MG Motor UK ZS Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Monday 11th December


What is it like to drive?

MGs do corner well. Really. Even the dreadful overall MG 6 and lacklustre MG 3 did, against all the odds, have a decent chassis underneath them. MG used this to bullishly cling to the idea it was a maker of drivers’ cars, worthy of those old MG Bs and Cs and Midgets that are as quintessentially British as strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. It wasn’t enough to make us like them, or make buyers care, though. So we presumed the MG ZS would switch those priorities.

Not so, as it turns out. First up, the ZS does indeed have a god chassis. It generates lots of grip and can corner at amusingly high speed with very little body roll, and when you drive like, say, a  normal, responsible person, it keeps feeling agile but remains well-damped. There’s more wind and road noise than its rivals, but it’s passable, and the 1.0-litre engine is professionally isolated from the cabin. 

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Here, the case for the MG as a good drive starts to waver. The steering is incredibly vague around the straightahead, which isn’t that pleasant, and despite MG’s fevered protestations that the three different weights (Urban, Normal and Dynamic) improve the feel or wieldiness of the steering, that’s chapter one, verse one of marketing rubbish. The steering, despite six months of tuning for UK roads we’re told, is lifeless. A Mazda CX-3 demolishes the ZS for driver feedback. 

Yes, we know, this is a crossover, not a car that begs Sunday morning crack-of-dawn hoons. In which case, you’d rather that the development time had been spent on the powertrains...

The 1.0-litre turbo unit, co-developed with General Motors, develops a useful 109bhp and holds maximum torque of (just) 118lb ft between 1,800 and 4,700rpm. And weighing in at 1,330kg, that ought to be adequate. However, the three-pot is strangled by one of the worst automatic gearboxes in any modern car. The six-speed slusher has AWOL kickdown reactivity, and is so keen to sit in its sixth, cruising ratio that it could fool you into thinking it has a decouple and coast function, so low do the revs drop. It doesn’t however, and the resulting delay waiting for the powertrain to get out of bed and go to work hurts the ZS’s driveability just about everywhere. 

This issue could be solved at a stroke if there was a manual option, but no, it’s auto-only on the turbo motor. If you want to swap gears yourself with the rubbery five-speed stick-shift, you’re forced to have the dated, thirsty, thrashy 108bhp 1.5-litre four-pot petrol engine, which takes 10.4 seconds to get from 0-60, and struggles for in-gear motorway pace. It also permeates the cabin with a shivering vibration, and could really do with a sixth speed. 

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These powertrains age the modern-looking ZS into feeling off the pace of all its rivals. The pay-off, as per usual, is that this is a cheap car. Claimed CO2 emissions of 129g/km for the 1.5-litre and 144g/km (!) for the 1.0 turbo betray that this is where MG’s development isn’t on par, so the tax bills will be higher than Kia or Hyundai’s offerings. Even a Dacia Duster’s engine range is more refined and modern than the MG’s. And on the subject of the Dacia 4x4, that’s still in a class of two with the Fiat Panda if you want to take a small crossover off-road. A niche ability, but one the front-drive ZS doesn’t cater to.

Highlights from the range

the fastest

MG Motor UK ZS 1.0T GDi Exclusive 5dr
  • 0-6211.2s
  • CO2
  • BHP111
  • MPG
  • Price£19,520

the cheapest

MG Motor UK ZS 1.5 VTi-TECH Limited Edition 5dr
  • 0-6210.9s
  • CO2140.0g/km
  • BHP106
  • MPG47.1
  • Price£14,730

the greenest

MG Motor UK ZS 105kW Excite EV 45kWh 5dr Auto
  • 0-628.5s
  • CO20
  • BHP143
  • MPG
  • Price£28,440
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