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In-depth reviews

MG ZS review - a wallet-friendly SUV

"The attractive MG ZS offers low-cost SUV practicality, but it’s not very good to drive or particularly frugal"

Carbuyer Rating

3.0 out of 5

Owners Rating

3.8 out of 5

Read owner reviews

Pros

  • Modern looks
  • Bargain price
  • Smooth ride

Cons

  • Wooly handling
  • Poor safety rating
  • Mediocre economy

Verdict - Is the MG ZS a good car?

The MG ZS has been a very successful car for the reborn brand, thanks to its modern looks, decent equipment and competitive price. It was the right car at the right time, sitting in the hugely popular small SUV class that buyers increasingly favour over traditional hatchbacks. Interior quality is fairly mediocre, however, as is the way the petrol MG ZS drives. Ultimately we prefer the all-electric MG ZS EV, which is smoother to drive and punchier, along with some of the ZS’ rivals, but it can still prove tempting thanks to its low price point and strong practicality and kit levels.

MG ZS models, specs and alternatives

With compact SUVs now more popular than ever, MG’s decision to increase its profile by launching a rival to the Dacia Duster, Renault Captur, Nissan Juke and SEAT Arona was very well judged back in 2017. The MG ZS sits beneath the larger MG HS SUV in the brand’s growing lineup, but above the electric MG4 which blends hatchback proportions with SUV styling.

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While many recognise the historic significance of the octagonal MG badge, the Chinese-owned brand struggled for mainstream acceptance when it first relaunched. With the ZS it managed to re-establish itself as a maker of cars with more to them than just a low sticker price. But is this family crossover truly cheerful as well as cheap?

Both ZS trim levels are equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels. Chunky black cladding around the wheelarches and door sills lend it a touch of off-road ruggedness. All too often car companies proceed too far down the road to wackiness; instead, the MG ZS is fairly contemporary, with strong hints of SEAT design from the rear three-quarters. It's derivative, perhaps, but certainly doesn't look like it came from the bargain basement.

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Pleasingly, the interior marks considerable progress from earlier MG models, with a sensible layout that incorporates most of the features that crossover buyers expect, even if it is starting to look dated as updated versions of key rivals like the Dacia Duster and Renault Captur hit the road. Cruise control and a 10.1-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are standard across the range, as are LED daytime running lights and tail-lights. The top-spec Exclusive model is quite lavishly equipped, with sat-nav, heated front seats and a digital instrument panel, all for a starting price of around £21,000.

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This puts it among the very cheapest SUVs on the market, with only the Dacia Duster available for much less outlay, starting from just over £17k in Essential trim. And, although the Excite does without some of the glitzier features of more grandly equipped models, it's at this end of the range that the ZS demonstrates just how far your money goes.

Two petrol engines are offered: a 1.5-litre four-cylinder or more sophisticated 108bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged unit developed in partnership with General Motors. The latter can be fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox, or a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, while the 1.5-litre uses a traditional five-speed manual gearbox.

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The turbocharged engine is the more expensive of the two; we found it quiet and smooth, although neither is the last word in fuel economy. Its automatic gearbox isn't especially responsive, so either of the manual versions seems like a more sensible choice, unless you really need an automatic.

Performing better than the petrols, and with lower running costs, the electric MG ZS EV is arguably the most desirable version of MG's SUV, and we've reviewed it separately.

You're unlikely to be disappointed by the ZS when it comes to comfort. Although its smooth ride is achieved at the cost of razor-sharp handling, few will be concerned about this on a long motorway journey. Here, the quiet interior comes into its own, with plenty of space both inside and in the boot – the latter positively eclipses the Nissan Juke for luggage capacity.

So, practicality and comfort are certainly in the ZS' favour, while attractive pricing and inoffensive looks do nothing to weaken its case. Another notable strength is its seven-year/80,000-mile warranty, which almost matches that of the Kia Niro and trumps the five-year (albeit unlimited-mileage) policy of the Hyundai Kona.

Euro NCAP has put the ZS through its paces for safety and it scored a middling three out of five stars, which will be enough to put off some buyers alone. But, indifferent fuel economy and safety aside, the ZS is a solid budget all-around package that offers the SUV experience for the price of a supermini.

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Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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