Road test: the MG ZST is an SUV that's affordable, cheerful and attractive

The China-manufactured compact ZS crossover starts at only Dh56,900

A century-old marque, MG forged its storied legacy by turning out a succession of sporting saloons and roadsters. However, as was the case with virtually every British car maker, dubious build quality and an uncompetitive model line-up led to the company ultimately going bust.

China’s Nanjing Automobile Group stepped in and acquired MG in 2006 and has since reinvented the brand. You no longer walk into an MG showroom expecting to find anything remotely sporty. What you’ll discover instead is a no-frills range of SUVs and sedans targeted at value-conscious buyers.

The recipe seems to be working, as MG sold almost 300,000 cars in China alone last year, with the pandemic doing little to dampen the flourishing sales. The brand and its budget-priced models are making steady inroads into the UAE market, too.

The compact ZS crossover is a prime example, as it kicks off at a sharp Dh56,900 ($15,493) for the entry-level model. Measuring a tad over 4.3 metres long and 1.8 metres wide, it competes against the Nissan Kicks, Mazda CX-3, Kia Seltos, Hyundai Creta and Honda HR-V. The Chinese offering undercuts all these rivals by about Dh10,000, and therein lies the key to its success.

We tested the range-topping ZST, which ups the asking price to Dh73,400, although even this isn’t excessive when you factor in its specs and kit levels. Virtually every offering in its segment is propelled by a four-cylinder engine, but the ZST departs from the norm as its propulsion comes from a gutsy three-cylinder turbo motor that ekes out 160hp and 230Nm.

Standard features across the range include 17-inch alloys, dual airbags, a 10.1-inch infotainment touchscreen with CarPlay and Android Auto, cruise control, rear air conditioning vents and push-button start. The flagship model also gets side and curtain airbags, a panoramic sunroof, 360-degree surround parking camera and a virtual instrument cluster.

The cabin is attractively laid out, with sporty black-and-red upholstery and faux carbon-fibre trim livening up the ambience. That said, there’s an abundance of hard plastic surfaces, and it’s not hard to glean the MG has been built within tight cost constraints. Even so, you do get a well-equipped and decently packaged car for your money

The three-cylinder engine is decently punchy and emits a sporty exhaust note, but it’s hamstrung by the lazy six-speed auto, which shifts up to sixth gear at the earliest opportunity. You can get around this by shifting manually (there aren’t any paddles, so you need to slot the gear lever into a separate plane and then nudge it back or forth, depending on whether you want to up or downshift).

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The MG ticks the requisite boxes in terms of practicality

On the whole, the ZST is a perfectly adequate inner-city commuter. Ride quality and noise levels are well controlled, and it goes, stops and steers with a reasonable level of conviction. It’s not as crisp and precise in its responses as, say, Mazda’s CX-3, but it’s not miles off the pace either.

The MG ticks the requisite boxes in terms of practicality, as the rear seats are comfortable enough for anyone under 1.8 metres tall. Boot space measures a respectable 359 litres, although this can be expanded to 1,187 litres by folding down the rear seats.

This is by no means the best offering in its class, but there isn’t too much to fault in its exterior fit and finish, and its overall value proposition makes it worth considering by shoppers hunting for a compact crossover. Although the MG’s styling is generic, it’s a decent looker nonetheless, and it scores over its competitors via an industry-leading six-year/200,000km warranty.

It also offers further proof Chinese car makers are making rapid strides in the right direction. The increasing presence of such vehicles on our roads indicates local consumers are no longer as wary of them as they may have been five years ago. Another five years and they may well be ubiquitous.

The specs

Engine: 1.3-litre three-cylinder turbo

Power: 160hp at 5,200rpm

Torque: 230Nm from 1,800-4,400rpm

Transmission: six-speed auto

Fuel consumption: 7.1L/100km

Price: from Dh56,900

Updated: October 29th 2021, 5:14 AM