MG ZS review - Money matters for this budget SUV

British brand MG puts the emphasis on space and value with its latest SUV

MG ZS Exclusive

Car-savvy readers – or just those of a certain age – will be aware that the car in these pictures isn’t the first MG to wear a ZS badge.

Before everything went completely sideways for the brand in the early 2000s Rover used the name on a hot hatch based on the forgettable Rover 45.

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Although that MG ZS was fairly well received it and a handful of other MG tuned cars weren’t enough to save MG Rover from collapse and eventual sale to China’s SAIC.Spool forward a few years and the ZS name is back with us but this time it adorns yet another competitor in the endless ranks of compact crossovers.

The MG ZS has been tuned for UK roads

The ZS falls at the budget end of the market - think Dacia Duster rather than Audi Q2 - with prices starting at £14,495 and rising to £17,495.

But it’s actually more spacious than anything at the same price point. MG claims it’s class-leading and there’s certainly good space for four large passengers, a 458-litre boot, and access is made easy by wide-opening doors and its raised height.

MG is also trying to make the ZS stand out with plenty of equipment. The base Explore spec is probably best avoided but all models get 17-inch alloys, an eight-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, and cruise control. Air conditioning is standard on Excite and Exclusive models, as is Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto). Exclusive models like the one tested also get sat nav and a reversing camera for their £16,295 started price.

While budget rivals such as the SsangYong Tivoli and Dacia Duster feature diesel and four-wheel-drive options, the ZS is purely a front-wheel-drive petrol-powered affair.

The ZS is well equipped but can't match the quality of more expensive alternatives

Cheaper versions of the GS come with an ancient and awful 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 105bhp, while for £2,000 more you get a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder, tested here.

The 1.0 only has an extra 5bhp and 14lb/ft but feels like a significantly better option. It’s quieter and more responsive once you’re moving, despite being slower to 60mph. It still doesn’t feel quick and it’s noisy compared to rivals but, especially through the gears, it feels better able to keep up with traffic and more refined that the 1.5.

The 1.0-litre also comes with a decent six-speed automatic as standard, in place of the 1.5’s five-speed manual.

Given that it falls into the budget crossover category, the MG’s driving experience is better than expected.

MG ZS Exclusive

MG boast that it was developed for UK buyers by UK engineers on UK roads to reflect the sportiness of the brand. To that end, the steering is ridiculously quick, even before you put it into dynamic mode. There is also a surprising amount of grip, and decent body control and damping meaning you can, if you feel the need, chuck it along B roads with a touch of flair.

But very few buyers will ever do that. Realistically, this is white goods motoring, aimed at buyers concerned about value, not V-max.

The ZS is a car that falls solidly into the “adequate” category. It will be bought entirely as a means of getting from A to B with minimal fuss and will cope fine with that brief. It comes with a low price, seven-year warranty and generous equipment levels to appeal to drivers looking for a cheap new car but it can’t compete on quality or appeal with more expensive cars.

MG ZS Exclusive

Price: £18,295; Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 110bhp; Torque: 118lb/ft; Transmission: Six-speed automatic; Top speed: 112mph; 0-60mph: 12.1 seconds; Economy: 38.6mpg; CO2 emissions: 166g/km