2023 MG ZS Excite 1.5L review

Mitchell Jones

A cursory look over the total 2022 sales charts reveals something eye-opening. The 2022 MG ZS commanded 18.3 per cent of the small SUV segment, continuing a trend of growth that has been occurring for some years now. This cements its sales position at number one in the category.

Introduced to Australia in 2018, we reviewed the 1.0-litre turbo, six-speed auto ZS Essence during its launch. MG has not supplied media with an entry ZS Excite 1.5, four-speed auto model, which is the only surviving model of the range. All other models above it have been supplanted by the ZST. The friendly team over at Central Coast MG loaned us this one to test.

The ZS is the value-leader of the range, at $22,990 drive-away, making it Australia’s cheapest SUV when on-road costs are included in the total price. Nearest rivals, Stonic, Venue and ASX start at $1700, $2000 and $2750 more, respectively, when on-road costs are factored in. Furthermore, this is for manual versions of those cars. Automatics will set you back more still. Heck, even the tiny Suzuki Ignis will set you back another $500 when on-road costs are factored in, or $1500 for auto.

2023 MG ZS Excite – THE SPECS

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Output: 84kW@6000rpm / 150Nm@4500rpm
Transmission: Four-speed auto
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 17×7.0, 215/50
ANCAP: Four stars[/column] [column width=”47%” padding=”0″]Tare weight: 1255kg
Power-to-weight: 14.94:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 7.1L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 48L/91 RON
Power efficiency: 11.83kW:L/100km
0-100km/h: 13.56 seconds*
Priced from: $22,990[/column][end_columns]

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2023 MG ZS Excite – THE PACKAGE

To the rest of the world, this ZS is the pre-facelift model. Australia is alone in the western world offering both iterations, with the facelifted model known here as the ZST, and positioned higher. While the car has remained ostensibly the same since 2018 (albeit with ‘Soul’ nomenclature being replaced with ‘Excite’), there have recently been some minor revisions, focusing around the infotainment system.

This gives improved functionality and fresh colour schemes compared with the outgoing model. Additionally, there is a little ‘MG’ character who greets you at start-up, with a wave. Is he an alien? A racecar driver? Or an astronaut? We’ll leave that for you to decide..

The primary reason for the ZS’s continued success has got to be its generous dimensions and internal volume. At 4314mm long, 1809mm wide, 1644mm tall, on a wheelbase of 2585mm, it comfortably eclipses all its rivals for space –especially rear head and legroom. Only the Mitsubishi ASX offers a longer wheelbase, but that car is becoming extremely long-in-the-tooth, having been around since 2010. Yaris cross, Stonic and Venue are less roomy.

ZS’s higher hip, or ‘H-point’ is particularly appealing to older drivers, who find the 164mm of ground clearance more favourable for ingress/egress. Overall, the car scores very high marks for accommodation and packaging.

Boot space varies between 359L minimum to 1166L when the rear seats are folded – but that minimum number is quoted for the boot floor’s higher setting. We would venture that figure is closer to 400L when it is in its default, lower setting. Underneath, you’ll find a space-saver spare tyre and tools, but MG’s generous seven-year/unlimited km warranty and roadside assistance package means you won’t have to get your hands dirty, should the need arise.

To maintain the roadside assistance for the full seven years you will need to have the car serviced at an MG dealer every 10,000km or 12 months – whichever occurs first. Services vary between $243 and $343, so it is affordable to maintain.

Standard equipment includes six airbags, stability control, cruise control, Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is not available), reverse camera with sensors, guidelines and centimetres, switchable electronic power steering. The Excite’s trim is synthetic leather with white stitching and soft-touch material on the top of the dashboard giving a better-than-expected sense of quality.

Can you use an MG ZS for Uber? Yes, the 2023 MG ZS Excite can be used for Uber. We rang Uber and they stipulated that they have made an exemption for it and the ZST, despite the four-star ANCAP rating of the ZS. It’s worth noting that the previous ZS EV achieved a five star rating, with the same body shell and passive safety package.

2023 MG ZS Excite – THE DRIVE

Unlike the ZST, the ZS uses a traditional switchblade key to fire into life. It uses the same 1.5-litre engine as the MG3, with 84kW at 6000rpm and 150Nm at 4500rpm, also tied to a simple four-speed auto. It’s worth bearing in mind this car is 85kg heavier than the hatchback, with a tare mass of 1255kg. To compensate, it seems SAIC has made the final drive ratio shorter but we can’t seem to find the specs to confirm it.

While a little bit raucous when cold, it settles into an appreciably smooth timbre once it has reached operating temperature. One thing to be aware of is to keep the air-conditioning compressor clutch off before then, lest you be greeted with a noise akin to a dog choking on a bone.

The power is ample around town in most situations, struggling on an uphill motorway onramp with several passengers on board. We managed a 0-100km/h time of 13.56 seconds (we didn’t conduct our full performance tests, such as quarter mile and braking). This makes it 0.85 seconds slower than the MG3 we tested in December 2022, and that’s a slow vehicle.

Not scintillating, but sufficient for the average motorist without octane in their veins, and the ongoing sales performance corroborates this. Forget about any slightly risky overtaking manoeuvres, though.

For its price point and segment, the ZS Excite has a surprisingly wide footprint, with a front track of 1529mm and rear track of 1536mm. It comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, shod with 215/50 R17 Maxxis tyres. This translates to a sure-footed feeling, with weight-transfer surprisingly well managed. Ride is also decent, thanks in no small part to the higher suspension travel of an SUV.

Unlike the MG3, the ZS and ZST have electronic, rather than hydraulic power steering. An advantage of this is the ability to switch between three modes: Urban (light), Normal (medium) and Dynamic (minimal assistance, heaviest). Urban is very handy for twirling around car parks with one finger. The ratio is well-judged for the chassis, but it cedes a little bit of feel and feedback to the MG3’s hydraulic system. An 11.1m turning circle also assists with manoeuvrability.

The cruise control and speed limiter are now relegated to a separate stalk beneath the indicators, with the right spoke of the steering wheel housing the trip computer controls (no digital speedometer, though). Fundamentally, the ergonomics are very similar between the two cars.

Fuel consumption of 7.1L/100km isn’t remarkable, especially for its minuscule output. But when you consider that it only requires 91-RON petrol the overall economy is pretty good.

2023 MG ZS Excite – THE VERDICT

So what does the future hold for this model? Sales are getting stronger by the month, so MG wouldn’t want to tamper too much with this formula. MG Thailand’s VS hybrid might offer some clues to a replacement. Sold alongside the ZS there, that car has a 130kW hybrid powertrain – which seems antithetical to the simplicity of the ZS, though it would give MG an answer to Haval Jolion Hybrid.

There are rumours the ZS may adopt the styling of the VS from overseas – which actually has the corporate face of MG’s sister company, Roewe. It also has two 12.3-inch screens combined for infotainment and instruments.

For now, at $22,990 drive-away, the MG ZS Excite is very hard to ignore. It looks good inside and out, offers lots of room for the money and has a compelling warranty and roadside package.

Granted it might not be the last word in modernity from a powertrain point of view, but few customers seem to mind. Customers who appreciate simple motoring and are daunted by the beeps and flashes of ADAS systems feel immediately at home, without worrying about what extra things could go wrong.

There will be a slight price rise on 2023-built cars to $23,990 – which still keeps it well below rivals.

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]PROS:
– Exceptional value for money, low servicing costs
– Spacious for its class
– Lots of standard features
– 7-year warranty[/column] [column width=”47%” padding=”0″]CONS:
– Archaic four-speed automatic
– Unrefined 1.5-litre motor and slow for its class
– 4-star ANCAP safety rating[/column][end_columns]

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

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