China’s new cheap SUV hits the road

Sales of MGs are booming thanks to good looks and affordable pricing, but should you buy one? We find out.

MG’s sales have erupted in the past 12 months as Aussie buyers flock to the Chinese brand.

A strong February has vaulted them into the top 10 selling car makers this year. A big part of this surge is due to its small ZS SUV. We test the top of the range ZST.

VALUE

The MG ZST is the premium version of the budget-friendly ZS small SUV.

MG offers the ZST in two trim levels; Excite versions are priced from $29,990 drive-away and the Essence grade we are testing here will set you back $32,490.

Both represent a sizeable jump over the regular ZS’s $21,990 entry point.

The ZST brings a bigger turbo engine and a long list of standard comfort, tech and safety equipment to justify the price rise.

As a new brand, MG’s long-term reliability is an unknown quantity, but it backs the ZST with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and seven years of roadside assistance.

There is no capped price servicing program, but services will set you back about $1500 over five years if all goes to plan. Capped price servicing is expected to be introduced in the near future.

COMFORT

The ZST’s faux-leather front seats are heated and the driver’s is electronically adjustable.

There is a mix of hard and soft-touch materials with synthetic leather covering most touchpoints.

Technophiles will enjoy the five USB points, including two for the rear seats and one behind the rear-view mirror for a dashcam.

A huge panoramic sunroof gives the cabin a spacious feel despite its compact dimensions.

There is a fully digital dash and a 10.1-inch infotainment screen that is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Annoyingly, Apple CarPlay dropped out and failed to reconnect numerous times during our test period.

The rear seats are tight and there are no aircon vents.

Boot space is respectable at 359 litres or 1187 litres with the back seats folded down.

A well insulated cabin keeps engine noise and tyre roar to a minimum.

SAFETY

MG covers most bases for driver aids.

The car will brake automatically if it senses a collision and alert you to any approaching vehicles when you’re backing out of a driveway or parking spot.

Lane departure warning and blind-spot detection are also standard, as are a 360-degree camera and parking sensors.

The MG ZS received a four-star ANCAP safety rating in 2017.

DRIVING

The ZST’s 1.3-litre turbocharged three-cylinder is a big improvement over the 1.0-litre turbo and 1.5-litre non-turbo units found in the lower grade ZS models.

It puts out 115kW/230Nm and feels peppy around town, with decent shove off the mark and enough grunt for tackling hills and overtaking.

The suspension isn’t as impressive — it’s a firm and bouncy ride around town and the car takes a second to settle after bigger bumps at speed.

It’s not at the pointy end of the SUV class when it comes to cornering, although Michelin tyres offer decent grip.

Claimed fuel use is 7.1km/100km and we got close to that figure in a mix of driving conditions. It requires premium unleaded, though.

VERDICT 3.5/5

Well priced, with a long warranty and a lot of standard features but not as refined as the benchmarks in the class.

ALTERNATIVES

Mitsubishi ASX GSR, from $32,990 d/a

Value-packed, long warranty and bulletproof reliability. Has an ageing cabin and is so-so to drive.

Hyundai Kona Active, from about $31,800 d/a

Head turning looks, cheap servicing but you can only get into the cheaper models for the same money as the MG.

Nissan Qashqai ST+, from $33,290 d/a

Reliable, with good looks, quality cabin finishes and plenty of safety gear, but missing creature comforts of the MG.

MG ZS T ESSENCE VITALS

Price: From $32,490 drive-away

Engine: 1.3-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol, 115kW/230Nm

Warranty/servicing: 7-year/u’ltd km, no capped price servicing

Safety: 4 stars, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert.

Thirst: 7.1L/100km

Cargo: 359L-1187L

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