MG ZS EV 2020 long-term review
What distinguishes a modern MG besides the famous badge? We found out with stints in both petrol and electric versions
*Why we ran it: *To see if reborn MG’s poster child is as easy to live with as the established names in the class, and if EV or petrol is the pick of the range
-Month 7 - Month 6 - Month 5 - Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs-
-Life with an MG ZS EV: Month 7 -
*MG’s EV debutant proved in equal parts liberating and irritating – but will that make handing back the keys any easier? - 18 March 2020*
As ownership experiments go, our time with the ZS has been nothing if not thorough. Two custodians ran three different cars over several months, covering more than 12,000 miles in total.
But the figure that makes the most interesting reading? Just how many MG has managed to sell.
Even before taking delivery of our first petrol-powered ZS, the affordable SUV was already proving a winner for MG, accounting for more than half of the brand’s total UK sales in 2018. This helped to grow MG’s market share to such an extent last year that it now exceeds Jeep. The ZS EV we ended this test with was a big reason for that growth, MG having sold out an initial batch of 1000 launch models in barely two weeks. MG’s pledge to match the government’s electric car grant for the first few thousand customers certainly helped but, having now lived with one, I can’t deny that you get an awful lot of car for your money.
While most of its electric rivals are supermini or even city car sized, the ZS delivers a higher-riding bodystyle with plenty of space for a family of four. I can’t think of another EV at this price that can swallow a mountain bike without at least one of the bike’s wheels being detached first. Our well-equipped Exclusive model also had plenty of useful tech, including fast-acting heated seats and a reversing camera with significantly better image quality than, say, a Peugeot 3008’s.
You also got the benefits of an electric powertrain. First custodian Olgun Kordal had few complaints over the responsiveness of the 1.0-litre turbocharged three-pot petrol engine, but he thought the naturally aspirated 1.5 that replaced it left plenty to be desired in terms of drivability and outright poke. The ZS EV was far more entertaining, with much quicker off-the-line pace than either combustion-engined model – but only in the racier of the three driving modes and with a front-driven axle prone to wheelspin under a heavy foot. Eco mode arguably took things too far in the other direction, artificially dulling the throttle pedal without much gain in extra range.
A fairly mild winter certainly helped on that front. Our ZS optimistically reported 170 miles after a full charge but, even on the coldest days, I typically found 130- 140 miles of usable range. And with a guaranteed charging point at one end, weekday commuting was never a problem. I do wonder whether the incoming crop of superminis capable of more than 200 miles will encourage customers to look elsewhere. Even if the average UK car owner accrues just 35 miles per day, seeing a higher range figure on the dashboard is a sure-fire way to eliminate range anxiety.
I also had much more luck with public charging points in the ZS than I did with the BMW i3s I ran last year, with almost every stop going to plan and hardly any chargers being out of service. Is it simply luck of the draw or is the infrastructure actually improving? It’s tough to tell, but I hope it’s the latter.
There were, however, interior niggles and irritations that peppered our overall experience. The door handles felt cheap and didn’t pop back into place when you opened them. Interior plastics were equally scratchy, with an abundance of fake chrome. And the infotainment system was so sluggish that when MG’s press office called to let us know the sat-nav system had stopped working because it needed a licence update, I had to admit I hadn’t noticed: I’d exclusively used my phone connected to Android Auto ever since we’d taken delivery.
The biggest bugbear were the constant beeps, boops and warnings the car seemed desperate to alert you to. I don’t need to be told to remember my keys when I’m getting in the car, do I? I counted two or three different alerts every time I pressed the start button, when the ZS insisted on going through a minute and a half of pre-flight checks on the dashboard. Everyone who borrowed the car reported the same and living with it every day was infuriating.
Lane keep assist was the worst offender. It demanded you reposition the car towards the centre of the road with only a slight deviation, to the point that I gave up and turned it off. That the setting is buried in a menu in the infotainment rather than a physical button means that irritated drivers are much less likely to turn it back on for motorway driving, where it’s a lot more useful.
There’s no denying the ZS’s value, either with a petrol engine or electric motor, but it has quite a few rough edges. It’s like a value-brand TV you’d find in a supermarket: it hasn’t had the usability testing and user experience work that goes into a more well-known model. Buyers who’ll spend at least three years with a ZS as their only car need to decide if that’s a price worth paying. But going purely by those impressive sales figures, plenty already have.
The electric ZS is definitely the one to have, but only if its range will meet your needs. I didn’t like the limp performance of the 1.5 manual, or the mannered auto ’box of the 1.0T – and the EV suffers with neither. But MG does need to sort out those half-baked driver aids on it.
*Back to the top*
*Interior space *Roomy enough for two adults or three children in the second row, with luggage.
*Electric ease of use *Enough range for most family commuters, with a responsive powertrain that’s not short on poke.
*Driving position *Long-distance journeys proved so uncomfortable that we had to invest in a back pillow. There was no lumbar support, either.
*Infotainment *Software was sluggish and constant audio alerts were quickly irritating
*Inconsistent charging *The car sometimes refused to start charging, even when plugged in correctly.
*Final mileage: 4217*
*Back to the top*
*Infotainment pushes the wrong buttons - 4th March 2020*
It seems just about everyone who has borrowed the ZS for a stint has been thrown off by its unintuitive infotainment. The icon-based home screen seems logically laid out, but open the radio or sat-nav and there’s no obvious way to return to it. You have to press in the physical volume dial, which isn’t exactly clear when all else is done via the touchscreen.
*Back to the top*
*Refinement lacking when bad weather hits - 26 February 2020*
I was reminded of our MG’s low price during Storm Ciara. The raised ride height and skinny wheels meant I got decent exercise keeping the wheel straight, while a faulty rear door seal made cabin noise a bugbear. Also frustrating were the concerning levels of torque steer when traversing slippery junctions and the thudding of fallen branches against the under-insulated floorpan.
*Back to the top*
*A smart touch, but not for all phones - 12 February 2020*
At first I thought MG had been clever by adding a cut-out to the centre console cubbyhole to pass a cable from the USB port to your smartphone – but it just isn’t big enough to fit modern, big-screen handsets. MG isn’t alone in ignoring how devices are growing, but here it means my phone blocks the drive mode and brake regen switches.
*Back to the top*
-Life with an MG ZS EV: Month 6-
*Deceptively spacious where it counts - 29th January 2020*
I don’t regularly need rear seats, but there have been no complaints on the few occasions that someone has jumped in the back of the ZS. It’s really rather roomy, both for heads and feet. A lot of models that offer engine and electric power compromise on passenger space to make room for batteries, but MG has avoided this problem.
*Back to the top*
*No shortage to speak of here - 22nd January 2020*
I’ve discovered the one thing the ZS can do better than almost every other EV I’ve driven. Its charging cable is simply colossal – far longer than that of the Jaguar I-Pace or Hyundai Ioniq I compete with for our office’s limited charging facilities. While those models have to park in specific bays so their shorter cables can reach, I can squeeze in alongside and plug in with no hassle. T
*Back to the top*
*An otherwise silent electric car is doing a good job of making itself heard - 15th January 2020*
Of all the issues I expected to face during my time with MG’s affordable EV, noise complaints were right at the bottom of the list. And yet, somehow, the ZS has managed it.
You’d need hearing on a par with Superman’s to moan about the electric motor, which is all but silent when pulling out of my street and only really audible inside the cabin when accelerating beyond 40mph. Have the radio at a reasonable volume and even that high-pitched whine is difficult to notice.
No, it’s the alerts meant to stop you from forgetting your keys, or warn that you’ve left one of the doors open, that are causing the nuisance. Step out from the driver’s seat and the car gives three honks of its horn in quick succession, even if all the doors are shut and the key is safely in your pocket. It doesn’t take time of day into account, of course, and cares not a jot that I live in a block of flats, so all my neighbours now are well informed whenever I return home.
I’ve also noticed the ‘don’t forget to take your key!’ reminder appearing on the instrument cluster, accompanied with yet another annoying ‘bong’, not only when I’m getting out of the car but also, unhelpfully, when I’m getting into it. I’ve driven cars where merely having the key in your right pocket prevents you from starting the engine, but the MG clearly has no issues detecting the fob.
I’ve checked all the doors (and the rear hatch) to confirm they’re definitely shut correctly, and a diagram on the dashboard showing everything is closed helpfully indicates that I’m not losing my marbles, which leaves me wondering whether an overly eager sensor could be at fault. A trip to my local MG dealer to investigate may be on the cards very shortly.
That minor frustration aside, I have few negatives to report. It didn’t take much time behind the wheel to appreciate the comfortable ride, which copes with rougher roads surprisingly well for a car so laden with batteries. The ZS’s 17in alloys might not fill its wheel arches as well as the 20s fitted to the BMW i3s I ran prior to this, but with softer suspension and proper tyres instead of skinny-sidewalled run-flats, it feels so much more relaxed at city speeds.
The cold winter mornings aren’t having the dramatic negative effect on range I was expecting, either. Defrosting the windows only manages to sap a handful of miles before leaving the driveway, and a 10-mile commute is using up to 15 miles of range depending on how much traffic I’m stuck in – and that’s mainly because I refuse to turn the heating off and rely solely on the heated seats. The interior seems to steam up very easily anyway so, regardless of temperature, the HVAC is rarely turned off completely. A pair of gloves now live in the side pocket (there’s no heated steering wheel) but, with a charging point waiting for me at the office, I’m never concerned that I’ll run out of range.
That wasn’t the case for my first real motorway journey: a 150-mile round trip to Oxfordshire for a car launch. With no charger available at the venue, it meant a stop at Cherwell Valley services and 45 minutes hooked up to an Electric Highway rapid charger. I’d downloaded the app beforehand but, even if I hadn’t, it only took a minute to register my details, and the charging point worked perfectly. I’m not the biggest fan of coffee, so it meant some twiddling of thumbs while I waited for the battery to replenish rather than a rest stop in Costa, but if everyone’s first experience of public charging could be as smooth as this, I think there’d be far fewer detractors of widespread EV adoption.
*Ride quality *Relaxed suspension and sensibly sized wheels are ideal for smooth city driving in Eco mode.
*start-up animations *I don’t want a NASA-style systems check every time I start the car. Just show the speedo, please.
*Back to the top*
*Where's best to pop the port? - 2nd January 2020*
Placing the charging port behind the MG badge on the grille keeps things neat and I’ve had no trouble stretching the extra-long cable from the car to any charging station I’ve parked at. It’s very low to the ground, though, and the way the cover hinges upwards obscures your vision unless you kneel down when plugging in. Less than ideal on wet days.
*Back to the top*
-Life with an MG ZS EV: Month 5-
*Frosty reception from the range indicator - 4th December 2019*
Calling the air conditioning into action has an instant and visible effect on the ZS’s remaining range. With a full charge, the dashboard suggests a 30 to 35-mile reduction if you want to heat the cabin insteadof relying on the heated seats. Other EVs aren’t quite as upfront in this regard, but it helps when planning to next visit the charging station.
*Back to the top*
*We wave goodbye to petrol and switch to MG’s debut EV - 27th November 2019*
Not one but two swaps this week, as the combustion-engined ZS left us and photographer Olgun Kordal handed me the keys to its electric replacement. It was decided that forcing a snapper to registerwith public charging networks and still head between remote shoot locations with ample time to spare for electric top-ups constituted cruel and unusual punishment, so I’m picking up MG reporting duties from here on.
Not that I’ll have an entirely easy ride, as I have no means with which to charge its 44.5kWh battery at home, but a modest 25-mile daily round-trip commute means a visit to the office car park’s 7kW charging points will only be required once or twice a week. Assuming the WLTP-tested range of 163 miles proves accurate, that is – and with the last of the autumn mild weather seemingly behind us, I’m not sure it will do.
Having previously been in an electric BMW i3s, I’ve yet to experience the range-sapping effects of plunging temperatures, but heard from several readers that the cold would be my biggest enemy were my EV experience to last much longer. I’ll be keeping a much closer eye on the range estimates as we head into the winter.
So far, the ZS EV has provoked mixed emotions. It has cheap-feeling door handles that don’t always pop back into place when you let go of them, and the way it insists on flashing up every driver assist feature onto the instrument cluster in sequence when you first start it up is beyond frustrating. It’s a good minute before the digital speedo reappears, and there’s nothing you can do to hasten the process. These are often accompanied by a beep, and there’s seemingly no way to mute it. I appreciate the heated seats, though, and the sunroof makes for a bright and airy cabin.
I can already tell I’ll be relying on Android Auto a lot more than the basic built-in navigation, which isn’t particularly high-resolution or intuitive to navigate. I also agree with Olgun that the seats lack lumbar support – though I’m not sure I spend enough time behind the wheel to follow his lead and invest in a back support cushion.
Coming from the rapid (in urban terms, at least) i3s I was running previously, I had wondered if the ZS would feel sluggish in comparison, but it has so far surprised me with its responsiveness. Aside from aslight dead spot at the very top of the throttle pedal’s travel, it accelerates just fine in city environments.
In fact, Sport mode feels like overkill: sending 141bhp of instant electric shove through the front wheels is enough to make it scrabble for grip when you really hoof it. I’ve even noticed wheelspin at junctions in Standard mode, so have mostly stuck to the more relaxed Eco mode. The fact it retains that setting between journeys is a big win, and having the option to adjust the level of regenerative braking is a welcome one.
So far, I don’t have any long-distance drives planned, but as a particularly epic journey I had pencilled in for the BMW never materialised, there’s every chance I’ll be getting acquainted with some motorway rapid-charging stations sometime very soon.
*Love it: light-up badge *
MG logo glows hauntingly when charging. Shame advertising laws mean you can’t have it on all the time.
*Loathe it: Can't stop the beep*
Incessant bings, bongs and boops whenever you start the car are beyond irritating, and seemingly can’t be turned off.
*Back to the top*
-*Life with an MG ZS: Month 4*-
*Eye of the beholder - 16th October 2019*
While I don’t think this MG ZS will go down in history as a design icon, I have warmed to its lines and creases. Some angles are better than others, though. To my eyes, it’s at its sharpest when viewed from thefront or the side, although the latter does make me think it’s somewhat underwheeled. Perhaps MG should slap 22in alloys on for the facelift.
*Back to the top*
*Heavy feet need not apply - 18th September 2019*
I’m struggling to adapt to this new MG’s manual ’box. The clutch’s bite point is as elusive as a dollop of butter dropped into a pan of hot mashed potatoes and the shortfall of torque from the naturally aspirated engine means I’m having to rev the engine out to avoid stalling at the lights. The stop/start system doesn’t seem that intuitive, either.
Back to the top
*Our MG has been involved in a drive-by shooting – of an F40 - 4 September 2019*
I’m feeling quite settled in our ‘new’ MG now and finding lots to like about what I guess many would consider represents being downgraded into a version with less performance and a manual gearbox. How little ‘many’ know.
Giving up our old 1.0-litre turbocharged ZS has meant getting rid of its hyperactive automatic ’box, which I was glad to do. It also means getting used to a new normally aspirated 1.5-litre engine, though, one with noticeably less accessible torque than the old 1.0-litre turbo had, as well as a manual gearbox that isn’t the most inspiring to use and obliges you to either pay attention or frequently find yourself stuck in the wrong gear on the road, praying for a downward gradient. The 1.5-litre engine leaves plenty to be desired on drivability and outright poke but, even so, it bugs me less than that erratic auto used to.
Meanwhile, I’m finding myself much more enamoured of the MG’s design now that I can look at it in a brighter colour. The ZS is miles more appealing in Dynamic Red than it was in Cosmic Silver (is verbal window dressing like that really necessary on cars like this?) and it has been applied with a reasonably consistent finish across the car’s metal and plastic body panels, which is something you don’t always find on bargain-buy cars. I’ll admit to preferring funkier colours on car designs that are fairly plain and uninspired because it tricks you into thinking they are more appealing than perhaps they really are. For now, consider me tricked.
Driving the ZS every day continues to be made much more comfortable with the addition of the backrest cushion I bought for the last car, but that apart, I find the controls pretty comfortable to use and the car continues to impress me on wider practicality levels. There aren’t many other £15k cars I could use as photographic tracking platforms. That’s a sum that barely buys an entry-level supermini from a mainstream European brand these days. That thought occurred to me the other day, while I was shooting a Ferrari F40 for an upcoming story, a car I’ve always wanted to photograph. In a way, the humble MG made it possible. Lordy, I’m welling up.
While I’m on, I can also update you a bit on the car’s off-road credentials after it took me to a job in a muddy quarry to shoot something with proper knobbly tyres and locking diffs. Honestly, it’d be fair to say there aren’t any, although the good news, I guess, is that it didn’t get stuck.
Even so, it quickly became obvious that even attempting to cross much rough stuff in this front-driven MG is a bad idea. The car seemed to protest for a few days afterwards, even after I’d hosed out the wheel arches and checked for any scrapes and scuffs. It rode a bit lumpily and felt looser in its handling than normal. Or maybe that was just my guilty conscience.
*New paintwork* The brighter colour makes the ZS look so much better – and more upmarket – than it did in silver. I’m not saying people stop and stare but I feel a bit richer when I look at it.
*Nannying noises* All the audible alert ‘bonging’. Yes, I know I’ve turned the headlights off: it’s the middle of the day. And I’m aware I’ve opened the door before switching off the engine…
*Don’t look back in anger - 21 August 2019*
Some friends came to visit and were surprised (read: livid) to find that ‘my’ £17.5k MG came with a parking camera, when their £30k-plus BMW 3 Series did not. Sometimes it’s difficult not to be smug. Anyway, the camera allows me to squeeze into tight spaces with pinpoint accuracy around my north London home. It’d be tricky to go without now.
-*Life with an MG ZS: Month 3*-
*Air con could do better - 24th July 2019*
Warm weather has meant I’ve been using the MG’s air-con a lot more. Even at its coldest setting and on full blast, it struggles to keep the cabin cool. I think it might have something to do with the power supply being cut or reduced at times, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ve heard similar complaints from a reader, so it seems to be an issue affecting other MGs too.
*Back to the top*
*Anecdotal evidence suggests the brand still has pulling power - 26 June 2019*
Who’d have thought an understated compact crossover would be so good at attracting the attention of strangers?
I’ve written before, if only in passing, about the MG’s uncanny ability to draw people in on the petrol station forecourt. But it happens frequently enough that I can now guess exactly how the conversation will go. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to deliver some variation of the following responses: “Yes, it is an MG”; “No, it’s made in China now, actually”; “It’s definitely not like the old MG sports cars”; and “Yes, it is surprisingly cheap!”. Strangers are pleasingly predictable in that sense.
Of course, there are those who don’t take too kindly to the MG, and I’ve found myself having to defend it on more than one occasion. Just the other week there was a security guard who was particularly mean about it…
But anyway, for every person who doesn’t take too kindly to the ZS, there are a dozen more willing to show genuinely positive interest in it. Surely that’s something MG’s UK marketing bods will be pleased to hear; it means they’re doing the right things. A glance at MG’s overall sales figures surely confirms as much: in May, the firm sold just north of 1200 vehicles – up nearly 50% from the same month last year. That figure also means that, for the month of May, MG commanded a greater share of the new car market than Alfa Romeo, DS, Lexus, Subaru and Ssangyong could each manage. At 0.66%, MG still has some way to go to topple the likes of Ford, but progress is progress.
And to be honest, if you take your petrolhead hat off and don your rational thinking cap instead, you can find a fair few reasons to praise the little MG. The cabin, for one, is not only home to all the various toys and features you’d realistically want from a car of this type, it’s a much more hospitable place to spend time than the plastic-heavy interior of the Dacia Duster (although video man Mitch McCabe might disagree with me here). There’s loads of space, too, and the novelty of being able to fit my bulky photography kit in the boot without first praying to the gods of Tetris to ensure everything squeezes in still hasn’t worn off.
I continue to be impressed by the MG’s infotainment suite, and its 36.3mpg economy isn’t terrible either. The styling is also starting to grow on me. I used to think it was a bit plain, but that opinion is slowly changing the more time I spend with the ZS. That said, if I could spec this car all over again, I think I’d go for one of the brighter shades of blue or red. Silver looks pretty smart, but it doesn’t really help the car stand out. I like to stand out. At the same time, my inner car designer would like to see a ZS where the wheels had been moved slightly closer towards their extremities. Perhaps I’ll have a play about on Photoshop over the weekend.
*Love it: *
*Ride comfort* The MG’s ride is very easy-going on the motorway. Makes those long journeys that much more bearable.
*The perils of wide feet:* The pedals seem to be spaced too close together. More than once I’ve gone to brake and inadvertently clipped the throttle.
*Back to the top*
-Life with an MG ZS: Month 2-
*No surprises from the engine, but no disappointment either - 29th May 2019*
With only 110bhp and 118lb ft on tap, the ZS won’t be blitzing any hot hatches away from the lights – it’s just not cut out for that sort of behaviour, and I’m not a child. But despite the humble output of its 1.0-litre engine, it’s never felt deficient in real-world performance. It’s noisy under throttle, sure, but at speed it’s just fine.
*Back to the top*
*Comfort comes first, if not from the factory - 15th May 2019*
I’ve bought a cushion. The MG’s lack of adjustable lumbar support had been making longer journeys a strain so I splashed out on a memory foam back support and it makes a real difference. In other news, the rubber plugs on the bottom of the parcel shelf strings have broken off. A niggle only – but made all the more niggly by being not quite niggly enough to merit a trip to the dealer.
*Back to the top*
*It’s winning over its photographer driver – and not just for its boot - 1st May 2019*
Before becoming custodian of this MG, I’d been the (temporary) keeper of the keys for the Autocar Ford Fiesta ST for a few weeks. Britain’s best affordable driver’s car was suitably impressive and reflected well on its maker. Even the diesel-powered Ford Focus I’d run before the ST could entertain on a decent stretch of road. So the question I’ve come back to more than once now I’m running the MG SUV is: can it offer anything close to the driving pleasure of Ford’s finest?
And you know what? Even though the ZS might not be particularly exciting to point down the sort of roads you use on the way to the more remote Autocar photo shoots, I’ll admit I’m warming to it. It’s not a head-over-heels type affair by any means, but it’s difficult not to respect what the MG can do given the fact that, even in top-spec Exclusive guise, it costs a reasonable £17,495.
Get a bit of a trot on and there’s nothing cheap about the way it conducts itself. Vertical movements over crests are tidily controlled and shorter, sharper compressions don’t leave me fretting about whether I might have inadvertently shortened my spine. In its primary ride, there’s really not much that offends – handy given the amount of time I spend slogging up and down motorways.
And although it absolutely isn’t a Fiesta ST, the ZS can corner with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. Again, body roll is mitigated tidily and there’s more than enough frontend grip on offer. There are three different settings to alter the steering weight, too: Urban, which makes it almost unnaturally light but is handy for parking; Normal, which is, um, normal; and the heavier Sport setting.
It took me a bit of time to figure out how to cycle between the different modes, because there’s no physical button to do so anywhere in the cabin. Instead, there’s a submenu within the infotainment software, which you access via the 8.0in touchscreen. Finding it is a bit too convoluted for my liking and it can be fiddly on the go, even though the screen itself is impressively clear and easy to read.
In any case, I’m now at the point where I just leave it in Sport mode. This is mostly down to the fact that I find the heftier weight a bit more confidence-inspiring, but also because the faff of having to go through the touchscreen is a bit of a deterrent.
I’m less impressed by the MG’s fuel economy, although this is largely because I got so used to getting about 500 miles of range per tank in the Focus. The MG is currently averaging 36.5mpg, which admittedly isn’t terrible, but my trips to the petrol station are more frequent: I’m currently doing about 350 miles between fills.
That said, the interest people show towards the ZS on the forecourt has come as quite a nice surprise. It might not be the sports car that people tend to remember MG for, but Joe Public clearly still has some love for the marque. And that can only be a good thing.
*Capacious boot *I still haven’t tired of the sheer amount of boot space on offer. Packing and unpacking photography kit is a breeze.
*No fan of the fan *The air-con fan can be a bit asthmatic. At times, it quite vocally sounds out of breath – irritating when I’m listening to the radio.
*Back to the top*
-Life with an MG ZS: Month 1-
*Straightforward systems are a real plus point - 10th April 2019*
MG’s 8in infotainment wins big points for ease of use. The graphics are sharp, Apple CarPlay means I can play music straight from my phone, while access to Google Maps and Waze is handy for getting to shoots in those more remote parts of Britain. A programmable shortcut button on the steering wheel is a neat touch, too.
*Back to the top*
*Welcoming the ZS to the fleet - 20th March 2019*
To say the MG brand has led a challenging existence for the past few decades would be to put things rather mildly.
It’s a company that’s changed drastically: gone are the two-seater sports cars that, for many, were synonymous with the brand; gone too are its UK manufacturing sites. In fact, were it not for Chinese intervention following the collapse of MG Rover in 2005, the MG marque itself might have fallen off the face of the earth entirely.
Surely, rebuilding a brand following the sort of decimation experienced by MG over the years would be a task so gargantuan that Hercules himself might pause for thought. That’s where our latest fleet addition comes in.
Well, not this car specifically, but the new MG ZS model range as a whole. Billed as a low-cost, practical compact SUV to rival the likes of the Nissan Juke, it’s already proven to be something of a miracle worker for MG since it went on sale at the end of 2017.
In 2018, the firm managed to grow its UK sales by 104% to 9049 units. Of course, a large percentage increase of a small number still amounts to a small number, but the top brass will no doubt be pleased by the trend. I’d hazard a guess they would take a good deal of pleasure from the fact it was their new compact SUV that catalysed this growth, too: the ZS accounted for 5300 of those 9049 sales.
Anyway, it’s this renaissance-in-a-teacup of sorts that’s piqued our interest in the MG ZS. We’re curious to discover how convincing this new poster child for the once-great marque really is as an alternative to the established names in the segment.
The ZS we’ve elected to run is the top-flight Exclusive model. There are two engine choices at this level: the first a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol that develops 105bhp and 104lb ft; the other a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-pot capable of 110bhp and 118lb ft. Admittedly, the 1.5 is cheaper (£15,495 versus £17,495 at the Exclusive trim level), but it was the fact the three-pot is mated to a dual-clutch automatic as opposed to the 1.5’s five-speed manual that ultimately swayed the decision.
It’s a car I’m going to be covering a lot of ground in over the next few months, and the idea of a torquier turbocharged engine with an auto gearbox sounded far easier to get along with than the naturally aspirated manual. Hopefully the logic will be proved correct over the coming months.
As for standard equipment, there’s rather a lot of it. In the cabin there’s leather-style upholstery, satellite navigation, air conditioning, an 8in colour touchscreen, cruise control, and audio controls on the steering wheel. There’s also Bluetooth and USB connectivity, DAB radio and Apple CarPlay. Exclusive models get smarter 17in Diamond Cut alloy wheels, while parking sensors and a rear-view camera will no doubt come in handy on the busy residential streets near my north London home.
Despite its reasonably compact proportions, the ZS has so far proved to be a usefully practical runabout. A recent trip to the airport with a group of friends made for an excellent acid test. It can be a squeeze getting five adults into a car at the best of times, but the ZS was more than up to the task: my three back-seat passengers didn’t complain about any lack of head or leg room. Result.
I was equally impressed by just how much luggage we were able to load into the ZS’s boot. With the rear seats in place, there’s 448 litres of storage space on offer – a figure that can be expanded to 1375 litres by folding the second row down. With a car-load of passengers, this obviously wasn’t possible – but the ZS still managed to swallow the three large suitcases we’d brought along with ease.
After running a Ford Fiesta ST for a time, knowing I’ll be able to load all of my photography kit in the MG’s boot without having to worry about how I’m going to make it all fit is going to be a huge relief.
While the 1.0-litre motor doesn’t have reserves of power and torque, the ZS hasn’t yet felt as though it’s struggled in terms of performance. The dual-clutch transmission can be a bit hesitant on kickdown, so overtaking requires a bit of extra forethought, but there’s enough poke here to execute such manoeuvres in a manner that won’t lead to any snickers from underwhelmed passengers.
It rides well on the motorway, too, but I have observed a tendency for it to crash more than I’d like over pockmarked patches of road. More of a concern is the driving position.
The seats have a tendency to leave my lower back feeling a touch stiff; and as the steering column doesn’t adjust for reach, my knees are constantly bent over the pedals. As I’m fairly certain I won’t be experiencing a massive growth spurt over the next few months, I’m hoping this is something I’ll just be able to get used to. We’ll see.
On the whole, though, it’s been a (mostly) positive first acquaintance with our new MG ZS. I’m looking forward to getting to know this car better, and to finding out what its strengths and quirks are. I’m sure there’ll be plenty to discover; after all, we snappers aren’t an idle bunch.
While the MG ZS is a rather handsome-looking thing, I can’t help but detect traces of other cars in its overall design. Its front, for instance, bears more than a passing resemblance to the previous-generation Mazda CX-5. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind.
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-MG ZS EV Exclusive specification-
*Prices: List price new* £26,995 (after £3500 government grant) *List price now* ££27,495 (after £3000 government grant) *Price as tested* £27,540 *Dealer value now* £19,890 *Private value now* £16,650 *Trade value now* £18,720 (part exchange)
*Options:*Black Pearl metallic paint £545
*Fuel consumption and range: WLTP range* 163 miles *Test range* 145 miles (summer) 135 miles (winter) *Battery capacity* 45kWh
*Tech highlights: 0-62mph* 8.5sec *Top speed* 92mph (limited) *Engine* electric motor *Max power* 141bhp *Max torque* 260lb ft *Transmission* single-speed automatic *Boot capacity* 470-1100 litres *Wheels* 17in, alloy *Tyres* 215/50 R17 *Kerb weight* 1534kg
*Service and running costs: Contract hire rate* £366.56 *CO2* 0g/km *Service costs* None *Other costs* None *Electricity costs* £136.08 *Running costs inc electricity* £136.08 *Cost per mile* 5 pence *Depreciation* £10,345 *Cost per mile inc dep’n* £3.28 *Faults* None
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