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MG Motor ZS First Drive Review


As we wait for MG Motor’s first offering, a Jeep Compass-rivalling SUV, we sample the ZS compact SUV to see what the historic British marque stands for today.

MG ZS firs drive

MG Motor is one of those British brands that most of us will nod appreciatively at when its name crops up in conversation. The nodding is a sign of recognition and respect that is based on solid grounds, we know that, but recalling why will require some slick talking. The more educated ones will speak about the MGB. Others will vociferously champion for MG’s place in history as the original mass-market sportscar maker. MG’s historic achievements are plenty, but what the brand stands for in the 21st century is still a bit fuzzy.

In a bid to clear the air we headed to the Silverstone Circuit outside of London to witness a 3000 car-strong MG owners’ get together, the MG Live 2018. The two day-fest was a crash course on MG Motor and their rich history of sporting machines. However, this DNA holds little relevance today as the brand, in the hands of Chinese automotive behemoth SAIC, is focussing on building compelling rivals to Toyota Corollas, not Mazda MX5s. So, what exactly does MG Motor stand for today, and what can we expect from their upcoming offering for India? We spent some time with the ZS, a Hyundai Creta rivaling SUV in terms of dimensions, to set our expectations.

MG ZS rear

Is the ZS coming to India?

MG Motor’s first and most important focus for 2019 is on bringing an all new SUV - which will be made at their plant in Halol, Gujarat - to rival the Jeep Compass. This as yet unnamed SUV is expected to arrive in India in March-April 2019. As for the ZS, it is likely to come to India in its EV guise towards the end of 2019. You can read more about it here.

So, the ZS should come too!

When the electric ZS starts being assembled in India, could the fossil-fuel powered version be far behind? MG is slated to bring their second product to India in 2020 and the ZS should fit the bill perfectly.

MG ZS side view

So, Creta rival huh?

So let’s size them up. In terms of length, at 4314mm the ZS is a bit longer than the Creta (4270mm). It’s a bit wider (1809mm vs 1780mm) and about as tall as the Creta (1636mm vs 1630mm). In terms of wheelbase it is neck and neck too - at 2585mm the ZS falls just a bit short of the Creta’s 2590mm footprint.

Doesn’t it look a bit Mazda?

Yes, the face is something that many will confuse with a Mazda. The large grille with the MG octagon in the centre and the obvious “wide-eyed” design of the headlamps is responsible for that nagging sensation. Interestingly, the circular LED-DRL elements in the headlamps are said to be inspired from the iconic tourist attraction, the London Eye. Wonder what Mazda’s inspiration was...

Moving on then. In terms of stance the ZS is very much like the Creta, and while it has a square look about it instead of going for rugged, it is distinctly urban. The rear is a nice mix of soft lines and crisp creases. The split tail lamps are mounted a bit high up to give it more of a raised feel. And oh, did we mention that the MG logo on the boot acts as the boot opener? Ahem.

MG ZS Cabin

Cheeky!

We aren’t complaining, but the ZS is a fan of German design and you can see that when you get inside. For instance the textures on the dashboard, its clean design, the centre console and especially the layout for the controls on the steering wheel are very VW-esque. As you would imagine, the design makes the cabin look and feel mature. The use of soft-touch materials on the dash and the well finished plastic inserts emphasise this aspect. However, the cabin quality doesn’t feel “indestructible”. The aircon vents felt a bit light to operate and other touch points were a bit flimsy. So, the build quality isn’t in Jeep, VW or Hyundai territory. Keep in mind the fit and finish inside the cabin was on point, and that made the overall experience positive. Let’s not forget that it felt roomy too and the seating position makes the experience more relaxing.

MG ZS dashboard

Loaded?

It doesn’t get Android Auto. Because, Google services aren’t available in China. Thankfully, the 8” touchscreen infotainment system offers Apple CarPlay and is equipped with a reverse parking camera too. Reverse parking sensors, automatic headlamps, TPMS, ESP and Hill Launch Assist are other handy features that have been hacked in. More importantly, in the UK, the ZS comes with six airbags as standard. But there are misses like automatic climate control, automatic wipers and a sunroof. So, it offers the essentials and holds back on some extras to keep the price attractive. Interestingly, MG could change tack for the Indian market if required.

MG Motor ZS Compact SUV

What did you like?

We sampled the 1-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol and its good-for-commuting nature impressed us straight away. Between 2000 - 3000rpm, the sound of the turbo spooling up was audible in the cabin too. Other than that, the engine again seemed to promise healthy all-round performance as it was driven at a faster. The smaller details, like the weight of the steering wheel and calibration of brakes, suggest that thorough engineering minds are behind the MG.

MG ZS driver view

Suspension?

We could experience the suspension quite thoroughly as we drove around the less than perfect perimeter road around Silverstone’s racetrack. Like the interior design the ride too felt European, which is firmer than what Indian audiences prefer. The 17” wheels with 50 profile tyres on our test car can shoulder some of the responsibility for that.

The only downside was a slightly brittle feel when banging through bumps. We could also hear the suspension working more prominently than we would have liked. This, along with the turbo noise, reinforced the idea that the ZS could do with some more insulation.

Bottomline?

So, the MG ZS isn’t perfect or exciting, but this brief experience shows that it has potential. The right kind of fine tuning - be it the sound insulation, the suspension or the quality of plastics - will help the ZS step up to a level that would make it an urban SUV worth looking forward to.