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Review of the MG ZS: Performance, Features, and Value

Summary:

The MG ZS is a budget-friendly small SUV compared to pricier hatchbacks and rivals like the Dacia Duster and Nissan Qashqai. It offers two petrol engines and a fully electric version, emphasizing cost-effectiveness with its low purchase price and extensive standard warranty. However, driving experiences vary; the 1.5 VTi-tech engine requires high revs, while the 1.0T GDI provides smoother acceleration but is noisier. Interior quality is good, yet seat and steering adjustments are limited. Despite spacious passenger and boot space, its performance, ride comfort, and reliability are mediocre. Safety features are also subpar, making it a mixed choice overall.


Introduction

What Car? Says…

The dilemma with SUVs is often their higher price compared to regular hatchbacks. At least, that’s the case for most of them. But the MG ZS is different—it’s actually cheaper than many conventional small vans.

The MG ZS is roughly the same size as its key rival, the equally budget-friendly Dacia Duster. It’s categorized as a small SUV, marginally larger than the pricier Peugeot 2008, but slightly smaller than the popular Nissan Qashqai.

While you can choose from two petrol engines for the regular MG ZS, there’s also a fully electric version available. Interested? Check out our MG ZS EV review.

So, does the MG ZS serve as a credible, cost-effective alternative to established competitors, or is it a classic case of "you get what you pay for"? Read on to discover how the ZS measures up in performance, ride comfort, practicality, and safety, and find out which version offers the best value.

Performance and Drive

What It’s Like to Drive and How Quiet It Is

Strengths

  • Precise steering
  • Reasonably agile for a small SUV

Weaknesses

  • Uneasy ride
  • No manual gearbox option for 1.0T-GDI
  • Significant road noise

The two petrol engines deliver similar performance (0-60mph in about 10.5 seconds), but they achieve this in different ways. The more affordable 1.5 VTi-tech, without a turbocharger, needs high revs for optimal performance. In contrast, the turbocharged 1.0T-GDI provides better low-rev pull, offering a more relaxed acceleration experience.

However, the extra cost of the 1.0T-GDI and its incompatibility with the preferred Excite trim make the 1.5 VTi-tech a more sensible choice. Remember, the 1.0-litre engine is mandatory if you prefer an automatic gearbox. But be warned, the old-school automatic ‘box affects performance significantly, with the 0-60mph time dropping to 12.1 seconds.

The six-speed manual gearbox that comes with the 1.0 is quite noisy, sometimes making it hard to engage first gear before taking off. Conversely, the five-speed manual gearbox on the 1.5 is slightly better. However, driving the MG ZS smoothly at low speeds, particularly in stop-start traffic, remains a challenge.

Ride comfort isn’t a strong suit for the ZS. It’s less settled at any speed compared to the softer Dacia Duster, stumbling over road scars and expansion joints. You’ll also hear more road noise at highway speeds, so it’s not a quiet cruiser.

Despite this, its precise steering and better grip make it more fun to drive on twisty roads than the Duster. However, if you want a small SUV that genuinely brings a smile to your face, the pricier Ford Puma might be a better pick.

Darren Moss’s Take

"The MG ZS is a great choice if your passengers are prone to car sickness; my mum was fine in the back, unlike in the beefier Dacia Duster." – Darren Moss, Deputy Digital Editor

Silver MG ZS rear bend

Interior

The Interior Arrangement, Fit, and Finish

Strengths

  • Surprisingly good interior quality
  • Better infotainment system than the Duster
  • Noticeably raised driving position

Weaknesses

  • Limited steering wheel adjustment
  • No adjustable lumbar support
  • Slow touch screen response

Interior quality stands out, especially given the budget price. Soft-touch plastics adorn the dashboard, complemented by solid buttons and impressive fit and finish. Simply put, the ZS is much classier inside than its closest rival, the Dacia Duster.

All versions come with a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system. While the graphics are sharp, the screen is positioned low on the dash, necessitating patience due to its slow response time. Exclusive trim adds built-in sat-nav, but it’s unnecessary since all trims support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, allowing phone-based navigation mirroring.

Exclusive trim also brings two extra speakers (six in total). However, sound quality isn’t exceptional. The driving position, despite its elevated nature, lacks adequate lower back support and has limited steering wheel adjustment. Tall drivers might find themselves uncomfortably close to the pedals to reach the wheel.

Adjusting the air conditioning requires pressing buttons beneath the touchscreen, which is preferable compared to icons on the screen like in the Peugeot 2008. The ZS offers good front visibility thanks to thin front pillars and a raised driving position. However, rear visibility is hindered by thick rear pillars, although rear parking sensors and a 360-degree parking camera (on exclusive trims) help mitigate this issue.

Doug Revolta’s Take

"Like most SUVs, the ZS sits you up high, but I found its tiny rear windows and large pillars meant that over-the-shoulder visibility was no better than in a traditional hatchback." – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

MG ZS interior panel

Passenger and Boot Space

How It Deals with People and Disorder

Strengths

  • Roomier rear seats than most competitors
  • Abundant front space
  • Relatively large boot

Weaknesses

  • Rear seats lack versatility
  • Boot shape could be more practical

One of the MG ZS‘s standout features is its spacious interior. Clever packaging ensures ample front space, comparable with more expensive small SUVs, offering plenty of head and legroom. The width of the interior means no shoulder rubbing, either.

Front-end storage is abundant, with two proper cupholders, large door bins, a spacious glove box, and a convenient center armrest compartment—a notable improvement over the Dacia Duster. Rear space is equally generous, accommodating even those over six feet tall without fuss.

The back seats, while not offering any fancy features, do split in a 60/40 configuration and fold down for additional cargo capacity. Speaking of boot space, the ZS boasts a 448-litre boot, slightly bigger than the Duster’s. However, in real-world use, we could fit six carry-on cases under the ZS‘s luggage rack compared to seven in the Duster, owing to the latter’s more practical square cargo area.

Nevertheless, the ZS still offers one of the largest boots in its class, with a height-adjustable boot floor as standard.

Dan Jones’s Take

"I like to take a lot of (non-alcoholic) drinks on long journeys, and in the MG ZS I could keep a one-litre bottle in each of the car’s front and rear door pockets." – Dan Jones, Reviewer

MG ZS boot open

Buying and Owning

Daily Costs, Reliability, and Safety

Strengths

  • Long standard warranty
  • Abundant equipment
  • Very low purchase price

Weaknesses

  • Poor security rating
  • Average reliability
  • Less fuel-efficient than rivals

The MG ZS‘s low price and seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty set it apart in the small SUV segment. Its list price undercuts most competitors, making it cheaper upfront, especially when considering available discounts (check our New Car Deals page for the latest).

Depreciation is also expected to be slower than the Duster, benefiting those opting for PCP finance or planning on frequent car changes. However, official fuel economy figures of 42.7mpg (for both the 1.5 VTi-tech and 1.0T GDI engines) fall short of impressive. The Dacia Duster is more economical, while the more expensive Toyota Yaris Cross averages over 60mpg in real-world driving.

For business users, the MG ZS petrol isn’t ideal due to relatively high CO2 emissions. The all-electric ZS EV would be a better choice to save on company car tax.

Regardless of the trim, the ZS comes well-equipped. Entry-level Excite models feature LED lights, air conditioning, and cruise control. Exclusive trims add extras like rain-sensing wipers, a digital driver display, and a panoramic sunroof, though these might not justify the added expense.

Reliability and Safety

When it comes to reliability, MG ranked 25th out of 32 brands in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, with the ZS scoring lower than the Duster. Safety-wise, the ZS received a disappointing three-star rating from Euro NCAP in 2017, lacking features like automatic emergency braking (AEB), even as an option. It performed poorly in child safety and adult chest protection for rear passengers—though the Duster fared similarly in its tests.

Neil Winn’s Take

"When we tested the MG ZS against the Dacia Duster, we found that the MG would cost the average buyer more to run over three years, considering factors like depreciation, insurance, servicing, road tax, and fuel." – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor


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MG ZS interior infotainment

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the MG ZS a small SUV?

Yes, we classify the MG ZS as a small SUV because it is less than 4.4 meters long. Its exact dimensions are 4323mm in length, 1653mm in height, and 2048mm in width (including mirrors).

Is the MG ZS a reliable car?

The ZS was rated as one of the least reliable small SUVs in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, with a high number of motor and non-motor electrical faults.

Is the MG ZS four-wheel drive?

No, all versions of the ZS have front-wheel drive. The same applies to the all-electric MG ZS EV.

Is the MG ZS a good buy?

The ZS is incredibly affordable by small SUV standards. However, it has several shortcomings, including ride comfort, standard safety features, and limited driving position adjustments.

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