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British Soul, Chinese Guts

British Soul, Chinese Guts

What does the name MG or “Morris Garages” invoke for you? Typically, it would conjure up an image of a two-door, open-top roadster with a rorty exhaust note. That’s because those were virtually the only cars from the marque that came to Sri Lanka in the 50s, 60s and 70s. We never got the newer MG models in Sri Lanka. A brief smattering of the smart yet ergonomically flawed MG 6 Turbo came to Sri Lanka in the last few years but slow sales were not helped by the lack of an auto transmission option.

The MG company changed hands nine times up to the present owners SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation). Did you know that MG is now, ironically the largest car brand by volume being imported into the UK from China? Come 2018 and the MG agency in Sri Lanka changed hands once again, and is now in the custody of EuroSports Auto, a subsidiary of Micro. Micro is  no stranger to Chinese-built cars, handling BAIC and Geely as well, and locally assembling some Chinese cars too.

The ZS which we are testing here is the second SUV made by MG under SAIC, with the larger GS being the brand’s first SUV. The ZS badge was first used on a small sports sedan in the late 1990s and early 2000, when MGs were still produced in the UK.

 

Exterior

The ZS’ face has a large chromed MG badge that is the first point of focus, framed with a chrome-accented black grille and smart looking headlamps. LED Daytime running lamps, projector headlamps and LED rear lamps perform the lighting duties.

The frontal design is reminiscent of a Hiroshima-based Japanese manufacturer if you squint a bit. Moving to the sides, there are many lines and creases that make the rear quarters rather busy but the glasshouse is large unlike certain crossovers which make you feel like you are in a coffin in the rear. The rear design is rather nice, and the MG badge doubles as the boot release. Roof rails (75kg rated as per brochure) and a spoiler complete the silhouette.

Alloy wheels nowadays seem to follow the ‘diamond cut and black accent’ design language, and the MG ZS is no exception with a smart five-spoke design and the MG badge in the centre. Our test vehicle is in “Dynamic Red” that is a special tri-coat colour that is claimed to be hard-wearing, but achieving enhanced brilliance and depth. You also get a blue and an orange shade, apart from the standard black, white and silver palette.

 

Mech & Tech

Downsized turbo engines are all the rage, and it’s the theme here too. A 1-litre three pot with a turbo and direct injection powers front wheels of the ZS, through a six-speed Aisin automatic with manual shifting available. The triple puts out 110bhp at 5,200rpm and 160Nm of twist between 1,800 and 4,700rpm. Steering is via electric rack with three assistance modes and the ZS is suspended by Macpherson strut and the front and torsion beam at the rear. Braking is by all-round discs with the obligatory ABS and EBD. Stability control (ESP) and CBC (Cornering Brake Control) is present. You get Hill Launch Assist (hill hold) too.

 

Driving Experience 

The ZS offers a commanding view of the road ahead. Thumb the starter button and the engine makes itself known. Shift into D and the ZS cruises nicely. The Aisin gearbox is not an eco freak and will not change up frantically at 2,000rpm. Push harder and the engine will rev higher. You can manually select and hold gears but for the most part, the gearbox does it well enough in our traffic conditions.

Stretch the engine out to the 6,000rpm mark and it sounds vocal and strained. This is not its preferred territory (max power is at 5,200rpm). Best not to wring out the little triple to the end, stay in the mid range let the torque carry you along.

The electric steering offers three modes. Urban is the lightest and you can steer the ZS with your pinkie finger if you desire. Normal firms things up a little more, while Dynamic makes things meaty and more direct. I liked it the most in Dynamic.

The ride is comfort oriented with a well-damped feel to bumps, manhole covers and sudden potholes. However this translates into a noticeable amount of body roll, which most average motorists would prefer over harder suspension. The brakes on the other hand presented no shortcomings at all and will be more than enough to rein in this 1,200kg vehicle, with good pedal feel.

 

Living with the ZS 

The ZS’ cabin is a bright place to be, even with the black interior of our test car. No doubt that glasshouse helps, and the full-length sunroof adds even more light. I am told that 60% of the sunroof can be opened. The controller is a knob with steps rather than buttons. The cabin is kept cool by single-zone climate control (no rear vents) that worked well enough during our photo shoot stops in the scorching March sun. The plastics feel mostly decent to the touch but there are a few rough edges and scratchy places below the line of sight.

The infotainment system consists of Radio, AUX, USB and Bluetooth with six speakers, controlled by an 8-inch touch screen. Apple Carplay is present too, but no Android Auto – MG should look at that given the popularity of Android over iOS in this market. Sound quality is decent for the class and the equalizer allows plenty of customization, including choosing if you drive mainly with passengers or driver only, and adjusts sound stage accordingly.

The reverse camera with reversing lines also shows on the screen, and the rear parking radar will tell you how far from any obstacles the rear of the vehicle is (in centimeters). For mobile phones, a 12v charging socket is present in the centre console.

The instrument panel features a bold and clear font that vaguely recalls a certain German marque (together with the multifunction steering button layout), and the centre info display shows plenty of figures for the numerically inclined, such as trip computer information, average speed, fuel consumption, tyre pressure information and service information.

You get 60-40 split folding rear seats to augment that 448-litre boot which also features a spare wheel under the floor. You can also adjust the height of the headlamps depending on rear load. Mirrors are electric, but I was surprised to note that they didn’t have power folding – MG will need to look at this for our market as it is a desired function. Two ISOFIX mountings complete the package.

 

Safety 

Chinese cars have come a long way from when they were seen to crumple like tin cans with nary an airbag in sight. The ZS sports no less than six airbags (including curtain bags that cover the rear, and bags inside the front seats). Additionally, it has anti rollover protection, emergency stop signal, an ultra high tensile steel cage body construction, auto door unlocking in an accident and more safety features than we would expect at this price point. Kudos to them!

 

Fuel Economy & Price

The ZS is rated at 11.9km/l in city, and 17.5km/l on highway in the brochure. In Colombo, that would more likely be around 8km/l while an outstation and highway jaunt would make 17km/l more achievable. I like the fact that the brochure figures are not highly “inflated” as some others. This is a small turbo engine that will be worked hard, not a hybrid. So get used to that fact and adjust your compass accordingly.

Price is the real kicker here. At Rs.4,980,000 with a 3-year / 100,000km warranty, the MG ZS has the potential to really shake up the market. At the time of writing in end-March, I am told that over fifty vehicles have found homes, and all that through one advertisement and subsequent word-of-mouth.

 

Final Words 

The MG ZS represents an eye-catching choice in this market – where cars are much more expensive due to taxes than they rightly should be, and everyone at this level is forced to count their pennies and find the best value option. And the fact is, there isn’t really a competitor to the ZS in the sub-5 million price bracket for a brand-new SUV right now. Yes, there are some rough edges and functions that were missed out but still it manages to impress.

 

Tech Specs

Engine

1.0L, 3-cyl, Turbocharged

111bhp @ 5,200rpm

160Nm @ 1,800-4,700rpm

 

Transmission

6-speed AISIN auto

Tiptronic on gearshift

Front wheel drive

 

Front

MacPherson Strut

Ventilated Disc Brakes

215/55R17 tyres

 

Rear

Torsion beam

Disc brakes

215/55R17 tyres

 

Performance

0-100km/h in 12.4s

180km/h max speed

(manufacturer claims)

 

Misc

Length: 4,314mm

Width: 1,809mm

Height: 1,611mm

Kerb Weight: 1,239kg

Boot Space: 448L

Fuel Tank: 48L