by Ben Selby
MG has been getting a bit of stick lately. The purists argue that because they are now built in China by Mega Company SAIC and don’t have a single sports car in their range, that the brand is a pale imitation of its former self. Yes, the iconic brand founded by Cecil Kimber doesn’t have a sports car in the range, but you can’t argue with SAIC’s efforts to blaze a new trail for the MG marque. Sure, it is a tad more mainstream, but there is plenty of potential here, especially with the electric HS SUV now in the fray.
The first Chinese built MG arrived on New Zealand shores in the form of the MG6 Saloon. I tested this back in 2012, and while it was a bit rough around the edges, it definitely showed promise. The ZS small SUV was up next, and while there were some issues with fit and finish, it showed itself to be extremely good value.
Now the ZS has been enhanced. Enter the new MG ZST. After attending the virtual launch, the team from Cockram Motor Group in Christchurch got in touch and offered me a chance to experience what MG call, “segment first value and refinement.” Let’s get stuck in.
The ZST sits atop the ZS range and is available with two spec levels, the entry level ‘Excite’ at $30,990 and the flagship ‘Essence’ at $33,990. This makes the base ZST $3,000 more than the flagship ZS. So, with the numbers looking very favourable towards the ZST when compared to its rivals in this segment, what do you get for your snip over $30k?
Under the bonnet, the ZST has been given a new beating heart over the standard ZS. This comes in the form of a 1.3-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, over the standard ZS’s 1.0L turbo three pot. Power is rated at 115kW at 230Nm of torque, 40 per cent more than the regular ZS. Mated to this is a six-speed automatic box. MG claim average fuel consumption figures of 7.1L/100km, which is above average.
Styling wise, the ZST sports a more refined and cleaner cut look. Whereas the ZS was by no means an ugly duckling, the ZST’s more focused lines really make for a sweet looking SUV. However, it is easy to see inspiration from Ford in the headlights, Mazda in the a-pillar, Nissan on either side, and a touch of Kia in the rear.
The ZST sits 154mm off the tarmac, 10mm lower than the regular ZS. With a wheelbase of 2585mm, the ZST is 4323mm in length and 1809mm wide including the wing mirrors, so it still manages to remain relatively compact. The 17inch two tone machined alloys which come standard are decent, but the 17-inch alloys fitted to my “Essence” test car look great, especially when housing red brake callipers. Buyers have five colours to choose from, but you will have to miss out on the Electro Orange seen on the standard ZS Excite Plus.
When you factor in the price, the amount of standard kit on board is pretty decent. All ZST’s come with, Rain Sensing Wipers, LED headlights, leather trim, a 360-degree camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Sat Nav, Keyless Entry and a six-speaker sound system.
The Essence featured here received additional goodies like an electric driver’s seat, heated front seats, panoramic sunroof and rather slick fully digital instrument cluster. Housing many of the functions is a larger 10-inch infotainments screen over the ZS’s eight inch. It is very intuitive and is much better all-around than the standard car.
The biggest addition to the ZST is MG’s new driver safety system. Called MG Pilot, it incorporates a plethora of safety features like Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Segment-first Traffic Jam Assist, Intelligent Cruise Assist, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Intelligent Headlamp Control, Speed Assistance System and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Fit and finish is better than before, though some hard touch plastics and switchgear still feel a tad second rate, also once panoramic sunroof has receded, the glare from our solar system’s closest star makes the infotainment screen difficult to read.
In terms of room to slob out the ZST provides plenty of space. Lanker folk will be well suited and while the seats themselves aren’t exactly the plushest hip huggers around, lateral support could also be improved but they still provide a decent place to sit. Rear head and legroom are also very nice, and you also get a 60/40 split folding rear seat set up, allowing the boot space to increase from a modest 359 litres, to a dog swallowing 1187 litres.
Fire up that eager turbo three pot, select drive and you are away. For a 1.3, the ZST manages to pull nicely, plus at high rpm, the distinctive three-cylinder chug has the faintest whiff of air cooled 911 about it. One aspect which deserves to be commended is the level of ride comfort. Whether pothole ravaged inner city streets or suburban bitumen, the ZST takes it in its stride.
The six-speed box provides smoother shifts then before, that said, a set of paddles would have been nice. However, for $30k-ish, this is no real hardship. Steering is light while still being direct, and it manages to be a tad more point and shoot than the standard ZS. In other words, you have the confidence to push harder in the bends, not too fast, but brisk enough.
The ZST is at is best cruising State Highway One at 100 clicks. At motorway speeds, things settle down nicely and minimal interference from the world outside making its way into the cabin. Front and rear three-quarter vision isn’t bad. However, the a-pillars are slightly intrusive and rear visibility could be improved.
The new MG ZST is a better car than the regular ZS and well worth forking over the extra $3,000-$6,000, depending whether or not you want those extra toys. While not as polished or as entertaining a drive when compared to its Japanese contemporaries, the ZST has one big advantage over all of them, value. The purists may scoff, but thanks to generous space, kit, safety features, a willing powerplant and a five-year warranty, you could do worse.