Suzuki Vitara VS MG ZS
- Good interior space
- Reasonably priced
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Lack of advanced safety
- Looks good
- First impressions of interior are good...
- Good value
- Four-star ANCAP
- No AEB
- Drives poorly
Suzuki's much-loved Vitara returned in 2015 and it was a happy day for people over a certain age. Over the years, Suzuki has tweaked and trimmed the range, ditching the diesel (much to the chagrin of towing fans) and leaving us with three Vitaras with the subtly updated 2019 model - the entry-level, the Turbo and the Turbo Allgrip.
The entry-level Vitara is a lot of car for the money but there is a small catch - instead of the excellent 1.4-litre turbo engine of the other two, it ships with a 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated engine that has significantly less power than anything else in the segment.
That doesn't seem to bother the target market, though - the base Vitara is by far the biggest seller in the range.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
We first published this story on 5 April 2018, and since then we have requested press loan cars to update our coverage - but to no avail.
However, there have been changes to the ZS range, and here’s what you need to know.
The brand has since revised its range line-up to kick off with the entry-level Excite (replacing the Soul trim) which retains the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a four-speed automatic. This version is priced at $22,990 drive-away.
A new mid-range variant has been added, called the Excite Plus, which gets the more high-tech 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine with a six-speed automatic. It costs $24,990 drive-away.
The range-topping variant remains the Essence, and it still has the same drivetrain as before (the 1.0L turbo three-pot with six-speed auto). It is $26,990 drive-away, and has seen the addition of built-in sat nav as part of the 2019 range update.
There have been no additions made to the safety equipment, and the MG ZS still has a four-star ANCAP crash test rating. No changes have been made to the way it drives, either.
As originally published, 5 April 2018:
If ever there was a brand that has evolved to a point of being beyond recognition, MG could be it.
The British brand - Morris Garages - is now owned by a Chinese mega-company called SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, a business that managed almost seven million sales in 2017.
Where does MG fit into the portfolio? Well it’s a small player, by market standards, with 'just' 134,000 sales… which, if it sold that many in Australia, would make it the second-best selling brand here, behind only Toyota.
A while ago an SUV with an MG badge would have been the stuff of daydreams. But this is, in fact, the second SUV from the maker, slotting below the larger and more expensive MG GS.
If you have a good memory, you may remember that another MG wearing the ZS badge has been sold in Australia before… that was the remarkably unremarkable MG Rover ZS mid-sized sedan, and it didn’t sell in big numbers. In fact, only 31 units of the ZS sedan were sold - this more desirable small SUV is set to smash that.
As the starting point in the MG SUV range, it certainly stands out as quite a looker. But is there more to it than cosmetic charm?
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
It's frustrating that the Vitara is a good car fitted with such a weak engine. It's got great interior space for less money than a Qashqai, a big boot and some nice touches.
The ledger for the base model Vitara is more balanced than the higher grades. While the turbo-engined machines get along very nicely, the ride and handling are great and all the Vitara's strengths are magnified, the entry-level struggles against similarly-priced competition.
The Vitara Turbo is the one to get if you can stretch to it. The Vitara isn't ruined by this engine, but it is compromised.
Is engine power a big deal for you? Or is the Vitara's lack of pace and refinement secondary to its undeniable charms? Let us know in the comments below.
If you’re the sort of person who wants a nice looking small SUV that doesn’t cost too much and is more practical than some of its competitors, the MG ZS might be an option for you.
But there are many better alternatives, so it’s pretty hard to justify, especially with its unfortunate road manners and lack of safety equipment. The brand may have evolved, but the vehicles require some further development before they're good enough to compete against mainstream players.
Do you care about how your car drives, or is appearance more important? Let us know in the comments section below.
Not everyone is a fan of the new Vitara's looks, but I am. Most of the colours are fairly vivid and everyone seems to buy it in metallic green, so it was nice to have it in this grey/silver (optional) colour.
The chrome grille can be a little bit much, but I really like the purposeful, chunky profile. Wasn't sure about the new rear lights at first, but as I said in the Allgrip review, they had already grown on me.
The Vitara's interior isn't going to win any materials quality awards, but it seems like it will last a long time. There's nothing amazing about it apart from the fact it's roomy and everything looks and feels honest.
I think it’s one of the best looking small SUVs on the market. Do you agree with me?
There are bits of it that could be better; the 17-inch wheels appear too small, because there’s a decent amount of bulk above the wheelarches front and back. They could be a size bigger, and also considerably wider: the tyres fitted are just 215mm across - a set of 18s with 235mm rubber would definitely fill the arches more.
But other than that, it’s a nice looking vehicle.
I mean, you could confuse it for something from Mazda’s stable. There’s no doubt about that. The LED daytime running lights may well have been stolen straight from Mazda’s design department in Hiroshima, it’s that unmistakable. MG, however, being so obviously British (by way of China) labels the DRLs as 'London Eye'.
There are other elements that aren’t so much direct reinterpretations as generally good design cues: the wide grille, sculpted bumper, angular glasshouse, and slimline tail-lights combine to give it a conventionally attractive look.
The interior offers good perceived quality - meaning that when you look at it for the first time, you’re pretty impressed by what you see. But there are some actual quality questions raised, as you’ll read in the next section.
Passenger space in the Vitara is excellent for a compact SUV. Part of the reason back seat occupants do so well is because the roof is high, the doors aren't very thick and the seat is a long way off the floor, meaning the distance between the front and rear seats isn't made smaller by angled legs. It's comfortable, too.
Which is lucky because you won't have anywhere to put your drinks or phones or your inboard elbows, which is a shame.
Front seat passengers have somewhere to put their elbows and there are two cupholders. All four doors have a bottle holder.
The boot has a false floor under which you can hide a decent amount of stuff, including small bags. Its volume starts at a decent 375 litres (beaten only by Honda's HR-V and Nissan's Qashqai). Drop the rear seats and space increases to 1120 litres.
As mentioned, you don’t feel as though you’re sitting in a ‘cheap’ SUV when you first slide into the cabin of the ZS, but the closer you look - or, perhaps more correctly, the more you use the car - the more you realise it isn’t at the same standard of quality as most competitors.
Little things, like the fact the door grab moves in your hand when you go to close the door (that’s the opposite of reassuring), and the USB port in our test car moved when I tried to insert my phone’s cable into it - not the panel at the front, but the actual bit behind it. It’s also really hard for anyone with normal-human-sized hands to slot the USB cable in.
But when you do, it connects up to the 8.0-inch touchscreen media system and will mirror your phone through Apple CarPlay, if you have an iPhone. There’s no Android Auto.
You’ll need to use your iPhone for sat nav or maps, because the built-in system doesn’t have it. It’s a bright and colourful screen to run AM/FM radio or your Bluetooth connected smartphone, though, and there’s a six-speaker sound system - apparently with Yamaha 3D sound. It didn’t offer anything mind-blowing in terms of an audio experience, however.
The seats are comfortable, offering a decent driving position, but there’s no reach adjustment to the steering, only height adjustment - that’s really annoying if you have long legs but short arms. And while you get a digital driver info display, there’s no digital speedometer.
There’s no covered centre storage between the front seats (bad) but there are two cupholders and the front door pockets are big enough for bottles (good).
The back seat lacks any form of cupholders (bad), and there’s no fold down armrest, either (bad). And while there are rear door pockets, they’re too small to fit a bottle (bad). At least it has twin map pockets (good).
And the other (good) thing about the back seat is the amount of passenger space. With the driver’s seat set for my 183cm frame, I was easily able to sit behind with enough legroom to keep me comfortable for a while.
Headroom is good, too, even with the very large glass roof in this spec of the ZS. The sunroof isn’t just for show, the front part opens up, too. But on the downside, there are no rear lights, which makes it really hard to see what you’re doing at nighttime.
If your passengers are smaller, there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and three top-tether attachments.
The boot of the MG ZS is decent, with 359 litres of cargo capacity to the cargo cover when the rear seats are in place, or 1166L with the 60/40 back seats folded down (measured to the window line) - though they don’t fold flat. The boot itself is deep, but the load lip is a touch higher than some others - and the VW-like boot badge opener is a nice piece of copycatsmanship, too. I guess it’s okay because the brands both have two letters.
Those cargo space figures are good for the class. The best seller in the segment, the Mazda CX-3, has just 264L with the seats up (1174L seats down).
The MG ZS is one of the larger small SUVs out there, spanning 4314mm long, 1809mm wide and 1611mm tall. Ground clearance is 164mm.
Price and features
Engine aside, there is much to like about the base model Vitara - in fact any Vitara - and this one is a pretty decent $24,990.
That lands you, all the way from (somewhat unexpectedly) Hungary, 17-inch alloys, climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, sat nav, leather steering wheel, cloth trim, power windows, four-speaker stereo and a space-saver spare.
That four-speaker stereo is run from the same touchscreen found in pretty much every Suzuki. The basic software is okay but the hardware itself is a bit iffy. Cleverly (and unlike Toyota), Suzuki knew an easy fix for that is to throw in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Sorted.
The MG ZS range has two models to choose from - both of which are competitively priced in order to gain some traction in the tough-fought small SUV market.
There’s the entry-level ZS Soul model, which lists at $20,990 plus on-road costs.
Standard equipment for the ZS Soul includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay as standard, as well as Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB connectivity, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors (with a centimetre distance measurement display, which is very nice), and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Leather trim, a leather steering wheel and leather gear selector are standard, too, as well as auto headlights, front fog-lights and there are roof rails (perfect to fit roof racks to).
The next model up the range is the one you see in the images here - it’s the Essence, which lists at $23,990 plus on-road costs.
The Essence adds desirable bits like a ‘Stargazer’ panoramic glass roof with sunshade, and keyless entry with push-button start.
If you’re shopping in this segment, some other options you could consider at this sub-$25k price point include the Mazda CX-3, Suzuki Vitara, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax, Mitsubishi ASX or Renault Captur. You’re spoilt for choice, in other words, though none have niceties like leather trim and a big sunroof at this price point.
You’ll have to check out the safety section for the main omissions from the MG ZS range.
Engine & trans
The 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the base Vitara wheezes up just 86kW and 156Nm, easily the least-powerful in its class, and by some margin.
I often joke that it's almost like there is legislation about how much power a compact SUV must have. The Vitara is proof there isn't. The $29,990 Turbo has 102kW/220Nm, for comparison.
As with the turbo cars, the 1.6 has a proper six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. You can also get a five-speed manual for $23,990. Luckily it weighs bugger-all at 1180kg.
The Vitara offers 1200kg towing for braked trailers and 400kg unbraked.
The MG ZS is available with two different drivetrains.
The entry-level Soul model comes with a 1.5-litre non-turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with 84kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 150Nm of torque (at 4500rpm). It has a four-speed auto and is front-wheel drive.
The high-spec Essence model we had is powered by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with a little less power, 82kW (at 5200rpm), but a touch more torque, with 160Nm (from 1800-4700rpm).
Those outputs are close to what’s expected in the scheme of small SUVs: the Ford EcoSport, probably the most direct rival to the ZS in terms of size, has a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with 92kW and 170Nm in the top two specs, or an entry-grade 1.5-litre three-cylinder non-turbo with 90KW and 150Nm. Another three-pot competitor is the Peugeot 2008, which has a 1.2-litre turbo engine in all models, and zesty outputs of 81kW and 205Nm.
In operation, the drivetrain leaves a bit to be desired. Read the driving section below for more.
The non-turbo Vitara clocks up an official combined cycle fuel consumption rating of 6.0L/100km, 0.1L/100km worse than the Turbo.
My week with the car saw an indicated 9.2L/100km which is almost a litre worse than the Turbo Allgrip I last tested, and a whole lot less fun.
Claimed fuel consumption for the entry-level model is rated at 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres, which is thirsty for the segment.
The turbo version we had is a little better on paper, with a claim of 6.7L/100km. If you’re interested, Peugeot claims 4.8L/100km for its 2008 models - but Ford claims 6.9L/100km for its turbo three-cylinder EcoSports.
After our time testing the MG ZS we saw a return of 8.0L/100km, which is not terrific for a car of this size.
Both versions of the MG ZS require 95RON premium unleaded fuel, adding cost at the pump.
As has been the case since the Vitara's re-emergence a few years ago, it's a good car to drive. Light steering, supple ride and good body control mean progress is smooth and, if you're going downhill, fun.
For a modern car, it's a featherweight, but without the bounciness of some other cars of this weight. It's also quite maneuverable and is unexpectedly slim, meaning you can thread it around easily and it's not a bother in car parks or tight city streets.
It's good on urban streets, too, because it soaks up bumps and lumps very well.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - the Vitara is a good car. But in this spec, it's a good car with a deeply ordinary engine.
It's noisy, which wouldn't matter except to get anything like decent movement, you have to rev it. If you use anything more than quarter throttle - and you really have to - the transmission kicks down to try and find the scraps of torque on offer. It might be light, but the torque figure just isn't enough to move the Vitara with any urgency.
The base Vitara is slow and noisy and from that perspective is no match for its similarly-priced competition. Compounded by a lack of refinement from both engine and transmission, it highlights what a good engine is the 1.4-litre turbo.
The Vitara is slow and noisy, and from that perspective is no match for its similarly-priced competition.
There was so much promise to this car, but driving it was the least enjoyable thing about it.
If you don’t care about how a car drives, you might be able to overlook the criticisms I’m about to level at the MG. But it’s my job to tell you how it stacks up in the segment, and I’m comfortably suggesting it’s in the bottom three in terms of road manners, drivetrain capability, and refinement. Remember, this is a segment with about 20 vehicles in it, and I’ve driven all of them.
Let’s start with, er, starting the engine. The push-button system works fine, but the engine on my test vehicle hummed and shook itself to life while also letting out quite a noise (it’s a bit alarming when you’re standing outside the car). I know, three-cylinder engines aren’t the most loveable sounds to all ears, and they’re prone to vibration, but the lack of refinement from this vehicle is notable.
Then, when I reversed out of my driveway on a 12-degree-Celsius morning (so, not extremely cold), the engine acted in a way that I could only describe as dangerously sluggish. There was very little progress on offer for a good 10-15 seconds after I drove off. If you live on a busy street, then you really ought to prepare yourself.
Once things are warm you’ll notice the engine is actually relatively hushed from in the cabin, but it also really likes to rev.
From a standstill it will take a blink or two before the turbocharger gets huffing, and then it’ll happily rev out to 5500rpm - and that’s not even when you’re wringing its neck, just when you’re driving it normally.
In fact, the transmission does a reasonable job of changing gears to make the most of the outputs of the engine, despite the drivetrain’s apparent preference to hold on to first gear like a kid with a candy cane.
I found the brake pedal to be squishy underfoot, not overly reassuring in its action, with sub-par response on offer from its disc brakes.
Plus the underdone braking is exacerbated by the softness of the suspension - the body isn’t as controlled as most other vehicles in the segment, meaning it can wobble and shift its weight in an ungainly way. Its softly set chassis (MacPherson style front suspension, torsion beam rear suspension) can make for stumbles over bumpy sections of road, and you can feel the springs and dampers compress so much at high speeds that there’s a ‘bottoming out’ sensation.
The steering doesn’t do it any favours, either: it’s as aloof as Tom Cruise’s real personality - very hard to judge at high and low speeds, with odd weighting and inconsistency to the way it reacts. The tyres are too narrow to fully explore its handling capability - not that you’d really want to.
The MG ZS was submitted for an ANCAP crash-test score in 2017, and it managed four stars. According to the crash testers, the ZS exhibited “sub-par” performance in the head-on crash test. That’s not good enough, really, and it’s below the standard set by the larger MG GS, which was the first Chinese vehicle to score five stars locally.
The ZS comes with an array of safety kit that we appreciate, though, like six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, a torque-vectoring by braking system (that helps in corners).
But further emphasising the safety score we’ve given it, the ZS isn’t available with auto emergency braking (AEB), even as an option, and there’s no lane-keeping assist or other smart tech like blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, either.
Where is the MG ZS built? Not the UK, as the Morris Garages badge may lead you to believe. Nah, it’s built in China - and a low crash test rating, plus a low standard of safety kit, does little to push the case for Chinese-built models in Australia.
It’s a fail on the safety front, then.
Suzuki offers a three year/100,000km warranty, but there's a small catch. If you continue to service it at Suzuki dealer every six months/10,000km, you're extended to five years/100,000km. That seems like a decent deal.
Somehow, the 1.6 costs more to service than the more complex 1.4-litre turbo, working out at an average $516 per year over the first 60 months.
There’s one thing that can be said of MG’s effort in Australia - they’re giving it a go when it comes to ownership.
The company backs the SUV models in its range with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and the same cover for roadside assistance. That’s as good as you’ll get at Kia, straight off the bat.
Actually finding an MG dealership might be the next big challenge. There are just a dozen showrooms for the company at the time of writing, which means getting it serviced could be a pain if you’re away on holidays or if you move house.
And all the good work of the warranty is undone by very short service intervals - it needs maintenance every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first.