you. If you have reached that milestone or are just a humble car enthusiast, your mind might conjure images of British sports cars.
Reminiscing aside, MG is back. The famous badge, now owned by Chinese company SAIC, has found its way onto a rather intriguing and in many ways compelling car.
The 2018 MG ZS is the right model for the right time. Very rarely do manufacturers get the ingredients as precise as what’s on offer here. Releasing an SUV at a time when the appetite to sit high borders on obsession puts MG in the zone to lure buyers to its limited, but growing dealership network.
So what is the ZS? It’s technically a small SUV competing against the Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-3, Haval H2 and Hyundai Kona. It’s a competitive class, to say the least.
To give the ZS a sporting chance, MG is offering the car in two spec levels called Soul and Essence. Both variants are extremely well equipped, but it’s the drivetrain that puts a strike through the Soul. The Soul's naturally aspirated engine needs 4500rpm to hit peak torque and a four-speed gearbox looks out of place in 2018.
We often write about shopping value over price, in this instance the top-spec Essence holds all the aces.
For a $2500 premium over the base model, the Essence gets a turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed automatic transmission, panoramic sunroof and push-button start. This is the definition of a no-brainer, the better drivetrain easily justifies the extra coin.
Remarkably, the ZS Essence is priced at $25,490 drive away. Equally exciting is the options list that only features the exterior colour palette. 
After about five seconds of looking at the ZS up close, it’s larger than the majority of its rivals. The ZS is longer than most, but it rides on a shorter wheelbase meaning the packaging needs to be good.
It’s a sharp looker and wouldn’t look out of place wearing the badge of any mainstream Japanese or Korean brand. The fit and finish are executed to an undeniably high standard. The paint finish and panel gaps were at a level easily comparable to higher priced rivals.
The striking Regal Blue paint, 17-inch two-tone alloy wheels and ‘London eye’ LED daytime running lights throw out a premium vibe that was unexpected at this price point.
Pleasingly, when entering the cabin the line holds. The minimalist approach is brilliantly done, there’s an understated beauty found in the simplicity of the design. The raft of ‘look at me' buttons found in other cars isn’t missed.
Unfortunately, the uncluttered layout went a step too far as there’s no centre armrest for those up front.
The lovely sized steering wheel and gear selector look like they’ve been lifted from a Volkswagen Tiguan. Everything looks good and well thought out. Even the faux leather trim on the seats feels a rung or two above the price tag.
An iPhone is needed in order to extract the most functionality out of the cabin as the 8.0-inch infotainment screen is Apple CarPlay compatible only. Android Auto users miss out on this one and will need to go back to Bluetooth.
This wasn’t our most successful experience with CarPlay though. Every phone call in the MG resulted in the person on the other end remarking about the clarity of the call and how hard we were to hear.
Another concern was the thin layer of fabric that covers the panoramic roof, when fully closed the shade didn’t filter as much light as we had hoped.
It is a spacious car with a fair amount of room in the second row. The boot is a great shape which allows you to take advantage of the 359L of cargo capacity. This increases to 1166L when the seats are folded down. It doesn’t sound like much, however, it sounds great compared to the 264L in the back of the CX-3.
Under the bonnet of the ZS Essence sits a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that can produce 82kW of power and 160Nm of torque, the latter is available from 1800-4700rpm. Power is sent to the front axle through a very competent six-speed automatic.
Pressing the button brings the powerplant to life with a bit of a rattle, it’s not the most mechanically refined unit on the market. Performance off the line is satisfactory, aided by the transmission that moves through the gears without issue.
It takes a few days to acclimatise to the feel of the pedals, both the accelerator and the brake pedal have some excessive travel that requires the deft touch that experience provides.
Speaking of brakes, the ZS gets discs on all four wheels which do the job once the subtleties of the pedal become familiar.
All other aspects of the drive are well judged. The speed-sensitive steering is nicely weighted for city driving and the suspension is on the softer side, something most buyers will expect.
City driving is where the ZS feels most at home. The excellent driving position and comfortable seats are welcome as is the quiet cabin.
On the open road, the car isn’t as convincing. There is excessive wind and tyre roar when the speedo hits triple figures. The coarser roads country people use daily only amplify the noise.
Carefully considering the type of driving situations the ZS needs to cover is vital to determining if it’s fit for purpose. If you’re trying to get a long distance country commuter on the cheap, it will come at the cost of refinement.
After a week that covered the best part of 500 kilometres, we returned a combined consumption figure of 7.3L/100km. Prospective buyers should note, both ZS variants require 95RON premium unleaded fuel.
This strangely compelling car begins to lose its way when the conversation turns to safety. Independent crash tester ANCAP assessed the ZS to be a four-star car. It was noted after the frontal offset test that the “passenger compartment held its shape well.”
The ZS lacks the latest safety tech such as auto emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring. Disappointingly, these features are unavailable even as options.
Ownership credentials are a mixed bag, MG backs the ZS with a Kia equalling seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with seven years worth of roadside assistance.
The ownership package takes a hit when you consider the draconian six month/10,000km service intervals. Maintenance costs could stack up over the life of the car, to date, MG doesn’t have a published capped-price service program, leaving owners at the mercy of the dealership.
Dealerships are few and far between, so far the MG dealer network consists of only 18 locations. Of course, this is likely to expand, but we can only play what’s in front of us.
The MG ZS is a car that should garner some enthusiasm from new car buyers especially as the dealer network grows. The metal for money equation is strong, especially when you consider the ZS has the practicality and presence to dust many of its popular competitors.
Ultimately, so much of the good work is let down by an inconvenient service schedule and the lack of modern safety tech which is a shame. Build quality sets a standard much higher than the purchase price would suggest and the long warranty gives MG something to shout about.
When all the sums are done the value of the ZS can’t be ignored. If the ZS is the one for you, walk past the base model and go all-in on the Essence. This is a rare case where the top trim level easily justifies the small premium required to get behind the wheel.
2018 MG ZS Essence Specifications
Price from $25,490 drive away Engine 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 82kW @ 5200rpm Torque 160Nm @ 1800-4700rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 6.7L/100km Tank Capacity 48L Length 4313mm Width 1809mm Height 1644mm Wheelbase 2565mm Ground Clearance 164mm Turning Circle 11.2m Tare Weight 1245kg Service Intervals 6 months/10,000km Warranty seven year/unlimited kilometre