2022 MG ZST 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

A much-needed boost

How does one follow up a great product with something even better? That's the dilemma so far for MG with the ZS nameplate.

Since its introduction in 2019, the ZS crossover was one of the vehicles that highly popularized the MG brand in the Philippines. And they've done it with a very specific formula – premium features at a competitive price tag. For less than a million, you had a 5-seater crossover with a modern infotainment system and a panoramic sunroof among its list of amenities.

The sheer number of MG ZS units out on the road tells the story of its popularity. However, as good as it was in terms of sales, there are two things that are currently holding it back from being the pound-for-pound leader of B-segment crossovers in the country – its engine and driving dynamics.

Powered by a naturally-aspirated 1.5-liter engine that's coupled to a 4-speed automatic, the MG ZS does not exactly have the performance stats-wise to go against the likes of its similarly Chinese-made rivals, the Ford Territory and the very popular Geely Coolray with their turbocharged powerplants.

2022 MG ZS T 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

Now that's where the MG ZST comes in. It's using the same formula as the ZS, but armed with turbo power and a new transmission for PHP 160,000 more. With the crossover getting a fresh dose of boost, does the ZST have enough oomph factor to launch MG to the top of the segment?

First of all, let's talk about the changes they've made outside. Compared to the ZS, I like the face of the ZST better because there's very minimal chrome. If anything, I'd like to think MG's done the job in making the ZST show its sportier side with its aggressive “Obsidian Matrix” grille design. In fact, the front fascia somehow reminds me of a mini Jaguar F-Pace; so that's a check for British styling.

2022 MG ZS T 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

But that's about it on the exterior. Aside from the 17-inch tomahawk alloy wheels and red brake calipers, it's still very much the familiar ZS, and I don't see any reason why they won't keep the rest of the crossover's look - except for the faux exhaust tips which I'm really not a fan of.

While it more or less has the dashboard of the ZS in terms of layout, MG gave the ZST black upholstery with red accent stitching and faux carbon fiber accents to get a sense this is indeed the hotter and sportier variant. I do wish they put in bucket seats similar to the HS Trophy though; it would have sat right at home in the smaller MG crossover.

2022 MG ZS T 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

Knowing that this is a step higher than the previous top-of-the-line ZS Alpha, the premium amenities such as the 6-way power adjustable driver's seats and rear A/C vents are present. In addition, it also has a panoramic sunroof, however, it tends to get hot during daytime driving since there's only a screen instead of something thicker and more solid.

In terms of interior space, there's a generous amount of head, knee, and legroom on both the first and second rows. For reference, my 5'9" frame was seated at the back, but my knees were not hitting the back of the front seats even though Niko (our Creative Director) at 5'10” was in front. When it comes to cargo space on the other hand, let's just say the ZST had enough to swallow luggage for three occupants plus our camera gear. And for me, that's quite impressive.

2022 MG ZS T 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

Unique to the ZST are the fully-digital instrument cluster, and the piano-type switches coupled with the bigger 10-inch touchscreen infotainment unit with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both screens feature crisp graphics that's definitely a plus for tech-savvy users.

While digital displays on tachometers and speedometers are still growing on me, the central section displayed all the information I needed, such as the fuel economy reading and live tire pressures. On the other hand though, the infotainment unit can dial down the user-friendliness. It was easy to get confused on whether to press the touch screen or use the buttons to cycle through the interface and it does take a bit of time to initialize when you've just turned the car on. UX aside, it's a very minor thing that owners can get used to once they spend more time with the crossover.

2022 MG ZS T 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

Now on to the most obvious difference – the engine. The MG ZST has a 1.3-liter, three-cylinder dual-port injection turbo with 163 PS and 230 Nm of torque. Despite losing one cylinder and having a smaller displacement, the ZST's engine has 49 PS and 80 Nm more than the 1.5-liter unit on the ZS. In addition, the ZST now has a 6-speed automatic, which should give closer spacing between gears and liven up the drive. So did the ZST deliver that missing excitement?

Well, the short answer is partly yes. The turbocharged engine indeed gave a harder punch than what the ZS could muster, and it didn't take much throttle effort to get the ZST going. The six-speed automatic was okay for the daily drive, and also greatly improved fuel economy. I was doing 9.7 km/l on a 19 km/h average speed in the city, while highway numbers went up to 17.9 km/l at an 85 km/h average.

2022 MG ZS T 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

However, for quick downshifts, one might be better off going into manual mode to get the response you need. Just doing the throttle mash in the normal D position gave a noticeable delay, making you less confident to do those quick overtakes on provincial roads smoothly.

In addition, like the ZS, the soft ride was retained for the ZST, and perhaps it may have been tuned a bit too soft in my opinion. While it's comfortable for the most part, the crossover has a noticeable body roll in the turns. The suspension had a tendency to bottom out over humps, and it can get floaty at highway speeds.

But what I do really like about how it drives is that it feels solid inside. There are no rattles on the panels, and NVH levels are good, especially for its price point. To say the least, the crossover more or less delivered the excitement it needed on the straights. It's just that there's still a bit of work needed to excite on the twisties.

2022 MG ZS T 1.3 Turbo Trophy image

At PHP 1,158,888, the ZST still enjoys a competitive price tag over its rivals. The crossover banked on the strengths of the ZS in terms of features, and to me, it may even have better value for money than the naturally-aspirated variant. For PHP 160,000 more, you get a more powerful engine and better transmission, plus an array of advanced safety features like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and among others, a 360-degree around view monitor.

MG has tapped the market of crossover buyers who wants a punchy turbo engine at their disposal with the ZST. But when it comes to becoming the pound-for-pound segment leader, perhaps MG should look back at what its roadsters became known for to complete the final piece of the puzzle – great handling and driving dynamics. Well, they're halfway there.

  • Make: MG
  • Model: ZST 1.3T Trophy
  • Engine: 1.3-liter DOHC 12-valve Inline-3 Dual-Port Injection Turbo
  • Max Power: 163 PS @ 5600 rpm
  • Max Torque: 230 Nm @ 4400 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed A/T with manual mode, FWD
  • Price as Tested: ₱1,158,888