For some time, getting a brand new crossover SUV for under P1 million seemed like an impossible task. Ford’s EcoSport and Nissan’s Juke certainly come close, but without some of those beautiful features the top of the line models boast of. So how does a newcomer like MG do it, not just with a base model, but with all the bells and whistles you’d expect to pay PhP1.4M for?
Before we get to that, an introduction is in order. Morris Garages (MG) is not quite a newbie, but an old British car brand, dating back to 1924. The marquee was famous for making zippy and agile little roadsters like the MG TF, MGB, Midget and MG F. While making sports cars all day seems like an enjoyable enterprise, it didn’t prove profitable.
The MG brand changed ownership from British Motor Corp (BMC), British Leyland, Rover, BMW, and eventually to Nanjing Auto Group, which was then acquired by SAIC in 2007. And while MG no longer produces little roadsters, its lineup of sporty sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs hope to continue the legacy.
Indeed the MG ZS (pronounced Zed S) is no roadster by any stretch of the imagination, a quick drive in one shows it still has that sporty spirit.
First of all, the ZS is quite the looker, with styling resembling a more famous Japanese crossover; a Mazda, from afar. You can say the hawk-eye headlights, large grille and prowling stance seem positively inspired by it. It differs with sharper character line creases on the side.
Inside, the ZS creates a more roadster-like feeling with a soft-touch dashboard, leather seats with white stitching, a hooded instrument cluster and touches of aluminum and faux carbon fiber trim. It even has the circular air-con vents.
Up above the driver is a panoramic sunroof (Alpha only) with an electric blind. This massive window lets a lot of light into the car, but with just a screen covering it rather than something thicker, it can get pretty hot in the summer.
The instrument cluster has large dials, red needles and is quite easy to read. The center LCD display is just in black and white, but provides more than enough trip information. The driver gets a leather-wrapped, D-shaped steering wheel with built-in audio and connectivity controls. These interior touches might not scream “sports car” to most, but their simple uncomplicated functions actually help you focus on the driving.
Over in the center is the touchscreen display. It features large and colorful tiles for functions, reminiscent of the old Windows Mobile OS. It features Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, and two USB ports lower in the instrument cluster to connect external devices.
Being a small SUV, the second row legroom is par for the course. Though thanks to the panoramic sunroof, it may be quite enjoyable on long drives. Behind, the tailgate is opened by pushing on the MG logo. It reveals a flat cargo floor with deep side pockets for tall items.
Pressing the engine start button brings the 1.5-liter inline four to life. This engine produces 114 PS and 150 Nm of torque, connected to a four-speed AT with manual mode. This drives the front wheels, and with a curb weight of just 1.26 tons, does it quickly.
It’s held aloft by MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam in the rear. Discs on all four wheels bring it to a quick stop. They’re also governed by a variety of programs from your basic ABS and EBD, to added features like traction, stability, hill hold, and corner brake control.
Around the city, the ZS is quite the enjoyable commuter. Built-in features like a tire pressure monitoring system and a back up camera are already a step up higher than most of its competition.
There’s more than enough power to get moving. The choice of a four-speed will put a tax on fuel consumption but not by much. Our few days in the city in heavy traffic yielded an average of 8 km/l.
Whether on purpose or by chance, this particular ZS has a bit of a taut ride. Nearly every bump can be felt in the cabin and its sound isolation could use some improvement. However, a colleague of ours were able to test drive another ZS and it had a softer and more pliant ride. It was likely that the tester I drove had over-inflated tires which affected its ride quality, but we suspected it a bit too late.
Nonetheless, for those that like to drive it a little more aggressively, true to the MG tradition, the ZS handles pretty well for an SUV. The steering weight can also be customized to return a variety of resistance. There’s not much feedback, but it has a pretty quick ratio.
All told, for a PhP 998,888 price tag, this fully-loaded ZS offers quite a lot. Features like a panoramic sunroof, touchscreen entertainment system, backup camera, and tire pressure monitoring system are typically reserved for SUVs closer to the PhP2M mark. It’s also backed by a 5-year warranty, which should put any doubts about reliability to rest.
Many car brands can claim to have a sub-P1M SUV on offer, but only MG has even the top of the line trim level under that elusive price. The ZS also comes in lower Style and MT variants, but we recommend going for the Alpha AT.