Review: The MG ZS

MG doubled its sales in Britain last year, boosted by the car you see here, the ZS.

The ZS cuts a dash, though inside the hard-shell plastic and colour-coordinated display are rather clunky

This statistic leads to its claim to have been the fastest growing manufacturer in the UK, as it gets over what has been a rather slow brand revival. You could call it a phoenix arriving from the fiasco which saw the demise of our popular British brand in 2005.

A few top dogs walked away with millions while it was left to the Chinese to see and invest in a future for what is now called MG Motor UK. The early cars were re-works of outgoing models, like the TF two-seater. An all-new MG6 arrived in 2011, was OK, but didn’t sell. This ZS is also all-new, a family-sized, family-priced SUV which sold 5,000 in its first year. As they say, it’s on the money.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The ZS introduced the brand’s new face, with a bold and emblematic grille not unlike that of the Mazda CX3 – one of its well-established rivals. There is also an uncanny hint at the Volvo XC40 and Seat Arona – which suggests that MG has been following trends.

Let’s indulge in the opinion of the family who bought the 5,000th ZS import. “We wanted a car that offered value for money but that also provided us with comfort, style and power, so the MG ZS is perfect. We spend a lot of time with our grandchildren, taking them here, there and everywhere. Our new car is ideal for all these journeys, offering lots of space for passengers, and everything that comes with them too.” *

That’s the word-perfect commercial break over. I hadn’t quite the same euphoria after a mostly enjoyable week, using it for general housework, junk to the tip, a motorway drive to the heart of Birmingham and some furniture removal.

Prices start at £12,495 but you’ll want the next grade up and you now get a seven year, 80,000-mile warranty – guaranteed by the company itself, rather than through insurers.

Here are a few facts. MG is not a UK manufacturer any more. Some work was done at the historic Longbridge base in the Midlands but it no longer makes cars. Since late 2016 all MGs have come, ready to drive, fully formed, from a factory in China. The cars come off the boat at Portbury, Bristol, where they are prepped for delivery to dealers by BCA.

The ride is firm and brings road noise on many surfaces – the demo car was on quality Continental tyres, by the way. There is a lot of hard-shell plastic inside the car but the general picture is smart and contemporary, with plenty of storage places, comfortable seats and an information touchscreen.

The input is on coloured areas of different sizes which are easy to see and hit – causing minimal distraction for the driver. While this looks like something from a primary school art class it works well and it is easy to find the icons. Things like the temperature adjustment appear when you change the setting.

However, on the approach to Birmingham the screen went blank, just at a crucial junction. This happened once more in the city centre. This was not good, but it didn’t happen again.

There were a few other niggles. The most serious was being unable to get out if the doors were locked unless the release was pressed on the key fob.

Though made in China, they say it has been re-engineered for UK roads.

“The UK-specific package of tyres, springs, dampers and the overall suspension has been tuned to suit UK driving styles and British roads, while maintaining an overall commitment to ride quality, handling balance and increased agility.”

Testing took place on the Isle of Wight, in Sweden, Spain and Austria and at the MIRA proving ground in Warwickshire. A 1.5-mile stop-start shop delivery test took place in Wales.

The engine choice is from two petrol units, made in cooperation with GM. They are a 1.5 four-cylinder giving 106hp, with a five-speed manual gearbox. The 0-62mph time is 10.9 seconds. Economy is given at 47.1mpg and 140g CO2. The model range is Explore, Excite and Exclusive. Prices are £12,495, £13,995 and £15,495.

The Excite and Exclusive have the touchscreen with DAB, air conditioning, Apple connection support and 17-inch alloys. You can choose between urban, normal and dynamic modes – the first for town driving, the latter for a sharper feel to the steering and dampers. Navigation and a rear camera are supplied solely with the Exclusive (the model tested).

The other engine is a three-cylinder one-litre turbo with 111hp and greater torque, with a standard six-speed automatic gearbox. The 0-62 time is slower at 12.4 seconds. Eco: 45.4mpg and 145g. Prices: £15,995 for the Excite and £17,495 for the Exclusive.

Verdict: This car is significantly less money than most rivals which include the CX3 and the Nissan Juke. The test car had “issues”. MG failed to respond on these points. However, I liked the ZS.