The name MG is one of the best-known in British motoring history. For anyone with a whiff of petrol in their veins, the famous initials are bound to stir memories of vintage MGs, the sports cars of the 60s, or the more recent sporty versions of saloons and hatchbacks.
For me, my earliest MG memories are of roaring around Surrey lanes before the British Grand Prix, in my cousin’s vintage MG, stopping off at wonderful local pubs to quaff a pint of bitter shandy.
A quick history lesson is needed to explain how MG got to where it is. (If you are well versed in this background, just skip ahead a few paragraphs!)
There was a time when the British Motor Corporation could not produce enough MGs to meet global demand. But, as BMC became British Leyland, corporate madness set in.
Instead of focussing on producing cars that people actually wanted, corporate management decreed the designers and engineers were to build cars that they thought people should have. The result was cars like the awful Morris Marina, the equally appalling Austin Allegro with its square steering wheel and the forgettable Austin Maestro.
In this deluded world, MG became the equivalent of the GT badge tacked onto mundane hatchbacks to give them some sporting appeal.
With a name change to the Rover Group, the motor giant first came under the ownership of British Aerospace and was then sold to BMW in 1994. There was the hope that MG would return as a marque in its own right.
At the press launch of the MGF in 1995, I remember the widespread surprise when it turned out that raiding the corporate Rover Group parts bin had produced a pretty decent mid-engined sports car. From the same era, I will never forget battling to keep the limited-edition MG RV8 pointing in a straight line!
But, by the time I attended the launch of the excellent new Rover 75 in 1999, it was clear all was far from well. BMW cut its losses and sold Land Rover to Ford and MG Rover to a consortium who staggered on until the company collapsed in 2005.
The Longbridge plant and the MG marque were bought by Chinese car maker Nanjing Automobile, which, two years later, became part of SAIC.
But, although MG may now be Chinese-owned the company is keen to put across the message that the cars are designed and engineered in the UK.
Currently there are three models in the MG range the supermini MG3, the MG ZS and its bigger sibling the MG GS.
It is the MG ZS that came my way for appraisal. MG call it an SUV. However, it is only available with front-wheel-drive, so (at the risk of getting into an argument about semantics) I would think it should more correctly be classified as a crossover.
If you have not seen many on the roads, that is no a surprise. MG’s approach is to start slowly and build up sales. But their ambition is to double sales year-on-year. If they can sustain that, they will become a significant player.
One thread that connects the original MGs with today’s product is affordability.
MG sports cars were designed to be affordable and today’s MG range also focusses on affordability, with keen pricing. The ZS range starts at £12,495 although my test MG ZS Exclusive Turbo Auto adds £5,300 to that bottom line.
As a further assurance of avoiding nasty financial surprises, the MG ZS comes with a seven-year, 80,000-mile warranty, that MG claim is the leader in class.
While the looks won’t have heads turning as you arrive at the golf club, they won’t be staring for the wrong reasons either. It’s a neat, if staid, design dominated by a big radiator grille with a giant MG badge proudly on the prow.
MG say the interior space sets new standard in this class. Considering this is not the largest of the two MG SUV/Crossovers, I was certainly happy with the space – and not just in the front.
So often, if I leave the driver’s seat in my preferred long-legged driving position, I struggle to get my knees to squeeze into the rear seat space. But the MG ZS had adequate knee room and good headroom, too.
The interior ambience is good for a budget priced car. The areas in main view are finished with soft materials, even if the fake stitching on the dashboard looks a tad unconvincing. The bottom line is that you would not feel cheated on quality if you stepped into the MG’s interior from one of this car’s budget-priced competition.
Boot is flat and, on a trip to IKEA, we had the seats folded to make quite a sizeable, even load floor. The boot floor, is quite high. With no spare wheel, this means there is quite a cavernous space beneath the boot floor for additional storage.
Equipment on the MG ZS is up to today’s standards and all models come with air conditioning, cruise control, USB sockets and Bluetooth connectivity. The test ZS Exclusive also had DAB radio, Apple CarPlay, climate control, heated mirrors, foglights, rear parking sensors and camera and leather-look upholstery.
There are two petrol engines in the MG ZS range and there is even an electric MG ZS promised for this autumn. If you automatically think of larger engines as being more powerful, the MG ZS may cause you some confusion.
The MG ZS range actually starts with the four-cylinder 1.5-litre engine and it is the top two models in the range that have the one-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder power unit. The smaller engine puts out 111PS, compared to 106PS for the 1.5-litre.
The one-litre is only available with a well-mannered six-speed automatic gearbox. It is very eager in take-off from standstill, but I soon learnt to feather the throttle to avoid the lurch forward.
It was the MG’s misfortune to arrive in the middle of a spring storm, with quite ferocious winds. The drive was along an exposed north-south dual carriageway and the wind, of course, was blowing hard west to east! As a result the poor little MG was getting buffeted. This probably accounts for my initial feeling that the MG was a bit fidgety and needed regular small steering corrections.
As the wind abated the steering felt much better in the following days although it remained a touch vague around the centre. Playing with the steering modes did offer some chance to tune for preference. You can choose from urban, normal or dynamic settings.
For under one-litre, the MG ZS had acceptable performance. It was only on longer gradients that the little car toiled somewhat dropping down, on dual carriageways, from 70 to 65 mph.
Overall I recorded 33 mpg, which, given that I was working the ZS quite hard, seems reasonable.
With engineering work for the ZS done in this country, MG say that the ZS is “a global car which has been reengineered specifically for UK audience”. I found the ride generally well tuned for our far-from-perfect roads. But, some surfaces can make the SZ feel a little restless.
Another thing that is restless is the system that produces warning sounds. UK design and engineered it may be, but the MG ZS produces beeps, bongs and chimes at a rate that would do credit to any oriental car manufacturer.
So the MG ZS is a worthy new contender in the family crossover market, offering superior accommodation and practicality. But, the attribute that will appeal to most buyers is the keen pricing and that seven-year/80,000-mile warranty. Combined with some pretty keen finance deals, expect to see more MGs on the roads.
Just don’t expect them to be sports cars… at least, not yet! MG ZS Exclusive Turbo Auto
Carbon dioxide emissions: 145 g/km
Combined fuel economy 44.9 mpg
Top speed: 112 mph
0-62: 12.4 secs
Power 111 bhp
Engine size 999cc petrol
Boot capacity 445/1375 (back seats up/folded)