It’s not every day you get to drive a car even before its distributor had the time to lay down a strong brand presence. Typically, a carmaker would first establish its brand first before showing off, let alone, get people to drive any of their products. Instead, MG, through their new distributor, The Covenant Car Company, opted to do the opposite. Are they implying that they have strong faith in products like the 2019 ZS; that even with no established market presence, can speak for itself?
Aside from its well-communicated British origins, not many people will recognize the MG brand. Some, particularly those who use a lot of Free Facebook may remember it for the ill-fated “only for the young” tagline, but that alone doesn’t define the brand, especially when it’s now under the care of a new distributor. Instead, it’s time to look at this MG for what it is: a well-styled, well-crafted sub-compact SUV that, at P 998,888, doesn’t break the bank.
Even in the ZS’s most muted color, Meteorite Black, this MG is one handsome crossover. Admittedly, the wheels could be bigger or, at least, meatier (a shock because they’re already 215/50 R 17), but that aside, it’s well-designed. It’s clean-looking and chiseled, but without a doubt, it’s the front that leaves the strongest impression. It’s also worth mentioning too that it scores high when it comes to exterior fit and finish.
Though made by SAIC Motor, the MG ZS doesn’t suffer from the usual “Made in China” trope. Instead, it has levels of fit and finish that, at times, match or even embarrass an American or Korean car in the same price range. The upper dash and door trims are covered in pleasant soft-touch plastics (with a stitch pattern for good measure), and the steering wheel and seats are swathed in supple leather. For its price point, it’s natural to have some hard bits of plastics here and there, but at least they’ve been relegated to portions that the occupants don’t usually come in contact with.
Apart from the leather tiller and thrones, this top-variant ZS Alpha comes with a whole host of luxury and convenience features that would make others in this class blush: steering wheel-mounted controls, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay (sadly, no Android Auto), a Yamaha-tuned 6-speaker system, electronic temperature control, and a panoramic sunroof. That said, it’s odd to see why MG omitted any sort of rear armrest or cupholders, for that matter.
Getting comfy with the ZS is fairly easy. The thick door sills and sharply raked A-pillar may catch the front occupants off-guard (bumping their heads as a result), but once inside, the driving position is sound. The steering wheel adjusts only for tilt, but the seat makes up for it with good amounts of adjustment. Visibility is alright, but because of the thick side mirror base, there’s a sizeable blind spot near the front three-quarters that can obscure a motorcycle from view. Moving on, the front cushions themselves are wide and supportive in all the right places, while the ones in the back offer genuine space for two, or usable space for three adults. Towards the back, the cargo hold accommodates 359 liters (1,166 liters with the rear seats down), but beyond numbers, the space is well-shaped, deep, and flexible (the cargo floor can be moved two levels—the higher setting of which creates a fully-flat loading bay with the rear seats folded).
Going back to the driver, the ergonomics are fairly straightforward, if a bit familiar. Straight on, he’s treated to a full-featured instrument cluster that’s easy to read, if a bit pixel-starved. The personalization settings take some getting used to—it’s split between the infotainment system and the nearly-indecipherable calculator-like display between the gauges, but at least once it’s set, there’s no need to fiddle with them anymore. Curiously, the placement of ZS’s major controls are reminiscent of another SAIC-built model: the Volkswagen Tiguan—even some of the switchgear are shared.
Unfortunately for the ZS, not a lot of that Teutonic flavor made it over to the mechanicals. There’s an inherent feeling of roughness to everything from the powertrain to the chassis. Without a doubt, MG’s new platform (shared with the RX5 and MG6) makes for a solid foundation, but beyond that, it feels unpolished.
Powered by a 1.5-liter normally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine, the ZS makes respectable numbers: 114 horsepower and 150 Nm of torque. Unfortunately, having to carry 1,258 kilograms of weight, makes the entire package feel sluggish and inefficient (7.69 km/L at 13 km/h). The fuel cap says it needs a diet of 95 octane, but MG Philippines says 92 octane is good enough to keep the engine happy. The initial pickup is good, but as the revs or speeds build up, the engagement goes down. Left to do commuter duty, it does fine. However, command any sort of overtake or steep climb, and it’ll struggle. At least, power comes in linearly and it’s reasonably refined.
What exacerbates the weak engine though is the 4-speed automatic. At times, it tries to wring all available grunt by holding gears up while during others, it has the tendency to short shift. This unpredictability makes it hard to get accustomed to the ZS’s on-road behavior, especially in traffic. Furthermore, the Hill Hold Control is sometimes just as finicky making even slightly-inclined roads like Julia Vargas Avenue going up to Meralco Avenue, a rough experience. Still, at least it manages to sort itself out on expressways.
The same unpredictability is found in how the ZS conducts itself on the road. The chassis is too softly sprung and for that, it may fulfill the general notion of what makes for a comfortable ride. But this set-up also means it has a tendency to bottom out quickly over larger ruts and bumps. Plus, drive it more spiritedly, and it’ll wobble and shift its weight in an ungainly way. The steering is hard to predict too. Despite its driver-changeable levels of effort, it’s inconsistent and oddly weighted.
Now, admittedly, the criticisms leveled against the MG ZS’s on-road manners are perhaps more perceptible to the enthusiastic set. For the more mainstream motorist though, they’ll find it as a crossover that ticks all the right boxes. Save for its less-than-stellar road manners, it’s good looking and offers boatloads of practicality, convenience, luxury, and safety that don’t break the bank. MG may not be a recognizable car brand for Filipinos yet, but with offerings like the ZS, they’ve shown that they’re good enough to compete with the more established players.
Source: Review: 2019 MG ZS 1.5 Alpha