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MG ZS 1.0 Exclusive first drive

Date: 27 November 2017   |   Author: Debbie Wood

Standard equipment: 15in steel wheels, cruise control, radio, electric windows, remote central locking, trip computer, Bluetooth
Petrol: 82hp, 110hp and 130hp 1.2
Diesel: N/A
Trims: Explore, Excite, Exclusive
Transmissions: Five-speed manual, six-speed automatic

MG is looking to make a comeback in the fleet sector but the Chinese-owned carmaker admits that without the right products in place, it stands little chance of seriously taking on the competition.

It's not exactly been an easy journey for MG so far. Its unpopular 6 was replaced last year by the Qashqai-rivalling GS SUV, another model that is struggling to gain any real traction, while its 3 hatchback, although a good choice in terms of value, is starting to feel its age.

According to MG, its new compact SUV, the ZS, marks the start of a new era for the firm and will potentially double sales to 9,000 cars by the end of next year. Entering possibly the most competitive segment (and the biggest in terms of growth), the ZS will have quite a fight on its hands challenging the likes of the Renault Captur, Citreon C3 Aircross, Seat Arona and Nissan Juke.

Mixed feelings

Relying heavily on its low starting price and new seven-year warranty, from the outside the ZS is arguably the best-looking MG of the modern era.

True, it lacks imagination, looking more like a hybrid of Mazda's CX-3 and Seat's Arona, but it's well proportioned and, unlike some of its rivals, unlikely to divide opinion.

Raising the premium bar in the cabin has been a key focus for the designers and although you'll still find a few cheap plastics lurking, the interior feels robust enough considering the price tag and better than anything that's come from MG since Chinese firm Nanjing Auto took over in 2006.


Space is very good too, especially in the rear where head and legroom will trump most of its rivals, while boot space is among the best in its class at 448 litres, and includes a handy variable floor.

Restricted choice

Here in the UK you've got a choice of two engines; the current 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol used in the 3 and GS, and a new 111hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol developed in conjunction with General Motors.

Mainly because of cost, the engine combinations are very limited. Buyers have a choice of a five-speed manual paired with the 1.5-litre, or the new 1.0-litre matched up with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Both engines do very little to impress. The 1.5-litre is particularly noisy and unrefined, while the 1.0-litre is hampered because of its jerky and delayed gear changes - plus, it costs an eye-watering £2,000 extra. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that the best combination would be the manual and the 1.0-litre, which is not currently available.

Handling wise, the ZS performs quite admirably; only a little body roll is felt in the corners and the car felt planted in the corners at speed. Around town the ZS is easy to manoeuvre and park, while cruising on the motorway, although a noisy affair, is good for the most part. The steering is very artificial, however, especially when in Dynamic mode, and ride quality isn't great either, with the suspension struggling to swallow small lumps and bumps in the road.

If you're hoping that this compromise in driving is paid back tenfold in running costs, you'll be bitterly disappointed.

The 1.0-litre we're testing here returns an official combined fuel economy of 44.9mpg, while emissions come out at 144g/km of CO2 - miles behind other compact SUVs in this class ? while the 1.5-litre fares only a little better with a 49.6mpg combined figure and 129g/km of CO2 emitted. 

Lack of safety kit

There is a choice of three trims here in the UK - Explore, Excite and Exclusive. The latter is expected to be the biggest seller and comes with a whole host of kit as standard including leather upholstery, 17in alloys, reversing camera, sat-nav, parking sensors and an 8in touchscreen system with Apple CarPlay - very good value when you consider a top-spec ZS starts at less than £15,500.

MG ZSinterior

However, there's a big pin to burst MG's bubble here and that's safety kit - or the lack of it. Today's generation of cars come loaded with safety innovations and in 2017 it's quite shocking to see a car missing so much off both the standard specification and options list.

You can't specify a ZS with lane departure warning, or blind spot monitoring, or even autonomous emergency braking, which means this latest SUV will be lucky to score even two stars when it is tested by Euro NCAP. A new seven-year, 80,000 mile warranty gives a much-needed boost for mechanical peace of mind, but the lack of driving aids is a real issue here.

And, unfortunately, the bad news doesn't end there either. During testing some of the technical equipment proved a little temperamental to say the least, while the absence of hill start assist and steering wheel adjustment is frustrating too.

On the face of it the MG ZS looks like a good value and practical addition to the popular compact SUV segment, but dig a little deeper and it's not quite the bargain it first appears. The lack of safety kit, worrying technical glitches and disappointing running costs mean that even with its new warranty and low pricing, it's likely this MG will end up costing a lot more in whole-life costs than the headline price would have you believe. 

MG ZS 1.0 Exclusive 

P11D Price: £17,440

On sale: November 2017

Fuel consumption: 44.9mpg

CO2 (BIK Band): 144g/km (27%)

BIK 20/40% a month: £78/£157

Boot space: 448 litres

Engine size/power: 998cc/111hp


  • Cheap P11D
  • Good design
  • Long warranty
  • Interior space
  • Limited engines
  • Lack of safety kit
  • Temperamental kit
  • Firm ride