The first time I laid eyes on an MG was in high school, nearly two decades ago. My classmate was often picked up in a 1950s olive-green TF convertible that he skillfully jumped into without opening the door. The orange Honda Civic SiR that my grandfather used to fetch me with was pale in comparison. Fast-forward to today when my older and wiser self gets to experience a modern MG. This time, though, the vehicle in question is of a completely different, um, species.
First, a little overview. MG traces its roots as far back as 1924 when Englishman William Morris started making two-seat, open-top sports cars. Operating under the umbrella of the giant British Leyland conglomerate as the latter’s performance arm, MG created hot versions of various BL products like the Austin Maestro.
After the collapse of British Leyland and a string of ill-fated partnerships with British Aerospace and BMW, the Chinese, by way of Nanjing Automobile, acquired the assets of MG and partner company Rover in 2005. Today, the marque lives on as MG Motor under Shanghai-based parent company SAIC Motor, and produces vehicles for export markets.
Put another way, MG waves the British flag and shouts “Hello, mate!” with a very heavy Chinese accent. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. Taking advantage of a badge with a distinguished sporting pedigree, the new automotive firm just might do wonders for the reputation of Chinese automakers, which are often dismissed as being clueless about build quality and copyright infringement.
Our initial impressions of the MG ZS are quite positive. The design is certainly inspired by
Mazda the brand’s stylish European roots. It doesn’t look weird or quirky, but it does hold its own when pitted against its established brethren. I like the gaping radiator grille with the significantly sized MG badge and the concave, 3D-effect mesh. Flanking the grille are projector headlights with stylish split “London Eye” LED daytime running lights that appear brighter than they really are. My desire to be lent an Electro-Optic Orange test unit did not disappoint as this signature paint job really pops in the sunlight. Complementing the orange hue are two-tone 17-inch alloy wheels that seem to be the rage for crossovers these days. The rear is not cluttered with excessive badging and other shiny bits, largely made possible by using the MG logo as the tailgate handle.
When climbing inside any vehicle, I have this habit of knocking on dashboard panels and door cards with my knuckles just to get an initial feel of the quality and solidity of the materials used. I get a mix of soft-touch surfaces and hard plastics in the ZS, which is expected. They don’t seem like they’ll get easily scuffed or go brittle. The seats in this range-topping Alpha variant are wrapped in some leatherette material that MG calls “Leather Style.” It’s just as soft and comfortable as the real thing, and the best part is that it doesn’t trap as much heat. This is heaven-sent since the windows of the test unit are not tinted, and I sometimes have to park the car in open areas.
The flat-bottom tiller is meaty and very easy to operate when maneuvering in traffic and in tight parking spaces. The instrument cluster’s LCD information screen displays a multitude of information, including remaining distance to empty, outside air temperature, and tire pressure. The center console is dominated by an eight-inch touchscreen monitor that does double duty as the infotainment and HVAC system display. It is as responsive as any regular smartphone, and besides its Bluetooth hands-free capability, it also has Apple CarPlay. Just plug your iPhone into a specific USB socket and all compatible apps (including Waze) are shown on the screen.
Space in the back is one of the main considerations among buyers going for a subcompact crossover instead of a sedan or hatchback. With the ZS’s generous 2,585mm wheelbase, even my porky 5’7” frame fits behind the front seats (which I’ve set in my own driving position). I even have just enough room to sit with my legs crossed, which is something I cannot do in some of the ZS’s competitors. And since we’re talking about practicality, the ZS’s cargo area has a neat trick up its sleeve. The boot floor has detents that allow it to be adjusted two ways. Lowering it increases the trunk space for bulky items, while raising it reduces the load lip, making it easier to take heavy stuff out of the car.
Perhaps the cabin’s pièce de résistance is the massive split panoramic sunroof. This is not just a simple glass roof with a sunshade: The front pane can actually pop up and slide back at just the twist of a knob. If you have the opportunity to take this car somewhere outside the city, the sunroof is a great way of letting the sunlight and fresh air in for that pseudo-open-top driving experience.
Motivation for the ZS across all variants is a SAIC-sourced 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is pretty much the standard in this class. The spec sheet indicates maximum output of 84kW (113hp) and maximum torque of 150Nm. The modest output is adequate for city driving, and, with the light steering feel, makes it quite easy to jostle for space in stop-and-go traffic. As I get used to the car’s dimensions and blind spots, I find the ZS to be nippy and lively within the confines of Metro Manila.
You will, however, notice the limitations of the chassis and the powertrain on the highway. The suspension is smooth and compliant even on unpaved provincial roads, but the sweeping corners have me wanting more feedback from the steering. I assumed that since the car wore 50-series low-profile tires, the steering system would at the very least be communicative. Getting up to expressway speed limits is quite challenging because of the widely spaced gear ratios of the four-speed automatic transmission. The power from the engine is just right for what the ZS was designed to do, but an additional gear or two would’ve been very much welcome just to make better use of the available grunt.
The MG of today is totally unlike the British marque I had been exposed to in my younger years. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The MG ZS is a very capable crossover with lots of bells and whistles neatly shoved into a very stylish package. One would think that this thing would breach seven-digit figures in pricing—except it doesn’t. In fact, The Covenant Car Company Inc., MG’s official importer and distributor, will let you have this Alpha variant for a very tempting P998,888. With the rising demand for crossover SUVs, the ZS is just as relevant now as the classic MG roadsters used to be back in the 1960s.
MG ZS 1.5L ALPHA
|1.5-liter four-cylinder DVVT MFI gasoline
|113hp @ 6,000rpm
|150Nm @ 4,500rpm
|4,314mm x 1,809mm x 1,648mm
|Amount of standard equipment; generous rear legroom.
|Gearbox needs more ratios to maximize engine power.