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MG ZS Essence 2018 review


Everyone has a soft spot for MG, the cool British car company who made that uber-cool MG B convertible, remember them? Of course you do. Only now, MGs are not made in Europe anymore. The company's been bought out by one of the world's largest car manufacturers in China, SAIC. I have such fond memories of MG that I couldn't wait to try out the new small SUV, the MG ZS.

I was in the top of the range Essence. It's a five-seater that retails for around $24,000, so is in competition with the likes of the Ford EcoSport and the lower end models of vehicles like the Hyundai Kona and Mazda CX-3. It's on the cheaper end of the scale for what I thought an MG would retail for. Here's how it did in comparison to others in its class over my seven days of family driving.

The exterior design is one of the best in its class. The exterior design is one of the best in its class.

What does it look like?

It's definitely got looks going for it. The exterior design is one of the best in its class, and provides sophistication in a compact SUV that delivers style-wise, with a cool grille up front and curved lines at the back end. Then there's that MG logo which hasn't changed a bit and I love that you flip it to open the boot. Points.

It's definitely got looks going for it. It's definitely got looks going for it.

Inside looks good on first glance, but peer a bit closer and you'll see where they have budgeted on finishes to get the price down. The doors and dash are a tad plasticky. But the rest of it has been designed quite well, with a neat centre console that is clearly set out and easy to use, a leather steering wheel and leather look seats - note, I tested the car in winter so these seats seemed fine, but I'm not sure how they'll fare with bare legs in summer.

There is also a huge sunroof which you won't see in this price range anywhere else, and it lets in lots of lovely natural light and extends to the back row.

There's that MG logo which hasn't changed a bit and I love that you flip it to open the boot. Points. There's that MG logo which hasn't changed a bit and I love that you flip it to open the boot. Points.

How does it drive?

When I first got in to drive, the car lurched forward a few times before it actually took off. This didn't happen again the whole week but one of my CarsGuide colleagues tested a different MG ZS and also had a negative driving experience, which makes me think there's not a great deal of consistency across the fleet of cars. I wouldn't want to have to suddenly change lanes and not be able to guarantee the car would do what I asked.

But apart from that, the car drove very well for the rest of the week. There's a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol engine which makes it fairly zippy and fun to drive when it's working properly. It got me up hills perfectly fine and around on my suburban route really easily.

There's a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol engine which makes it fairly zippy and fun to drive. There's a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol engine which makes it fairly zippy and fun to drive.

I found it easy to park, and the small turning circle made doing U-turns and three-point turns a breeze. There is some chatter that it has a fairly high fuel use for such a small engine - MG claims it uses 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres - which could (and should) be lower.

I also had a few issues with some of the basic functions: the window sometimes went down when I was trying to put it up, which put a dampener on things when you're driving in the freezing cold.

I found it easy to park, and the small turning circle made doing U-turns and three-point turns a breeze. I found it easy to park, and the small turning circle made doing U-turns and three-point turns a breeze.

How spacious is it?

Inside the MG ZS you'll get a fair bit more space than some of its smaller competitors. There was plenty of room in the front for both me and my 185cm husband, and it didn't feel like we were cramped together as we were in the Kona.

You'll have trouble squashing a third carseat in the middle but it's a small SUV, that's to be expected across the category. You'll have trouble squashing a third carseat in the middle but it's a small SUV, that's to be expected across the category.

The back also had lots of room for my two children aged four and six. They travelled comfortably over the week, and weren't close enough to cause unnecessary bickering in the backseat. You'll have trouble squashing a third carseat in the middle but it's a small SUV, that's to be expected across the category.

The boot is a decent size, at 359 litres it's about on par with a Kona, and a fair bit bigger than a Mazda 3's (308L) and CX-3's (350L). You'll get a pram in there, but I would always test your particular pram because every one is different. It will easily fit a full load of groceries and is a decent height off the ground to lift them in and out.

The boot is a decent size, at 359 litres. The boot is a decent size, at 359 litres.

How easy is it to use every day?

Storage is fairly average across this category; some small SUVs have a lot and some others have barely any. The MG ZS is somewhere in between, with a spot to throw keys and a phone, an uncovered, very shallow centre storage area and two cupholders in the front. There are no cupholders in the back but you will get a bottle holder in each door.

Inside looks good on first glance, but peer a bit closer and you'll see where they have budgeted on finishes to get the price down. Inside looks good on first glance, but peer a bit closer and you'll see where they have budgeted on finishes to get the price down.

There are no air vents for the back row but that isn't unusual in this category and price range - the theory is the car is small enough to be well ventilated from the front, and the heater certainly worked well enough for the children this week.

Opening the boot via the MG badge was a treat and something I'd expect in a more expensive car. (It's something clearly 'inspired' by the VW boot badge opener.)

There is a huge sunroof which you won't see in this price range anywhere else, and it lets in lots of lovely natural light and extends to the back row. There is a huge sunroof which you won't see in this price range anywhere else, and it lets in lots of lovely natural light and extends to the back row.

What's the tech like?

There's an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with a fun, bright resting face which really lifts the whole of the car's interior. You can plug in for Apple CarPlay, but there's no Android Auto, so if you're an Android user you will have to rely on the car's own tech which does not include sat nav. CarPlay users however, will enjoy linking their phone to the multimedia system with the simple plugging in a USB cable and being able to use the main apps from their phone like maps and Spotify, and also use voice control to make phone calls and send text messages.

What's the safety like?

The MG ZS comes with six airbags - dual front and front side for the driver and front passenger, and side curtain airbags extending to the back row. It doesn't have any of the latest safety tech like auto emergency braking (AEB), blind spot monitoring or lane assist, and you can't option them in, either.

But more concerning is that ANCAP gave it a four-star rating because it gave a “sub-par” performance in the head on collision test. Thankfully, I managed to avoid any head-ons this week, I didn't really want to find out exactly what they meant by “sub-par”. The MG ZS was crash-tested in 2017.

How much does it cost to run?

The MG ZS Essence comes in at $23,990. Fuel consumption is 6.7 litres/100km which is higher than average for a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo engine, but is about on par with the Ford EcoSport.

MG offers a seven-year/unlimited km warranty, which is a great offer and in line with what Kia offers. It might also alleviate any concerns that should anything break, you can get it fixed. The car will need to be serviced every six months or 10,000kms, whichever comes first.


The Wrap

This car looked so good with the huge sunroof, great exterior styling and the fact that it felt roomier than other small SUVs -  I really wanted to love it, so it was a bit disappointing that the driving wasn't particularly consistent and I didn't feel confident enough on the road. That, together with the lack of safety features you'd be looking for with a family led me to give it a family rating of 6.5 out 10. My children gave it a 7/10 - they're suckers for good looks.

Likes

Exterior design
Huge sunroof

Dislikes

Inconsistent driving manners
Small things don't work properly
Lack of safety features

Scores

Nedahl:

3.3

The Kids:

3.5

$17,990 - $26,590

Based on 52 car listings in the last 6 months

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