WhichCar should I buy: MG ZS Essence?

Tempted by a bargain basement SUV but is it too good to be true?

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Hi WhichCar.

I’m thinking about buying an MG ZS Essence and was hoping to get your intel. I currently have a Nissan X-Trail but it’s getting old, my kids are all starting to drive so it’s going to be their car and I need something to replace it.

I like the MG logo and I’ve always loved MGs. The ZS reminds me of the cute little sports car with lift-off roof and it brings back memories.

I have thought about some other cars and I know what’s out there, but I won’t get a brand new car with panoramic roof alloy wheels and leather-look seats for that money. I might get a Hyundai but I’m a bit of a snob and the MG seems more prestigious over the Hyundai. The MG just looks more solid and it’s cool.

Getting something new is not essential but I’ve never owned a new car before and I’d really like the experience. I’ve managed to get the price down to $25,500 driveaway, which seems like a bargain. What do you think?

Tori, Bentleigh

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Hi Tori.

Buying a brand new car from a dealership is a really exciting experience and about as convenient as the process of acquiring your next vehicle gets, but it’s also a significant commitment so you want to be absolutely sure you are making the right choice.

It’s easy to see why you are considering the MG. As you say, it’s a brand that carries rich heritage, the ZS is a sharp looking model and it has a generous standard kit list for an almost unbeatable price.

While many are skeptical of such a new brand to the Australian market, the company has given itself a big vote of confidence with a seven-year warranty and roadside assistance (That’s only matched by Kia). Even if the now Chinese-built cars start falling apart on you, at least you know you won’t end up out of pocket as a result. Peace of mind counts for a lot when investing in a car.

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Range-wide standard equipment highlights include 17-inch alloy wheels, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with cool high-resolution graphics, reversing camera and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity (but not for Android devices). But, as you’re looking at the range-topping Essence, a massive panoramic glass roof, keyless engine start and navigation are also thrown in.

There are also great things to say about the interior, which is understated but well designed and constructed using decent materials. There’s also a huge boot and cabin space that borders on the class above.

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But let’s look at some of the things you might not be so keen to live with.

Firstly, under the bonnet lies a tiny 1.0-litre engine and although it has a turbo, still only produces a paltry 82kW and has to propel a car that weighs more than 1.2-tonnes. For comparison, a Honda Jazz micro hatchback has 88kW and weighs just over 1.0 tonne. So the MG is slow – really slow.

Then there is the way it drives. Its suspension can be uncomfortable at speed and doesn’t cope with imperfections in the road well. The steering is vague and the body rolls unashamedly in corners. Almost everything in its class drives better.

In summary then, the MG packages a decent amount of kit for the price, but at the cost of driving enjoyment and some refinement that you can take for granted in other brands.

Speaking of which, it’s interesting that you regard the MG as the more prestigious brand compared with a Hyundai. While the South Korean maker has been kicking goals in terms of quality, features and ownership experience for many years in Australia, MG is a relative newcomer that still has a lot to prove by comparison. Branding can be a very powerful tool! So try to be pragmatic when browsing your options.

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If you are still thinking of going for the MG then here is our one golden rule and the piece of advice that doesn’t just apply to your circumstances Tori, but everyone looking to buy a new car: Drive it. And once you have driven it, drive a few of its closest rivals.

The ZS sure looks like a great deal on paper but if there is something that stands out that you simply couldn’t tolerate once you are behind the wheel then you have your answer. And by driving a handful of its closest competitors you will more accurately establish what it does well and not so well.

Obvious rivals you should sample include the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona, Holden Trax and Suzuki Vitara. You won’t match the equipment level measure-for-measure on price, but a bit of negotiation can go a long way. And you may be happy to sacrifice a few luxury options for a car that you are happier with all round.

See how it stacks up with one of the best cars in the class here.

Or how about these for a couple of wild cards? If you are considering budget Chinese brands then have a look at the Haval H2 or our pick of the lesser-known SUV brands: the SsangYong Tivoli, which packs a lot in for not much cash.

Ssang Yong Tivoli Jpg

But our final piece of advice would be to spend a day trawling your local dealers for ex-demo and even one-owner vehicles.

Your budget will stretch to some of the more familiar brands and with long warranties offered on almost all new models these days, you can jump into a pre-owned vehicle with the same confidence as many new cars.

It’ll take a little more work and research and it certainly isn’t as convenient as walking into the first dealership you are considering and rolling out with a new car, but we guarantee you will end up with the car that is right for you.


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