- Great value for money with a lot of equipment
- New engine is much punchier than before
- Still spacious and practical
- Crashy and underdamped ride
- Short 10,000km service intervals
- Touchscreen not easy to use
When Chinese brand MG re-launched in Australia just a few years ago, it offered two core products: the MG3 small hatch and the ZS small SUV which has been wildly successful thanks to the SUV boom that’s covering the globe. The ZS undercut its chief rivals on price, and yet it offered more interior space and more standard equipment too. Fast forward a few years and we’re at mid-life update time for the ZS, but rather unusually, the ZS is still on sale (for the moment) and a more premium version has come to market. Enter the 2021 MG ZS T Excite.
Basically an extensive mid-life update with more premium aspirations, the MG ZS T employs a larger 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine, a much higher standard of equipment – including active safety kit such as AEB for the first time – matched to a more premium interior and even new exterior styling. Predictably, the ZS T is more expensive than the ZS – almost $10,000, in fact, though only around $6,000 in the case of the top-spec ZS Essence. So, with a big price increase but a big increase in modernity, is the ZS T worth the extra money? Let’s find out.
Price & Equipment: 8/10
The MG name has quickly climbed the Australian sales charts thanks to its strong value equation on every car that it sells here, and the 2021 MG ZS T Excite is no different. It’s priced from $29,990 drive away, though its equipment list will have you thinking it’s priced far higher.
Standard kit includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, auto lights and wipers, synthetic leather upholstery, a 10.1-inch touchscreen with inbuilt satellite navigation, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry and push button start, heated and auto-folding mirrors, a leather steering wheel, five USB ports (including one mounted in the rear mirror for dash cams), front and rear fog lights, chrome roof rails, red brake callipers and a six-speaker sound system.
A long list of active safety equipment called ‘MG Pilot’ is standard as well, with six airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, auto high beam, intelligent speed assist, a 360-degree parking camera, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist and rear parking sensors.
Buyers can also spend an extra $3,000 to get into the ZS T Essence, which adds a panoramic glass roof, different 17-inch wheels, a six-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, a red MG logo on each front seat, heated front seats and a fully digital instrument cluster. The ‘Pebble Black’ and ‘York White’ are the only the no-cost colour options – ‘Brighton Blue’, ‘Diamond Red’ and ‘Sterling Silver’ are $500 extra.
What is the ZS T Excite missing? Proper automatic climate control, digital radio and auto rear braking would be nice additions, but it’s otherwise offering a pretty strong value equation.
The 2021 MG ZS T Excite competes with the $30,490 drive away Kia Seltos Sport, the $28,990 drive away Hyundai Kona and $29,990 drive away Mitsubishi ASX LS. All four small SUVs feature kit such as alloy wheels, AEB, air conditioning, auto headlights and touchscreens with features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though the ZS T uniquely offers features such as adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree parking camera, leatherette upholstery and rear charging ports.
The only big problem for us with the ZS T’s value equation is that the larger MG HS Core starts at exactly the same $29,990 drive away price – and the nicely equipped HS Vibe can be had for just $2,000 more. Considering that the HS is an all-round superior family vehicle to the ZS that offers more space and practicality to the ZS, that’s where our money would go.
Performance & Fuel Economy: 7/10
While the ZS T adds several styling and equipment upgrades on top of the regular ZS, the biggest upgrade for us is what’s under the bonnet. Instead of a lacklustre 1.5-litre or 1.0-litre turbo engine of the ZS, the ZS T gets a 1.3-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine that produces 115kW of power and 230Nm of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all 2021 MG ZS T models are front-wheel drive. The engine in the ZS T certainly outguns its competitors – the Kona and Seltos offer 110kW/180Nm, and the ASX slightly more torque at 197Nm – and unlike all of them, offers a proper automatic gearbox and not a CVT.
The engine itself is punchy for its size with the 230Nm coming on song between 1,800 and 4,400rpm, and its 115kW is great for the segment too. MG doesn’t claim a 0-100km/h sprint time but we’d guess it to be in the eight second range, which is quicker than the Seltos, Kona and ASX. Its mid-range punch is particularly satisfying as you don’t have to rev it to get the best out of it, though when you do, the three-cylinder noise is charming – much more so than its screaming four-cylinder rivals. The six-speed automatic transmission is nicely intuitive too and way more polished than the dual-clutch auto in the larger HS, that’s for sure.
But like the regular ZS, fuel economy is not the ZS T’s strong suit. MG claims 7.1L/100km combined and we struggled to get even that – we achieved 9.5L/100km, which is not great. The ZS T needs minimum 95RON fuel as well. For reference, the Seltos claims 6.8L/100km, the Kona claims 6.2L/100km and the ASX claims 7.6L/100km from its ancient 2.0-litre engine.
Ride & Handling: 6/10
While we’ve welcomed the addition of a more powerful engine, the ZS T’s larger engine has exposed the ZS’ shortcomings in the dynamic department. Introducing more power to the chassis has further emphasised the need for an MG Australian tuning program in the same way that Hyundai Kia’s local program transformed the dynamics of every product that they sell here.
Like the regular ZS, taking corners with reasonable haste feels like you’re sitting on top of the ZS T and not sitting in it – this is partially due to the flat seats but also due to the body roll and the poor body control from the suspension. Around town, the ZS T’s ride is not great thanks to this lack of body control, and at higher speeds it floats too much. There’s a lot of lateral movement from bumps and the suspension never settles either – a Kia Seltos is a much more pleasing dynamic package that’s not only better to drive, but it’s also more comfortable for all passengers.
Credit where it’s due though, there is definite improvement compared with the cheaper ZS. MG claims to have added rigidity to the subframe and suspension with results of 50 per cent increased rigidity and, it does feel more solid on the road, which is good. There now needs to be a local suspension tuning program to further enhance the ZS T’s road manners.
The steering is better than the suspension though, with reasonable feel and quick weighting that aides parking and gives the driver some confidence for highway driving. Ride quality aside, it’s not a bad car to chuck at a corner thanks to grippy Michelin Primacy 3ST tyres. Road noise levels aren’t bad – certainly way less than the ASX – and the visibility is good with large windows, though it can be hard to judge in car parks. Thankfully, a 360-degree parking camera is standard equipment.
Interior & Practicality: 7/10
More than just a mid-life update, the ZS transition to ZS T included a big upgrade to the interior of the car with a new centre console with – finally! – covered storage, a new 10.1-inch touchscreen, new dials, a new steering wheel and more liberal use of soft-touch materials for a higher-quality feel throughout the cabin. It also ushered in more modern features such as rear USB ports and auto-folding mirrors.
Despite more soft touch materials, the ZS T’s cabin quality is not amazing. Instead of properly soft plastics, the company has elected to take a likely cheaper route through the use of fake leather inserts on the centre console that make it appear more modern and higher quality, though upon closer inspection, it’s just a thin veneer of pleather on top of hard plastic. The fake carbon fibre look needs to go as well. Still, credit for trying and it’s not like efforts for Mitsubishi are any better. It’s also far nicer to touch the ZS T’s cabin than the almost all-hard plastic cabin in the Kia Seltos.
Centre of the new cabin is a 10.1-inch touchscreen that features wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as inbuilt satellite navigation. It’s the same system that is also fitted to the larger HS, and while the screen quality is good and it’s quick to react to touch, it’s really not the most intuitive system to use, it can take time to learn its quirks and it often freezes. It also dims automatically when the headlights are switched on, which is annoying – the screen should have a sensor on its own.
The ZS T’s practicality is solid though, with a large covered storage area with two reasonable cup holders, a tray ahead of the gearbox, a large glovebox and reasonable door bins as well. The ZS T is also a practical car in terms of rear seat space – it’s not quite as big as the Kia Seltos, though it shades the Mitsubishi ASX for both leg- and headroom. The ZS T also features two rear USB ports and small rear door pockets, though there’s no rear centre armrest and nor are there any air vents, which is not good for the families that will buy this car.
The ZS T features a reasonable 359-litre boot that features a dual-level floor that allows for a somewhat flat floor when the rear seats are folded. This opens 1,187L of space, which shades the 1,156L offered by the Hyundai Kona but the ASX only offers four litres more – the Seltos offers 433-litres seats up and 1,393L seats folded, by the way.
Service & Warranty: 8/10
Like other MG products in Australia, the ZS T features a seven-year/unlimited km warranty with seven years of roadside assistance. There is also five years or 50,000km of capped price servicing that totals $1,504 ($301 per year), which is reasonable, though with short service intervals, those travelling more than 10,000km per year will have to pay more. Each of its naturally aspirated rivals include longer 15,000km service intervals, so consider those if you travel more than 10,000km annually.
Kia’s warranty is an equal seven years, though its roadside assistance starts at only a year and grows to a maximum of eight years if the car is serviced through a Kia dealership – five years/75,000km of servicing costs $1,914 ($382 per service). The Hyundai Kona offers a lesser five-year warranty with up to 10 years of roadside assist, though its servicing is cheaper at $1,595 for five years/75,000km. The ASX offers an industry-leading 10-year/200,000km warranty and 10 years of roadside assistance if serviced at Mitsubishi, while five years/75,000km of servicing costs $1,495 ($299 each service).
The 2021 MG ZS T DiscoverAuto Rating: 7.2/10
The 2021 MG ZS T Excite is certainly a step in the right direction for the MG brand. It offers a longer standard equipment list than rivals, its quality is improved compared to the regular ZS and it’s now got features it should’ve had from the beginning such as LED lights, auto wipers and – best of all – active safety equipment such as AEB, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist.
But is the ZS T worth the big step in money over the regular ZS? It’s better value than the ZS yes, but purely because it offers kit that the ZS should have – it’s not cheap and rivals such as the Kia Seltos offer more sophistication for the money. They also offer superior driving experiences, better fuel economy in the case of the Seltos and superior after sales experiences with longer service intervals and in the case of the Mitsubishi ASX, three more years of warranty as well. More food for thought: the larger HS starts at the same price, and that’s where our money would go.