- Small SUV
- Petrol, Diesel, EV
- Very affordable and practical SUV with lots of space
- Comes with a seven-year warranty as standard
- Easy to use infotainment system
- Feels cheap inside with some naff plastics
- Not great to drive with poor steering and unsettled ride
- Not very refined
This MG ZS is not to be confused with the Rover 45-based saloon from the mid-2000s (if anyone remembers that now…). MG is now a Chinese-owned brand, and as you'll find out in this MG ZS review, the latest incarnation is a family SUV that offers a lot of space and neat styling, but without a big price tag.
It’s of course not the only budget SUV around. There’s the Dacia Duster and SsangYong Tivoli (well, that car is now known as the KGM Tivoli since the Korean firm rebranded), which both aim to offer the same value-based proposition.
And like with those rivals, you do make the odd sacrifice in a few areas to get such an affordable purchase price. The MG ZS isn’t great inside, for instance, with a mismatch of materials and patchy quality.
The ride and handling of the MG ZS aren't very polished, either, with very odd steering that causes frustration. Driving in a straight line requires constant adjustments - a tiring process on long motorway journeys - while, around town and on rural roads, it feels stodgy and unsettled.
Having said all that, you do get a lot of gadgets for your money, because (as long as you avoid early Explore-trimmed cars) the MG ZS delivers on the equipment front. The Excite gets alloy wheels and air conditioning, along with an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay support, though you have to go for the top trim to get navigation and a reversing camera.
MG also offers a seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty with the MG ZS, which should provide some peace of mind for buyers concerned about the reliability of a relatively small brand. Its mileage limit is tighter than the 100,000-mile cap offered with Kia's seven-year warranty, but that won’t be a problem for many private, low-mileage buyers.
The problem for the ZS is that some competitors offer the same budget SUV proposition, but does it slightly better. The SsangYong (KGM) Tivoli is the best example. It’s more comfortable on the road and is available with the option of a diesel and all-wheel drive. Greater appeal came to the MG ZS range in 2019 with the launch of the electric MG ZS EV.
Is the MG ZS right for you?
If you’re after an SUV on a budget but don’t want to buy something older that could potentially go wrong, the MG ZS makes a case for itself as a cheap but practical car. But in a similar vein to the Dacia Duster or SsangYong Tivoli, it’s not going to impress many people at the local golf club, but to many, that won't matter.
It really comes down to price. If you can get an MG ZS cheap enough, it makes sense. Indeed you can get quite a bargain on the used market. For a certain generation, the MG badge still holds some prestige compared to, say, Dacia, but for many people it’s simply another budget brand.
What other cars are similar to the MG ZS?
There’s no shortage of SUVs on the market at the moment, but if it’s a budget model you're after, the choice is more limited. Arguably the most direct competition comes from the Ssangyong (now KGM) Tivoli. It has similar dimensions and pricing, but the Tivoli does provide more equipment, like-for-like, than the ZS. There's also the bigger Tivoli XLV if you need more space.
Of course, there's also the Dacia Duster, which can feel rather basic is its low-end forms. If you can live with something a little smaller, and you have a bit more money to spend, you could consider the Volkswagen T-Roc, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X or Suzuki Vitara.
Otherwise, for the money, you're best off looking at something used that still has some of its warranty left: look at a Kia Stonic or a Sportage - Kia models all come with a similar seven-year warranty.
The high seating position offers a good view out, so judging the extremities of the car when parking isn’t a problem. For most, it's also easy to get comfortable enough behind the wheel, although there’s no reach adjustment on the steering column, which taller driver’s will find annoying. It’s one of a number of areas where costs have been cut to keep the price down.
Quality and finish
The MG ZS is a practical choice but, while MG has clearly made an effort with the interior compared to previous models, the cabin feels downmarket compared with more mainstream rivals.
Material quality is patchy, so while there are soft touch materials here and there that manage to lift the ambience a bit, little details like the scratchy, slippery plastic in the phone storage area are particularly disappointing and could have easily been improved without massive cost or effort.
Cars we’ve tested have had a series of rattles, plus steering wheels that have already become shiny despite just 5000 miles on the odometer.
Infotainment: Touchscreen, USB, nav and stereo in the MG ZS
While the interior may not be great, MG has got it right with its infotainment system. The touchscreen is the highlight of the cabin. The graphics on the 8.0-inch display are clear and easy to understand, while the touchscreen itself responds immediately to your fingers. This is one area where the MG ZS feels very much up to date.
It’s intuitive too, with a physical home button like a tablet PC or iPad to get back to the main screen. Even if you’re not tech-savvy you’re unlikely to have any trouble. As standard fit on all models, the system also has Bluetooth, DAB, and if you’re down with the kids, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system in the top-spec Exclusive trim has two extra speakers (totalling six) and sat nav on top of what you get with Excite trim.
Space and practicality: MG ZS boot space
If you compare the dimensions of the MG ZS with rivals, you get a lot more physical car for your cash. It measures up to 4323mm long, 1809mm wide and 1653mm tall (including the roof rails). That means it's bigger than a Nissan Juke or Skoda Kamiq, and closer in size to cars from a class above.
These impressive exterior dimensions mean the MG ZS is quite a spacious SUV. In the back row, for example, there’s more than enough room for two large adults to sit back and relax, thanks to generous levels of head- and legroom.
The boot space on the MG ZS, too, is a decent size with 448 litres of capacity and a two-level floor fitted as standard. Access is a bit tricky - there's a high lip, but it can carry much bulkier items than a Renault Captur. Admittedly, it’s narrow between the wheel arches, but it's still large enough for the weekly shop and a pair of large suitcases. Drop the rear seats, and the MG ZS can carry up to 1375 litres of luggage.
The ride quality in the MG ZS is unsettled and uneven over broken surfaces and there’s a lot of tyre noise. Potholes thump loudly into the cabin, too. It doesn't ever feel harsh, but nor does it ever settle down properly.
That would be fine if the handling was impressive, but it isn’t. The steering is woolly and imprecise, and although it's not a major problem in sedate, everyday driving, there’s quite a bit of body roll when changing direction suddenly. Despite that, there is a surprising amount of front-end traction, so it’s not a car that will pitch you into a ditch - but the experience of driving the MG ZS isn’t exactly enjoyable.
What engines and gearboxes are available in the MG ZS?
There are just two engines in the MG ZS range to pick from – a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol or a 1.5-litre petrol. The latter actually has less power (as it doesn’t have a turbo) but it’s actually the better engine as it’s quieter and feels quicker.
The 1.0T GDI comes with a six-speed automatic gearbox. It's fine around town but it sounds coarse under acceleration and has poor in-gear performance for overtaking or joining faster roads.
If you want a manual, stick with the 1.5 VTI. It actually has less pulling power than the 1.0T GDI but it’s not hampered by the automatic 'box. The five-speed manual may not be the last word in sophistication (and the engine feels very old-school) but both suit the ZS better than the smaller turbo.
There’s no diesel option or four-wheel drive, but MG ZS does have an EV version which has its own dedicated review.
Refinement and noise levels
The poor quality ride of the MG ZS does little for refinement. It clunks over potholes and bumps, which sends vibrations through the cabin. This never feels anything more than a cheap car. It’s marginally better on the motorway but here there’s the issue of noise.
Noise from the tyres competes with wind noise to see which will intrude the most. Like the rest of the MG ZS, it feels very dated in terms of refinement.
Safety equipment: How safe is the MG ZS?
The MG ZS fared poorly when it was crash tested by the bods at Euro NCAP in 2017, receiving just three stars out of five. However, much of that was down to its lack of safety assist systems rather than a fundamental issue with the structure.
The adult safety rating is 71%, but it’s the 51% child safety rating which will concern parents. The crash test showed poor protection for the neck of the 10-year dummy while protection of the chest and neck of the 6-year dummy was weak.
There are at least front-, front side- and curtain airbags, along with an anti-rollover system as part of the stability control. All models have hill hold assist, too.
The 1.0T GDI with the automatic gearbox is reasonable on paper at 39mpg, but it'll be more difficult to replicate that in the real world. There's no diesel in the MG ZS range, so high-mileage drivers will be better off looking elsewhere, but for those who cover mainly short distances, there is an EV version, which is easily the most compelling ZS of the lot.
How reliable is the MG ZS?
The MG ZS sells in relatively small numbers so it can be tricky to gauge reliability and although we've had several reports of problems, they have tended to be small niggles rather than anything serious. The good news is that MG dealers seem accommodating and quick to fix any faults.
Indeed, MG owners seem reasonably satisfied with the brand achieving a respectable 18th place finish (out of 29 carmakers) in the HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index, while the brand overall is one of the better performing makes for reliability.
MG buyers also have the reassurance of a generous seven-year warranty, although the 80,000-mile mileage cap isn't as high as the 100,000-mile limit offered on Kia's seven-year cover.
Insurance groups and costs
Being a budget car, the MG ZS is cheap to insure. All models sit between groups 10 and 15, which means low premiums, especially if you have maximum no claims bonus and are keeping the car on a driveway. It won’t cost any more to insure than a Dacia Duster.
VED car tax: What is the annual road tax on a MG ZS?
The MG ZS was launched in late 2017 so falls under the latest VED system introduced in April of that year. This means you’ll pay £180 a year for your VED regardless of what petrol model you choose. With low list prices, there’s no worry over the luxury car surcharge for cars with a list price of £40,000 or more.
Browse our classifieds for used examples, and ten grand will get you into a 2019 car with fewer than 50,000 miles on the clock, meaning that barring any irregularities, the car will have some warranty left. This will most likely be a 1.5 in popular Excite trim.
Trim levels and standard equipment
Once upon a time, the Explore was the entry-level MG ZS model, and this had 15-inch steel wheels, fabric seats and no air con although there are chrome window surrounds, four-way manual seat adjustment, a tilt-adjust steering column, a radio, trip computer and Bluetooth. However, this trim level was later deleted from the range.
The MG ZS Excite is the most popular trim and has 17-inch alloys, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, heated and electric mirrors, air conditioning, touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, parking sensors, remote central door locking, Bluetooth integration, cruise control and roof rails.
The MG ZS Exclusive gets 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, leather style upholstery, navigation, reversing camera and sensors, leather steering wheel with audio controls plus cruise control.
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