MG badge needs some backup

MG ZS front quarter 1

What is it?

It’s a vehicle that sits at the top of a four-model range from a reborn British icon. MG is now Chinese owned but apart from the name and badge the cars bear no resemblance to those that made MG a household name.

The MG ZS Essence is part of a two-trim level ZS model range, with a 1.5-litre, four cylinder, four speed auto Excite or this, the 1.0-litre turbo three cylinder, six speed, Essence.

Styling cues come from Japan and Korea, with a decent enough interior to complement the not unattractive set of lines.

The three cylinder engine produces a spritely thrum with 82kW and 160Nm on tap, the latter available from 1800 to 4700rpm, via the 6-speed dual clutch transmission.

Economy around town, its natural environment, is quoted as 8.4L/100km. I averaged 8.0L/100km. Combined economy is only slightly less, at 6.7L/100km. Sounds great but the tank is just 48 litres.

MG ZS rear quarter 1

What’s it cost?

Current pricing has it at $25,990 driveaway. There’s a reasonable amount of equipment for the dosh but also a fair bit you don’t get.

There is AM/FM via a colourful eight inch touch-screen, but no DAB, and no Android Auto. The radio sounds fine in FM but finding the tab on the screen that says RDS for station and song info was fruitless.

But if you have an iPhone you’re set as Apple CarPlay is available.

The driver faces a simple binnacle design with a central LCD screen straight out of the 80s. Thin lined and monochrome, it’s something that shouldn’t be here in an era of full colour screens.

There are man-made leather covered seats and faux carbon fibre overlays to complement the piano black around the main air vents. They’re comfortable but have no venting, a big oversight for warm days.

A glass roof that MG calls the Stargazer is fitted and operated via a Land Rover style dial in the roof. There are six airbags but no kneebag for that little extra safety.

There are the standard mandated electronic aids such as Emergency Brake Assist, and Hill Start Assist, but no Autonomous Emergency Braking, Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Sport Detection and the like.

There is also a steering column mounted cruise control, with speed limiting alert. At 110 km/h an alarm sounds and it’s one that can’t be disabled easily.

The tail gate is manual and opened via a push of the top of the big octagonal  badge. The left hand pin attached to the thread for the cargo cover refused to stay put but there is, at least, a huge low set space for shopping etc. 359L becomes over 1100L when the rear seats get folded.

There’s reasonable room inside considering the compact  4314mm length and 1644mm height, but including mirrors, it’s just 1804mm wide which means shoulder room is snug. Legroom though is nice with 2585mm for the wheelbase.

Rolling stock comes in the form of 17 inch diameter alloys, and they’re good lookers. Rubber is from Maxxis, and is 215/50 in profile. However the rear wheel arch is too big in proportion, making the rear wheels look like something smaller, maybe 14s.

Overall styling brings to mind both Mazda and Hyundai, with the blunt nose evoking a CX and the profile’s rear window taper bearing a strong resemblance to the Tucson, formerly known as ix35.

LED driving lights are styled in what MG calls The “London Eye”.

MG ZS front seats

What’s it go like?

The MG ZS Essence weight 1245kg dry. Load it up with four and petrol, plus shopping, and you can forget about performance.

Having a dual clutch auto would normally add to the issue but this one is well sorted with only a momentary delay between Reverse and Drive.

What’s required here is a judicious use of the right hoof and there is something approaching alacrity. Loaded up a gentler pressure is needed.

Under way though, the Essence is a sweet enough driver, and there’s that not unpleasant three cylinder tone on tap.

Ride quality is at odds with what would be expected. The damper tune is such that it’s stiff and taut. This means the roadside “catseyes” are bang bang bang — not gently ignored. Over bigger obstacles, and in the wallowing parts of the highways and freeways, the upper end of the suspension softens right up.

The engine itself feels like it should be more active but that dearth of torque versus the running weight really holds it back. The 1.5-litre engine produces similar torque, so that’s not an option. But a turbo version would be better, one such as that found in Suzuki’s Vitara.

Handling is better than one would expect, with a well weighted steering feel that is like the porridge Goldilocks pinched from the bears.

MG ZS binnacle 1

What we like?

  • Inoffensive looks
  • Reasonable ride and drive with one passenger
  • Good sized and easily accessible boot space
  • The heart three-cylinder thrum

MG ZS wheel 1

What we don’t like?

  • Lack of oomph when loaded up
  • Minor build quality niggles
  • Interior packaging makes shoulder room tight up front
  • Small fuel tank sees the gauge empty quicker than expected

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The bottom line?

The MG ZS Essence is a car that doesn’t strive for anything above ordinary and achieves that perfectly. It’s neither a bad car nor a great car.

It does what it does well enough but offers no more to entice a buyer. And sadly there’s no emotional attachment that comes with the badge, unlike the kind of cars that made MG a sports car brand to covet.


CHECKOUT: It’s an MG, Jim but not as we know it

CHECKOUT: Five star safety rating for Chinese-built MG


MG ZS Essence, priced from $25,990 driveaway
  • Looks - 7/10
  • Performance - 5/10
  • Safety - 5/10
  • Thirst - 6/10
  • Practicality - 7/10
  • Comfort - 7/10
  • Tech - 6/10
  • Value - 7.5/10

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