Badge snobbery is all very well, but if you’re on a tight budget, value for money and peace of mind are the main priorities.
The MG ZS is a great way to drive an affordable, attractive, spacious new SUV with one of the most generous warranties on the market.
MG may now be Chinese owned and the iconic octagonal emblem appears on vehicles that bear no relation to the classic sports cars of yesteryear, but the brand is hanging in there and the ZS is leading the way.
MG Motor UK was the fastest growing car manufacturer in the UK during 2018 with sales increasing by 104% versus those of 2017, with the MG3 supermini topping the number of registrations.
So far in 2019, the ZS is the biggest-selling MG, and with a pure electric version coming this later this year, it’s on a roll.
Priced from just £12,495 for the entry-level Explore spec, it’s a Nissan Qashqai-sized crossover for the price of the more compact Juke.
Rising up through the Excite trim (£14,045) to the top-of-the-range Exclusive (£15,795), it’s a bargain, so no wonder the ZS has proved to be such a hit.
Add to that good looks with a large signature grille, plus a generous seven-year 80,000-mile warranty – guaranteed by the company itself – and you have a winning combination.
Just as importantly, the car performs well, particularly if you opt for the three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo engine developing 109bhp, which we tested.
Another petrol engine, a four-cylinder 1.5-litre giving 105bhp is also available. At 10.4 seconds to 60mph it’s slightly quicker, while fuel economy is 47.1mpg and CO2 emissions 140g/km.
The 1.0-litre is a little slower at 12.1 seconds, but feels swifter, while economy is 45.4mpg and CO2 emissions are 145g/km..
Mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, it offers the best combination of performance and economy over varied driving, and we reckon this is the better all-rounder.
Good for a top speed of 112mph, it’s eager and surprisingly refined, and as long as you don’t try to drive it like a hot hatch, you will be very satisfied.
It is, however, a fairly big car with a modest engine, so you will need to work it a bit harder, especially if you’ve got a full complement of passengers.
The steering is precise and direct, and though the suspension isn’t the height of sophistication, the ride is fine and the gearbox changes smoothly.
Body roll is kept in check, while progress is comfortable rather than sporty. Excite and Exclusive models come with three power-assisted steering modes – Urban, Normal and Dynamic. Normal keeps things nice and light and I couldn’t see much need to keep changing the setting.
And just in case you’re wondering, MG is making no pretence about the off-road capabilities of the ZS. It may have fairly generic SUV looks, but apart from the high ride height, short overhangs and commanding driving position, it’s no hardcore off-roader and four-wheel drive isn’t even an option.
The cabin is attractive and roomier than you might think. There are soft-touch plastics up high and they get a bit scratchy below, but then what do you expect for the money?
There’s space for adults to sit comfortably in the back with plenty of head and legroom, while the boot has a class-leading 448 litres of luggage capacity – rising to a huge 1,375 litres with the 60:40 rear seats folded down.
So far so good, but sadly the ZS falls slightly short when it comes to safety kit. In an era where most new cars score a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, the ZS only scored three when it was tested in 2017. The lack of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure warning did it no favours.
That said, the ZS feels planted on the road and generous equipment levels help sugar the pill. Nice-haves including LED daytime running lights, cruise control, an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, sat nav, reversing camera and parking.
Verdict: If you’re looking for a bargain SUV for the family, then the MG ZS is something of a revelation and definitely worth considering. Offering a pleasant driving experience and plenty of space, it’s a lot of car for your money.