ROAD TEST: The new MG ZS SUV under family microscope
CHINESE cars have a chequered history in Australia but MG is the current standout in terms of sales success.
Perhaps it's the familiar once-British badge but more likely it's MG's fantastically cheap drive-away prices, long warranty, desirable kit and inoffensive styling.
MG shifted 500 cars in January, with its ZS small SUV accounting for 200 of these, not far off Holden's Trax rival.
Will our family of four testers embrace this imported cheapie?
Jules: MG? As in sports cars, Britain, style and value?
Iain: Drag yourself out of the 1970s. Today it's hatchbacks and SUVs, China, reasonable style and cheapness.
Jules: Well I reckon this ZS looks pretty good. Attractive design and, being small SUV-size, it's bang on-trend.
Iain: When I went into the MG dealership I could see why people are buying into the brand. They're far from ugly, cabins are well equipped, prices are sharp and the seven-year warranty is super-aggressive.
Jules: How sharp is the price?
Iain: The ZS comes in two grades: Excite and Essence, ours being the range-topper. It's $24,990 drive-away after a $1000 cash back promotion, pitching it among the cheapest small SUVs.
Jules: And its rivals?
Iain: Before on-roads you can get a Ford EcoSport ($22,790), Haval H2 ($19,990), Holden Trax ($23,990), Hyundai Kona ($23,500), Mazda CX-3 ($21,790), Mitsubishi ASX ($23,490), SsangYong Tivoli ($23,490) or Suzuki Vitara ($22,990).
Jules: No offence to MG but surely you'd pick one of the more established brands?
Iain: I hear you. But for similar money the MG ZS Essence has features only available on pricier grades of established rivals. Auto gearbox, synthetic leather seats, keyless start, panoramic sunroof and 17-inch alloys, for example.
The living space
Jules: Is it hot in here?
Iain: Baking. I guess black paint, black interior, giant sunroof, no window tints and direct Queensland summer sun don't help.
Jules: Even so, this is ridiculous. My legs are burning on the seats; I can't touch the gear shifter or steering wheel without branding myself.
Iain: Yep, it took a long time for those seats to cool down even with aircon at maximum.
Jules: That said, it's a really well-arranged cabin. Soft-touch stitched plastic for the dash top, faux carbon surrounding the eight-inch screen, and these leathery seats are quite comfy.
Iain: Look closer and the gloss wears off. Door innards are single-piece hard plastic and feel flimsy, bending in when you prod them. There's no armrest or covered centre storage, no digital speedo and only Apple CarPlay, no Android Auto.
Jules: Even so, the seating position is nice and high, it's really light inside with the electric glass roof, and the touchscreen is responsive.
Iain: Seats are comfy but I don't know why they've spent so much on a really soft dash but left rock solid plastic where I rest my arms and for the centre console.
Jules: The ride's quite good, absorbing bumps well.
Iain: True, and it cruises nicely, albeit with some road noise intrusion.
Jules: Especially when you ask for performance. The engine's very revvy without much progress.
Iain: I normally like three-cylinder turbos but the MG's is gutless and feels over-stressed. The six-speed auto isn't what I'd call sharp, either.
Jules: Throttle response is bad, especially from standstill. Plus I found it jerky when manoeuvring.
Iain: If you care about the drive, the MG really lacks the polish of a Hyundai, Kia or Mazda.
Jules: I can't fault the practicality. The boot's a really good size, unlike a Mazda CX-3 small SUV. This one's properly practical.
Iain: Really good quality rear camera, too. I've tested cars at twice the price with lesser screens.
Jules: I take it this isn't an off-road SUV?
Iain: Confirmed soft-roader here, just the 2WD.
Jules: Not much use on twisty mountain roads, either?
Iain: It's not dynamically brilliant and could use a local suspension tune to sharpen it up for Aussie roads. Yes, it absorbs the bumps but feels top heavy, too softly sprung and has vague steering.
Jules: I'd pick it for a sedate family trip. It rides comfortably and has plenty of room for kids and luggage.
Iain: Our two kiddies have plenty of rear seat space, there are two Isofix points for child seats and rear doors are big for easy access.
Jules: With no car seats in you can fit two adults in comfort - there's really good head and legroom.
Iain: No rear air vents though. The kids were sweaty, grumbling messes for a few minutes until the aircon properly cooled the cabin.
Jules: As a mum, I'd have to discount the MG for lack of active safety gear. No auto emergency braking and a four-star crash rating is well behind most small SUVs.
Iain: And even though it's just a three-cylinder, we returned a thirsty 9.2L/100km, plus it needs premium fuel.
Jules: Lack of modern safety gear and jerkiness around town rules it out for me. A shame as the MG's style, features and spaciousness impressed.
Iain: I'm with you. Excellent price for the included kit but I'd spend a few grand more on something more polished to drive and do away with things like false leather and the panoramic roof. The ZS's price and seven-year warranty will ensure it finds many buyers but personally, I'd look elsewhere.
MG ZS Essence vitals
Price: $24,990 drive-away after $1000 cash back promotion
Warranty/servicing: 7 years/unlimited km, $2129 for 5 years
Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 82kW/130Nm
Safety: 4 stars, 6 airbags, rear camera, rear parking sensors, hill launch assist