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    MG ZST 2022 review: Essence


    Daily driver score

    3/5

    Urban score

    3/5

    MG used to be famous for fun cars.

    For 80 years until 2004 it was all about two-seater roadsters, grand touring sedans and saucy hot hatches.

    Then the British brand went into receivership, was revived soon after by the Chinese state-owned SAIC Motor, and here we are today. A bargain-basement maker of SUVs and hatchbacks at the bottom of the market all but abandoned by Hyundai, Kia and others.  

    Case in point is the ZS – a small SUV that – from at $21,990 driveaway – is priced thousands of dollars under comparably sized and specified rivals. In today’s hyper-inflated used-car market, it actually competes against second-hand Hyundai Konas, Nissan Qashqais and Honda HR-Vs, many of which are out of warranty and closing in on 100,000km.

    With a seven-year warranty and zero mileage, no wonder new MG sales are soaring.

    But what about the newer and allegedly different ZST?  Here it gets a bit complicated. A midcycle facelift of the ZS that debuted in 2017, it scores a restyled grille, bumpers and tail-lights, as well a revised dash and new powertrain option. The ‘T’ is an Australian marketing affectation. It might as well stand for ‘Two’, as in Series II. Yep pre- (ZS) and post- (ZST) facelift MG SUVs sell side-by-side. If you look inside the ZST’s cupholders, it even reads “New ZS”.

    So here it is, the flagship ZST Essence, in an urban environment, from $33K. How does it fare? Read on…

    Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

    The answer isn't as clear cut as the specification appears.

    The un-facelifted ZS Excite now starts from $21,990 driveaway (and it’s the cheapest new SUV in Oz now, remember), before moving up to the facelifted ZST Core from $25,490, Vibe from $26,990, Excite from $29,990 and Essence from $32,990. $43,990 buys you the un-facelifted ZS EV electric vehicle.

    The MG ZST Essence starts from $32,990. The MG ZST Essence starts from $32,990.

    All ZSTs include lots of active safety tech, with standard autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, traffic jam assist, automatic high beams, surround-view monitor, alarm and six airbags.

    Above the Core’s keyless entry, push-button start, air-conditioning, 10.1-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support, five USB ports, four-speaker audio system, fabric trim, centre armrest, electric heated exterior mirrors, LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels, the Vibe adds satellite navigation, rain-sensing wipers, front fog lights, synthetic leather trim, six-speaker audio and two-tone alloys (still on 17-inch wheels).

    It has a 10.1-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support. It has a 10.1-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support.

    Accounting for the $3K jump premium, the Excite ditches the Core and Vibe’s 84kW/150Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine also found in the ZS for a newer 115kW/230Nm 1.3-litre three-cylinder turbo, a gloss black grille, red brake callipers and ritzier exterior trim, while the Essence scores a panoramic glass roof, ‘MG’ embossed seating with heating function up front and powered on the driver’s side, all-digital instrumentation and yet another restyle for the 17-inch alloys. These are shod with quality Michelin Primacy tyres.

    Note, however, that reach-adjustable steering, wireless smartphone charging and digital radio are not available.

    Metallic paint in blue, red or silver costs $700 extra above the standard white or black hues.

    Rivals include the Haval Jolion, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai, SsangYong Korando, Suzuki Vitara and Toyota C-HR.

    The MG rides on17-inch alloys. The MG rides on17-inch alloys.

    Several ZST Essence items might dazzle prospective buyers of all of the above – including its $33K pricing combined with a seven-year warranty that’s only matched by Kia, SsangYong and Haval (though surpassed by Mitsubishi’s conditional 10-year item), as well as that vast sunroof and surround-view camera. In the Seltos, HR-V, Kona, C-HR and CX-30’s case you’ll need up to $40K (or more) to match that.

    Except, that is, the Jolion (also from China), since it offers these and much more for $2K under the ZST Essence’s ask. And, as we’ll see further down, the MG’s cabin presentation and user experience is far from luxurious or premium.

    Is there anything interesting about its design?

    Unveiled in 2016 before sales started the following year, the ZS is a pleasant if unoriginal design, with obvious influences from Mazda around the nose and Kia about the tail. Some might call the styling shamelessly derivative. For all the updates that the facelift brings, it’s difficult to pick the ZST apart from its older counterpart.

    The ZS is a pleasant if unoriginal design, with obvious influences from Mazda. The ZS is a pleasant if unoriginal design, with obvious influences from Mazda.

    Delving deeper, the Essence’s glossier, glitzier trim (including side sill extensions, a rear diffuser and machined alloys) do help give MG’s smallest SUV a bit of pizzazz, and the wheels are quite handsome. But they fail to distract from the somewhat awkward proportions, especially around the wheel arch area. It all looks a little tippy-toed.

    The newer, larger HS is definitely a more-resolved effort. 

    With a seven-year warranty and zero mileage, no wonder new MG sales are soaring. With a seven-year warranty and zero mileage, no wonder new MG sales are soaring.

    How practical is the space inside?

    It might be based on an older design, but the ZST Essence’s interior seems like an alluring place to be. At least, superficially, anyway.

    For starters, there’s quite a lot of real estate on offer, resulting in a decent, segment-straddling amount of space front and rear, along with a big boot behind. No doubt a generous 2585mm wheelbase helps. The sculptured front seats look especially inviting, with their shapely bolsters, leather-like finish and sporty stitching.

    With electric adjustment for the driver, they provide a wide range of adjustability to help find the ideal driving position for a wide range of bodies, the cushions do a good job supporting you over long distances and their heating elements take away the PVC coldness on wintry days.

    With electric adjustment for the driver, they provide a wide range of adjustability to help find the ideal driving position for a wide range of bodies. With electric adjustment for the driver, they provide a wide range of adjustability to help find the ideal driving position for a wide range of bodies.

    The driver enjoys a digital instrument cluster that promises to be just like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit; a 10.1-inch touchscreen is nicely integrated, with a nifty set of toggle switches located underneath; soft-touch materials cover the dash, lower-console buttresses, door cards and centre armrest; there’s an abundance of red stitching and mock carbon-fibre-look trim to add a sporty flavour; and the panoramic sunroof (that opens right up) is a treat.

    A USB located near the rear-vision mirror is great for powering up dash cams (negating the need to rewire through trim), while that’s backed up by a pair of outlets in the lower-console area beside a 12V plug.

    It’s easy to imagine how impressed potential buyers are at the showroom level, especially if they’re trading up from an older vehicle. The MG’s static appeal is compelling.

    The sunroof blockout screen is ineffective under the Australian sun. The sunroof blockout screen is ineffective under the Australian sun.

    But dig deeper and the disappointments start lining up.

    Firstly, the cabin smells of cheap plastic toys – it’s an assault on the olfactory senses; quite a bit of the trim rattles; the steering column does not adjust for reach, only height; there is no digital radio so you’ll need to rely on your device (and data) for that; the multimedia screen functionality isn’t logical and so can lead to infuriating confusion; the reverse camera delay is annoying – you’re already moving before the screen reluctantly starts transmitting the images; the sunroof blockout screen is way too ineffective under the Australian sun, even in winter; there is no seatbelt height adjustment; and only the driver’s window has single-press auto up/down – isn’t Essence meant to be the top-spec ZST?

    The reverse camera is delayed. The reverse camera is delayed.

    Plus, since when is vinyl a step up from the base grade’s (cool) fabric seat trim? It’s cold and doesn’t breathe.

    There’s more. The Essence’s digital instrumentation is clear enough but the other grades’ analogue dials with digital speedo are easier to read; speaking of which, what’s with the tacho’s 1/min-x-1000 revolutions that, for example, flashes up ‘2.5’ instead of 2500rpm? We’re expected to do maths while driving? Why does the fan speed state ‘wind level’ like it’s from the BoM website – or is it a nod to that plastic off-gas odour? And, being less petty now, the display illumination seems to be set to stun at night, so cannot be dimmed sufficiently for more sensitive eyes. It’s dazzle or darkness, with no in-between.

    There’s enough room for three people to travel in sufficient comfort in the back over short distances. There’s enough room for three people to travel in sufficient comfort in the back over short distances.

    Rear seat access is fine, and while the too-low cushion isn’t that supportive, it is long; the 70/30 split backrest is surprisingly reclined, and there’s enough room for three people to travel in sufficient comfort in the back over short distances. The windows wind all the way down too. But while there are big handy door bins, two more USB outlets, overhead grab handles and two useable map pockets, MG provides no directional air vents, rear-seat lighting, centre armrest, cupholders or coat hooks. And watch for those protruding seatbelt latches, which hurt if you land on them. Ouch.

    Further back, the 359-litre boot is larger than you might imagine in a small SUV, with two floor levels (Underground and U2), side storage and a light, but no floor latching hooks. The loading lip is quite high. Folding the split rear seatbacks bumps cargo capacity up to 1187L.

    The 359-litre boot is larger than you might imagine in a small SUV. The 359-litre boot is larger than you might imagine in a small SUV.

    Overall, then, the ZST’s cabin is flash but not as fully fleshed out as you’d expect from a brand that never lets us forget that it dates back to 1924. The many rookie mistakes inside suggest otherwise, even if those evocative initials are almost a century old. And the MG’s overall cheapness (mainly with the rattles and odour) betray where money has been saved inside.

    What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

    Under the Essence’s bonnet is an example of an engine designed and developed by General Motors and SAIC Motor. Known as the GM Small Gasoline Engine (SGE), it ranges from 1.0-litre to 1.5L in size, and has featured in many MG, Opel, Buick, Chevrolet and Roewe models since 2013.

    In this configuration, the SGE in question is a Euro 5-emissions rated 1349cc 1.3-litre in-line three-cylinder direct-injection double overhead cam turbo petrol engine, developing 115kW of power from 5200rpm to 5600rpm, and 230Nm of torque from 1800rpm to 4400rpm.

    The 1.3-litre turbo drives the front wheels via a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. The 1.3-litre turbo drives the front wheels via a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.

    Tipping the scales at about 1335kg (kerb), the ZST Essence delivers a power-to-weight ratio of 86kW per tonne.

    Unlike the 1.5-litre SGE found in the ZS and ZST Core and Vibe models, the 1.3-litre turbo drives the front wheels not via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, with a tip-shift facility for some manual manipulation. No all-wheel drive is offered in Australia.

    Suspension, by the way, is MacPherson strut-style up front and a torsion beam out back.

    How much fuel does it consume?

    During our 417km drive test, we averaged 8.6 litres per 100km at the pump.

    This is shy of the 6.8L/100km indicated on the dashboard and 7.3L/100km stated on the official Australian combined cycle – which equates to 162 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions – but that’s still not a bad result at all, given the heavy traffic and exuberant driving the MG endured with us.

    Note that the ZST Vibe and Essence require more expensive 95 RON premium unleaded petrol. With the 45-litre fuel tank brimmed, expect over 630km of range between refills.

    Unusually, there is no stop/start tech fitted.

    What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

    The Australasian New Car Assessment Program rated the MG ZS four out of five stars in late 2017. This was due to the fact that driver-assist safety was not available throughout the range. That situation has been rectified now, but the four stars remain for the ZST facelift.

    All ZSTs score well for active safety tech, with standard autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, traffic jam assist, automatic high beams, surround-view monitor, hill-launch assist, alarm, tyre-pressure alert system and six airbags.

    This is on top of the usual safety items like electronic stability control, traction control, four-wheel disc brakes, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist, reverse camera with guide lines and rear parking sensors.

    The ZST has a surround-view monitor. The ZST has a surround-view monitor.

    Two ISOFIX latches can be found in the outboard rear seats, while a trio of anchor points are behind the backrests for child seat tether straps.

    The AEB operates at speeds from 4km/h to 150km/h, and provides pedestrian and cyclist detection protection between 4km/h and 64kmh.

    What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

    MG goes two years better than most carmakers by providing a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, matching Kia, SsangYong and Haval (but behind Mitsubishi’s conditional 10-year item). Roadside assistance is offered for free for the first year.

    On the other hand, service intervals are every six months or 10,000km, which lags behind most rivals and their 12-month/15,000km regimes. MG also offers basic capped-price servicing, but the prices are not published and require direct contact with a dealership.

    What's it like to drive around town?

    The ZST certainly drives well enough for drivers who are undemanding of their vehicle, but ask more from it and age-related issues will start to show in some areas.

    Positive points first. Light (electric rack and pinion) steering, big exterior mirrors, an excellent surround-view camera and the reassurance of blind-spot monitoring make parking a breeze and darting between lanes effortless. There’s very little to criticise.

    The same goes for the punchy 1.3-litre turbo. It’s quiet, strong once the turbo kicks in and quite responsive when needing a bit extra for overtaking. At freeway speeds there is no indication that this is a downsized three-cylinder engine. The suspension is also quite adept at soaking up most of what the road has to offer, making for a soft and comfy ride.

    Like we said, born for the urban jungle.

    The steering in the MG is light. The steering in the MG is light.

    However, the ZST’s edges start to fray the moment you begin to demand more from it.

    For example, yes, the engine is refined and eager once on the move, but at take-off speeds the turbo needs a couple of seconds to get things happening and the auto seems a little lazy to shift down a gear when you need to hurry along.

    Then there is the handling. At the straight-ahead position, the steering is well weighted and planted to the road. But once you start pointing the MG SUV into corners, it feels oddly remote, with not much feedback. The body leans noticeably through tighter turns at speed, which can be a bit disconcerting, while the ride never is as settled as a result.

    Thus, the ZST doesn’t feel as contained or controlled as most of its better rivals do. Can’t we have both a comfy ride and athletic dynamics in a small SUV or crossover? The C-HR, Ford Puma and Mazda CX-30 prove we can.

    The ZST certainly drives well enough for drivers who are undemanding of their vehicle. The ZST certainly drives well enough for drivers who are undemanding of their vehicle.

    That said, the brakes bite hard, the standard adaptive cruise control is effective at keeping the car moving along with the traffic when crawling in a heavy jam, the traction control intervention is nuanced, and over gravel at speed, the Essence feels steady and stable, with the stability control systems kicking in early yet gently. Ground clearance, by the way, is a low-ish 154mm.

    This is a six-tenths sort of driving experience. On the evidence of this, MG still isn’t quite there yet.

    Insurance Quote

    At $32,990, MG’s ZST Essence, ironically, loses the essence of what makes the ZS at over $10K less such a big hit with Australians – a low price that would otherwise force consumers into buying used.

    Yes, that massive ‘Stargazer’ panoramic roof, large centre touchscreen, bird’s-eye-view camera and full safety suite are usually reserved for top-of-the-range rivals costing upwards of 20 per cent more. But there equipment shortfalls, quality lapses, unresolved handling, inconvenient service intervals and a four-star safety rating to consider, too.

    Essentially, the ZST isn’t fun. There are more enjoyable alternatives out there. It’s feeling old now and the larger HS Vibe is a better bet at the Essence’s price point if it’s got to be an MG.

    $32,990

    Based on new car retail price

    Daily driver score

    3/5

    Urban score

    3/5
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    Price Guide

    $32,990

    Based on new car retail price

    This price is subject to change closer to release data
    Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.