To most people, the MG ZS may just be one of the many crossovers running around our roads. But it has a special place in my heart. It was the first-ever demo unit assigned to me as a motoring journalist. I remember how excited I was when I got the call from our editor-in-chief, and I’m absolutely thankful to him and the folks at distributor The Covenant Car Company Inc. for trusting me with the car.
The review I eventually wrote praised the ZS for its interior space, cargo room, extensive features list, and its purchase price of just a shade under P1 million for the range-topping variant. But my comments about its powertrain weren’t flattering. The 1.5-liter gasoline engine had limited power, and it was mated to a four-speed automatic transmission with widely spaced ratios.
It made the ZS feel anemic during acceleration, and the lack of another gear hurt its ability to maintain triple-digit speeds. I thought pairing the car with that type of gearbox was a missed opportunity as others were utilizing five- and six-speed transmissions or CVTs.
MG probably felt the pressure of better-performing newcomers in the market. The Geely Coolray, for example, packs a sophisticated turbocharged engine with a dual-clutch transmission for about the same price. It’s time for the British (or Chinese) manufacturer to step up its crossover game, and it has done that with the ZST.
The ZST has substantially more punch than the ZS. Under the hood is a 1.3-liter three-cylinder engine with a turbocharger. I can forgive the fact that it idles roughly because it produces 161hp and 230Nm—a big jump from 113hp and 150Nm. Acceleration isn’t breathtaking by any means, but the car is light on its feet. The ZST doesn’t feel stressed when overtaking or merging onto expressways, and it gets up and goes without the need to mash the throttle pedal so much.
MG has even gone the extra mile with the transmission. Instead of adding just one more gear, the ZST has six speeds. This is very much appreciated as the engine is a bit peaky in terms of power delivery. The short spacing between the ratios helps keep it singing near its power band. But the greatest advantage of the extra gears is that the ZST becomes a relaxed highway cruiser. Come up to 100km/h and the revs settle at around 1,600rpm, unlike the ZS automatic that screamed its way toward the century mark.
The ZST is essentially a face-lifted version of the ZS, so there aren’t a lot of changes to the exterior. The headlights are now a bit sleeker and have LEDs, and the car gains a rear diffuser with faux exhaust tips. There is a “Trophy” badge on the left-rear quarter panel, which suggests that lesser variants will be coming soon. The rear emblem still serves another purpose as the tailgate popper. The 17-inch wheels have a two-tone theme, which unfortunately makes them look smaller than they really are.
The interior does get a major update in the infotainment system. The ZS only had Apple CarPlay, but the ZST has Android Auto as well. Another welcome addition is the 360° camera. Right behind the gear selector are the toggles for the auto brake hold and the electronic parking brake. The cabin has a spacious and deep footwell for the rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, and much of the ZS’s switchgear. The cargo area has a trunk floor with two detents so that you can choose whether you want more capacity or a lower load lip.
Except for the engine, the driving experience more or less remains the same. The steering is on the lighter side even when cruising, but at least the car feels more stable when driving beside trucks and buses thanks to the additional power. The ZST thrives in the city because of its size and ease of maneuvering. The rear torsion bar isn’t the last word in handling, but it’s a simple layout and it makes the ride comfortable. There’s just more oomph to play with, which comes in handy when you want to take this crossover out of town.
There are some things that spoil the fun, though. The HVAC controls are still integrated into the infotainment system. It’s not as hard to operate as in the 5, but MG stubbornly stands by putting everything into the screen. Again, separate switches for the aircon would’ve been appreciated. And speaking of heating and cooling, ventilated seats would’ve been more useful instead of the built-in warmers.
The transmission’s behavior during stop-and-go traffic is also worth mentioning. It’s a little jerky when crawling just like a dual-clutch gearbox. I even had to ask MG if the ZST has a traditional automatic with a torque converter, which it confirmed. It’s not bad by any means, and it’ll be something that owners will get used to. It’s just unusual.
The ZST is priced at P1,158,888 (TCCCI just loves lots of eights). It’s a good number, but I can’t help but think that the turbo could’ve come sooner when the ZS was first introduced. Geely has had immense success with such a formula, and Toyota now has a turbo crossover of its own in the Raize. The ZST is currently available in one variant, the Trophy. Putting the more powerful engine in less expensive variants should make the market more interesting.
MG ZST TROPHY
|Engine||1.3-liter three-cylinder turbo gasoline|
|Power||161hp @ 5,600rpm|
|Torque||230Nm @ 4,400rpm|
|Dimensions||4,323mm x 1,809mm x 1,653mm|
|Upside||The turbo engine makes this car more usable and enjoyable on long drives.|
|Downside||The transmission is jerky when crawling, and the HVAC controls need a separate panel.|