14 December 2020

Could this be a proper MG?

| James Coleman
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The ZST – officially this is ‘off-road’. Photos: Supplied.

From $29,490 drive-away, you can have a turbocharged, five-seater SUV with LED lights, a leather interior with contrast stitching, push-button start, 360-degree camera, and 10-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite navigation.

That’s more bang-for-buck than you’d find in the equivalent Toyota, Mazda, or Hyundai. The perfect everyday car then. The end.

Except it’s not the end. Because the new MG ZST is not just a car – it’s an MG. This means it wears the same badge as the sports car that rolled out of the Morris Garage in the English city of Oxford in 1924.

Its new Chinese owners must get annoyed with those who continue to bang on about this, but sorry – when it wasn’t teetering on bankruptcy – this is the brand with a heritage and it’s not ‘Value’. It’s tearing through country lanes with wind in the hair and a roar from the back.

On the race track, MGs won 40 medals, and in the hands of the late Sir Stirling Moss, one nicknamed the ‘Roaring Raindrop’ even took home the land speed record in 1957 by cracking 395 km/h.

MG view

Not a bad view.

Fast forward to today and you’ll find it’s all about 7-year unlimited-kilometre warranties, comparative finance, and ads showing you how to apply makeup and strap-up sandals.

Since 2005, the cars have been designed in Birmingham, but they’re built in China and are all hatchbacks and SUVs. To be brutally honest, I loathe them.

I’m definitely not alone. Mark Horsfield is the editor of the magazine for the local MG Car Club, and just this month, put an MG ZS on the front cover only to receive messages such as, “A Chinese MG on the cover – oh the pain, the pain”.

He also happens to own one and describes the reaction among club members as “mixed”.

“When you look back through history though, when each new MG model was released there were those who always said, ‘That’s not a real MG, the only real MGs are …'”

Nobody is quite sure what makes a real MG then, but is this one – with its ‘Trophy’ badge – a glimmer of hope?


T is for Trophy, not turbo as I originally thought.

Can I wear a flat cap while driving it?

You could, but it would be more of a hip statement, much like the fedora was several years ago.

Does it break down a lot?

Early MGs were notorious. Not only were many hand-built (and we all know what that actually means), but the UK Telegraph surveyed owners in 2013 to discover 1 in 13 engines were failing. This was before the Chinese took over.

Mark says that initially “new-model MGs” suffered from a poor ANCAP safety rating, less-than-desirable fit and finish, and questionable reliability, but that they “have made huge strides in a short time to improve on all those deficiencies”.

What I can tell you now is that the ZST is a far cry from sticky tape and ice-cream containers. Everything I touched in the cabin felt sturdy and a lot of it was tastefully anointed with faux leather and red stitching. The only question I have is, how long this faux leather will last?

Red stitching

Fake cow and red stitching for sporty feel.

Can I fit golf clubs in the boot?

You could fit a golf caddy in the boot – it’s enormous.

Is it fun to drive?

For this, I’ve come to Paddys River Road next to the Namadgi National Park. Together with the Tidbinbilla and Cotter Roads, it forms what is arguably the greatest driving road in the ACT.

Comfortable, efficient, powerful enough, yes, but the ZST is no sports car.

The 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine is quite gruff and together with the automatic transmission, has to take a moment to think about requests from the accelerator. That said, snapping the gear lever to the right and using the ‘Sports’ mode helps with this.

Should I buy it?

As far as I can work out, three kinds of people will buy this. Those who are old and vaguely remember a ‘rather smashing’ MG their neighbour had back in 1960s Birmingham. Then the young who literally only see some random initials on the front and a good deal. And finally, someone like Mark who says, “after all, they carry that famous badge”.

If any of these are you, go for it. But if you’re like me, it’s still sacrilege.

Blue skies

Blue skies … and power lines.

MG ZST Excite

  • $29,490 drive-away
  • 1.3-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol, 115 kW/230 Nm
  • 6-speed automatic, FWD
  • 7.1L/100km fuel use
  • 359L boot space
  • 1,295 kg
  • 4-star ANCAP safety rating.

This car was provided for testing by John McGrath MG in Phillip. Region Media has no commercial arrangement with John McGrath.

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Regret this has as much connection to the old MG’s, as does the BMW ‘mini’ to the original 850.. Zero.

But it does have all the bells and whistles seemingly required these days. Worthy of a look.

No connection between decades of fun sports cars and a very ordinary truck. Yuck.

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