Auto Review: 2018 MG ZS Essence

IT’S hard not to start this without saying, “throw out everything you know about the MG sports car brand of yesteryear”. Or at least something similar. Because this is the new MG; now owned by Chinese car giant SAIC Motor.

Yes, once upon a time, British brand Morris Garages, or MG as we have always known them, used to build cute little sports cars like the MG B. Today, they build super affordable hatch backs, and small to mid-sized SUVs.

Sitting atop the brand’s small SUV food chain is the 2018 MG ZS Essence, a compact SUV that’s loaded with standard features, even in the base Excite variant, and looks exceptionally good on the road.

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In fact the top-of-the-line variant only gains a panoramic sunroof and key less start over an astronomical spec list, that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, multiple airbags, LED daytime running lights, fog lamps and roof rails.

There’s also automatic halogen projector headlights, heated exterior mirrors, leather steering wheel, with a synthetic leather interior, along with satin chrome accents and a height adjustable driver seat (and no it’s not electric).

Tyre pressure monitoring and configurable EPS power steering (comfort, normal and sport) complete the standard specifications.

It’s got a hint of Mazda on the outside and a nod to VW on the inside, with the Chinese brand clearly drawing its inspiration from some of its rivals, but what it offers is a pretty complete package, with a little bit of Chinese quirkiness.

The engine options for example are unusual. The base Excite comes with an 84kW/150Nm 1.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine and a basic 4-speed automatic gearbox. The Essence, a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol power plant with a 6-speed auto (82kW/160Nm).

It feels way under powered off the line, but once you get into the groove of driving it, it’s not that bad, as long as you can get past the turbo lag and the odd random gear change. The power combo, for the price (as you’ll see below) is adequate.

It’s got plenty of technology inside too, with a very easy to use infotainment system that features Apple CarPlay, but lacks Android Auto and SatNav, with MG preferring the smart phone connectivity option for mapping.

The 8-inch high definition unit features Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-speaker Yamaha 3D sound system, and there’s a good rear view camera as well. It also has cruise control and rear parking sensors.

For anyone who has driven an LDV ute or van, you’ll recognise the infotainment system a parent company SAIC Motor has shared it here. The other downside to the MG ZS is the lack of autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist.

It’s for that reason it has also only scored a 4-star ANCAP safety rating, and despite the affordable price; it hits the road at $25,990 drive away ($22,990 for the Excite), it needs some extra safety love. Something MG Motor Australia says is coming soon.

The safety technology it does get though includes ABS, hill launch assist, emergency brake assist, ESP, active cornering brake assist, automatic door unlocking in an accident and automatic hazard lights in emergency braking situations.

Overall it’s not a bad car, but there’s room for improvement everywhere. This is something MG Australia and its Chinese parent brand take seriously, so expect upgrades to occur throughout the current ZS life cycle.

It comes in a range of what MG calls true colours, enhanced by a special translucent coating, including Diamond Red, Regal Blue (our test car), Electro Orange, Dover White and Pebble Black.

And for that extra piece of mind, in case you’re worried about buying a Chinese built car, and you shouldn’t be at all quite frankly, it comes with a 7-year unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assist.

Our test vehicle was provided by MG Australia. To find out more about the 2018 MG ZS Essence, contact your local MG dealer.


Driving experience
Exterior styling
Interior look and feel
Technology and connectivity
Family friendliness


Pros - looks good; value for money; plenty of room for small SUV.
Cons - turbo lag; gearbox need refining; room for interior improvement.
Mark Holgate
Mark Holgate
A journalist with more than 24 years experience, Mark Holgate has worked with a number of regional, suburban and metropolitan newspapers, as well as stints with motoring specific publications like Which Car? Motorsport News, Auto Action and Street Machine. He is also a contributor to DriveTribe.


    • Android Auto compatibility is missing from the MG ZS range. The story has been updated to reflect this. The sub-editor on this story has been taken out and shot.

  1. Shot? Over-reaction? It’s a Chinese car after all….

    I have it on good authority SAIC are scheduling a firmware update to all MG ZS head units to add Android Auto from about Dec 2018 – Feb 2019. This will apply to existing customers and new buys.
    We’ll see how good my ‘source’ is…. lol

    • Hi..

      Please assist if you have the firmware to upgrade my infortainment so that i can also use the android auto. Currently my infotainment only has apple carplay.


      • Hi Azzlin,

        You will need to contact an MG Australia dealership (or an MG dealer in your relevant country) to discuss a firmware upgrade. Exhaust Notes Australia are only a vehicle reviewer, not the manufacturer.


        • The ZS Excite still only has Apple CarPlay. However, the new ZST (which is designed to replace the current ZS range), has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

  2. I purchased an MG Excite yesterday & I absolutely love it. It has pretty much everything I’ve needed & wanted in a car. The Chinese car makers have done really well to build this. I wouldn’t hesitate in the future to buy another Chinese built car. I was sceptical at first but am surprised at the comfort, technology & even the power. Goodonya China, keep em coming.

    • That’s great Stuart. The build quality in new Chinese cars, particularly from this manufacturer (SAIC) has come on in leaps and bounds. Enjoy your new car.


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<strong>Pros -</strong> looks good; value for money; plenty of room for small SUV.<br> <strong>Cons -</strong> turbo lag; gearbox need refining; room for interior improvement.Auto Review: 2018 MG ZS Essence