MG has launched its new ZST compact SUV, and after a media launch drive tackling a loop around Sydney’s south, Exhaust Notes Australia can report that the new model is a major step up for the brand.
On sale for a starting drive away price of $29,490 for the Excite and $32,490 for the Essence, the Chinese car maker believes the new offering will help continue its healthy sales growth (it sits just outside the top ten, in 15th, according to VFACTS figures).
The ZST will eventually be the replacement for the current ZS. We say eventually, because the older version will sell alongside the model for about 12 months, at a price of around $7500 less than its new sibling.
It’s an interesting strategy that has been seen in the past from the likes of Mitsubishi, which sold the old Triton alongside the replacement model about five years ago.
On the road, the ZST delivers an inoffensive, well-mannered and well-appointed compact SUV that is pretty refined, handles well and offers strong performance and economy from a new 1.3-litre three-cylinder turbo engine.
A battery electric version of the ZS is due in November, and a plugin hybrid should follow in the first quarter next year. The full electric ZS EV is being offered at an introductory price of $46,490 ahead of its launch next month.
The 2020 MG ZST engine produces 40 per cent more power than the 1.0-litre three cylinder turbo and 1.5 litre four cylinder in the older ZS, and delivers eager acceleration and performance across suburban, rural and freeway running.
The engine produces maximum power of 115kW and 230Nm of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed Aisin automatic in both variants, which is well matched, shifts smoothly and can be manually shifted if the desire takes you.
The previous 1.0-litre turbo produced just 82kW, while the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four only managed 84kW, pointing to just how far the new ZST has leap frogged the older models.
MG has generally done a good job on tuning the suspension for both ride and comfort and with sharp turn in, reasonably precise steering and excellent brakes, the new ZST feels a whole lot better than any of its Chinese built predecessors.
Build quality appears to be good and the new model presents a taut and solid feel, with good panel fit and very good finish inside and out.
MG claims the ZST body rigidity has been improved by 50 per cent, which clearly adds to the tight feel the body conveys, presenting an indicator of just how far the MG brand has come since its faltering first steps here with the MG5 sedan and MG3 hatch.
Driving wise, the ZST is a lively performer, with impressive acceleration from the little three cylinder turbo. It delivers ample oomph for overtaking and is fun to punt along. As we said though, the handling is good but not great.
It might be damming with faint praise, but we would go as far as to say this is the best sorted Chinese product we have driven.
That doesn’t make it the equal of some of its better Japanese and Korean competitors but it has pretty well-matched spring and damping rates, through its McPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam/helical spring rear end.
The ride is pretty good ride in most conditions, and the three position, electric power assisted rack and pinion steering is very good.
Inside, the ZST is well appointed, with both the Excite and Essence getting key-less entry and start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a large and easy to use 10.1-inch infotainment touch screen, six speakers, and a 360-degree camera with integrated parking monitor.
The latter gives the driver a simulated view in both 2D and 3D from eight different vantage points around the car. Standard equipment on the Excite also includes rain sensing wipers, fog lights, and LED head and tail lights.
It also comes with a leather steering wheel with contrasting stitching, and a nicely styled leather look dash trim. On the outside, it gets 17-inch two tone machined alloy wheels, with Michelin 215/55 R17 tyres and red brake calipers.
In addition, there’s loads of stylish black gloss trim that looks a whole lot better than the chrome of the older ZS. The top of the range Essence adds six-way electronically adjustable and heated front seats, and a huge panoramic ‘stargazer’ sunroof.
A 7.0-inch virtual digital instrument cluster with built in-navigation is also included.
The ZST’s suite of electronic safety features is encapsulated in what the company calls MG Pilot, which includes forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and segment-first traffic jam assist.
There’s also intelligent cruise assist, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, intelligent headlamp control, speed assist and adaptive cruise control. It’s an impressive swag of driver aids and underlines the value package which MG claims is class leading.
Despite all that, and its six airbags, MG is only expecting four stars for the ZST’s ANCAP rating, because the basic body structure hasn’t changed.
The ZST’s safety camera system is also capable of reading traffic signs and delivers sound and visual warnings if the legal speed limit is exceeded. Traffic jam assist allows the car to stop itself in a traffic jam situation and then drive away when the car in front moves off.
Both models are available in two standard colours; York White or Pebble Black, along with three metallic options, including Brighton Blue, Diamond Red and Sterling Silver. The ZST also comes with MG’s 7-year unlimited kilometre warranty and 7-year roadside assist.
MG’s rapid sales growth in the last couple of years is likely to continue with the new ZST, which is sure to win more hearts to the venerable brand and its Octagon logo. While not perfect, the new model is a huge step up for MG and for China.
It’s not the old flat cap and wind in your hair MG of days gone by, and so its not an enthusiast’s car, but given most car buyers aren’t enthusiasts, we reckon it will have a pretty broad appeal with average Aussie buyers.
Exhaust Notes Australia will bring you a more thorough road test in coming weeks.
Our test vehicle was provided as part of a media drive day, thanks to MG Motor Australia. To find out more about the 2020 MG ZST, contact your local MG dealer.