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MG ZS review: ‘The romance is gone, but it’s a viable contender’

Cheap, cheerful and Chinese: the new MG ZS is a very different car

Price from £12,495
0-62mph 12.4 seconds
Top speed 112mph
MPG 44.9
CO2 144g/km

A few weeks ago, walking with my teenage daughter, I wistfully pointed out an immaculate frog-eyed Sprite, parked outside our house. “Where, where?” she asked, glancing up and down the street. Bafflement washed over her as I indicated the rounded bonnet and gentle curves of this dinky little car, with its bulging front lights and wire wheels. The car was produced concurrently with the MG Midget through the 60s.

Her sense of anticlimax has been matched for decades by all of us who have loved the MG brand. It is one of the most romantic in British motoring history and our long fascination with it can be traced all the way back to its gloriously rorty roadsters of the 1920s.

But recently… well, it’s been one letdown after another: a hellish game of pass the parcel that no one ever won. First off, the beloved Oxford-based brand became part of British Leyland and then sleep-walked into the Rover Group. Then it was swallowed by Nanjing, which was later folded into Shanghai’s megacorporation, SAIC. Finally, for anyone who was still waiting, the first all-new model in the UK in decades, the MG 6, was officially launched in 2011. It was awful – a wet flop which landed like a sodden tissue on a school toilet floor. After years of faithful waiting we turned our backs on MG. But then something totally unexpected happened: MG built a car that wasn’t half-bad, that you actually might… you know… buy!

The ZS is a viable contender in one of the most competitve of all automotive sectors – the compact crossover.

And why not? It has several huge ticks in its plus column. It offers undeniable value and it looks pretty good, too. At worst you’d describe it as inoffensive and, at best, like a pleasant mishmash of other cars that are already out there (the Mazda CX-5, Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar all deserve a namecheck). It costs £2,500 less than Nissan’s comparable Juke, but the ZS also comes with a generous seven-year warranty, which proves MG is confidently backing its latest offering. The firm makes great play of the fact that the car is tough and resilient, having been tested to the limit in Sweden, Spain, Austria and Wales (whatever that means… nine pints and karaoke sung in Welsh, maybe?)

It’s roomy for a car that markets itself as “compact”. The cabin is spacious, there’s good head room, knee room and elbow room. And the boot is gigantic. It’s quite pleasant to sit in and the top-spec model comes with leather seats that would never argue are premium grade, but are unexpectedly classy. There is plenty of standard equipment, too, with airbags, LED running lights, automatic headlights, electric door mirrors, Bluetooth and cruise control all on offer. It has a decent cockpit and clear dash, and the colourful touchscreen is excellent, including the excellent Apple CarPlay and Andoid Auto function.

There are two engines to choose between: a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit that comes with a five-speed manual or a 1-litre three-cylinder turbo, which is paired with a six-speed auto. The gearbox is jerky and clumsy, which is a shame as otherwise the drive is on the right side of OK. In all, this is a remarkably good-value family car. True MG fans, however, should stick to taming the rust and plugging the oil leaks on their old Midgets.

Email Martin at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MartinLove166

This article was amended on 26 April 2018 to reflect the fact that Sprites and MG Midgets were built concurrently
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