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Could this finally be MG’s comeback car?

PROS

  • Likely to be good value
  • Interior is spacious
  • Handling shows promise

CONS

  • Some dubious interior plastics
  • Tiny dealer network

Verdict

Forget any misty-eyed memories of the early-2000s sports saloon of the same name, the new MG ZS is a small SUV that will expand the Sino-British brand’s range to three models when it arrives in showrooms towards the end of 2017.

The new crossover – originally destined to be called MG XS in Britain – is set to compete right at the heart of the fastest growing market sectors. It’s the perfect place for MG to be.

MG ZS SUV side elevation

Cars such as the Ford EcoSport, Kia Stonic, Nissan Juke and Renault Captur give that little bit extra space, height and styling appeal over their supermini counterparts, but aren’t especially sophisticated, which could allow MG to compete on a level playing field.

New styling for a new direction

MG has changed its corporate styling for the ZS compared with the larger GS SUV and MG3 supermini by swapping the aggressively pointed front end for a large, dished grille that makes it look less nose-heavy.

Overall, the styling of the car is successful; the worst complaint is that the wheels look small, despite being 17-inches in diameter.

Slim engine range and competitive prices

Of the two petrol engines it’ll be sold with, we briefly tried the 125hp 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder mated to a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. This felt smooth, eager to accelerate and powerful enough in our short drive in a Chinese-spec version.

MG ZS SUV montage

This engine was developed with MG owner SAIC along with General Motors and also appears in smaller Vauxhalls such as the Viva, Corsa and Astra.

This will be the more expensive option at an estimated £16,000. Entry-level cars will be sold with a 120hp 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with a manual gearbox, estimated to start from around £13,000. That will make it much cheaper than the competition; Ford’s EcoSport starts at £17,495, for example.

There’ll be no diesel-engined MG ZS.

What’s it like inside?

So far it looks like the MG ZS’s greatest strength will be its interior space. Even with the front seat adjusted to suit a six-foot-tall driver, a similar-sized passenger could easily sit behind with room to spare for the knees.

MG ZS SUV boot

No capacity figure was given for the boot with the rear seats up (seats down it was 1,160 litres) but it looked very spacious and had room for a space-saver spare underneath. We’d guess it was approaching the 448 litres of the Honda HR-V. The rear seats didn’t fold flat, though.

The interior styling looked modern with some playful touches on the higher-end models like the protruding, body coloured surrounds for the two side air vents inspired by jet engines. The 8.0-inch touchscreen display swipes left or right to reveal more menus and will include Apple CarPlay.

Other equipment on the Chinese Lux model we tested included keyless entry, a panoramic sunroof and two USB chargers.

MG ZS SUV dashboard

Some of the plastics such as the glovebox lid and the central cubby felt cheap, but not badly so. The handbrake wobbled from side to side a bit, though.

What is the MG ZS like to drive?

A sprint round a coned-off course in SAIC’s giant test track near Shanghai hinted that the ZS will at least match its competitors in terms of dynamic capabilities.

It felt eager to turn into corners and displayed commendable grip even when pushed hard, even with the suspension set up more softly to suit Chinese tastes. This will change for UK-market cars.

A more thorough test closer to September will reveal more, but this brief drive tells us MG should fare better with the ZS that it has done with the GS, especially since a lack of a diesel is less of a concern in this sector.

MG’s problem remains a lack of awareness, poor residuals and thin dealer coverage, but cheap entry into a fashionable sector might just see the ZS overcome those hurdles.

We’ll be among the first to drive British-spec cars so check back with Parkers for a full MG ZS SUV review.

MG ZS SUV dynamic

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