MG ZS shakes SUV

scene

MGZS, 2017, front, action
MGZS, 2017, nose, action
MGZS, 2017, rear, action
MGZS, 2017, front, static
MGZS, 2017, side, static
MGZS, 2017, rear, static
MGZS, 2017, interior
MGZS, 2017, boot
MGZS, 2017, engine

MG is the latest car maker to launch a compact SUV with a high value model that revives a name from the past.

The MG ZS moniker was last used on a sporty hatch derived from the Rover 45 back in the early 2000s but now it's a name that will transform the new-look brand.

With the famous British marque now part of the giant Shanghai Automotive group and rapidly expanding its UK dealer network, the ZS arrives as the nation is going crossover crazy.

And as small SUVs go the new MG is well placed to harvest rich pickings with exceptionally keen prices, above average specification and the introduction of a seven year warranty.

There's also a new 1.0-litre engine in the line up, turbo charged to punch above its weight yet still giving decent fuel economy.

The ZS range is priced from £12,495 for a 1.5-litre manual to £17,495 for a fully-loaded 1.0-litre turbo automatic and that's bargain basement stuff on the current compact SUV scene.

At that level - and with the long-term guarantee that matches Kia's industry standard but only for 80,000 miles - the ZS is good enough to impress most who want to join the SUV set.

Moreover, it looks the part. It's sharply styled, is a proper family-sized five seater and has a comparatively huge boot with luggage space ranging from 448 to 1,375 litres with fold-down rear seats and an adjustable boot floor.

Although built in China, the ZS has been designed and set up by MG's engineers still based at Longbridge in Birmingham so it comes ready-made for British tastes - and roads.

The 1.5-litre engine is a development of the block already used in the MG3 hatch and the larger GS SUV which was launched last year.

It's a five speed manual only and is being fitted to all three ZS trim levels dubbed Explore, Excite and Exclusive.

The new 1.0-litre engine has its roots in the General Motors camp where it can be found in smaller Vauxhalls but has been tweaked by the MG team to make it a three-cylinder unit mated to a six-speed semi-automatic transmission that suits the ZS to a tee.

With 111ps on tap it is not only more powerful than the 106ps 1.5-litre but has more mid-range pull thanks to the turbo boost.

Performance figures are 12.1 seconds 0 to 60 for the 1.0-litre and 10.4 for the 1.5, yet the smaller engine can accelerate from 50 to 70mph in just 7.5 seconds compared to 15.2. Top speeds are 112 and 109mph respectively.

As the auto option in the ZS range it's available only in Excite and Exclusive trim levels and priced from £15,995 MG expects it to have great appeal.

Having driven both powertrains, the turbo does have more get up and go and gives the ZS some lively characteristics. The 1.5 has to be worked a little harder but both are more than adequate and ride well.

Official fuel figures are 49.6mpg for the 1.5 with emissions of 129g/km and 44.9mpg (144g/km) for the 1.0-litre and we managed averages of 39.2 from the manual and 35.2 in the auto.

The auto has a sport setting and can be used manually where gear changes are quick. There are no paddle shifters but the Excite and Exclusive models do have multi-mode settings which vary the weight of the steering for sporty or urban driving.

There's no diesel and MG has no plans to introduce one. Neither does the ZS name signal a return to the Z models of the Rover years - it's what the new sUV is called by SAIC in its home market.

All models are front-wheel-drive although they are dressed in SUV fashion with wheel arch protectors, sill covers and skid plates front and rear.

The interiors are clean cut and contemporary with soft touch finishes to the top of the dash and the door trims and despite the price there's an upmarket feel to the cabin. Carbon-fibre effect finishes embellish the centre console and the centre of the dash.

Excite and Exclusive models have an eight-inch colour touchscreen that's Apple CarPlay compatible and has Bluetooth connectivity while the higher specification cars come with sat nav, a high definition reversing camera and both trim levels have a perforated leather steering wheel that's good to the touch and incorporates controls for the likes of the audio, phone and trip computer.

Both sit on 17-inch alloys as opposed to the 15-inch steel wheels fitted to the entry level model, which also lacks air conditioning.

If there is a niggle it's minor and that's the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel which can be altered only for tilt.

That said, there was nothing uncomfortable about the driving position and roominess throughout was above average.

With its snazzy looks - there's something Mazda-esque about the overall demeanour of the ZS - and some classy paint jobs (although those will set you back between £545 and £695 if you don't opt for white) this is the model that could turn the corner for MG.

Sales of the MG3 and the GS are running at around 4,500 a year and with the ZS on stream MG wants that to double.

There's nothing pretentious about the ZS - it just does the job in handsome fashion - and while alternatives include the likes of the slightly smaller Nissan Juke, the Renault Captur and Mazda's CX-3, the MG beats the lot on price and on space.

It's a shake-up that's likely to turn a few heads, not only on the road but also among the executive echelons of some other brands. A car to take notice of in every way.

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