2024 MG ZST Essence review

Posted on June 30, 2024Comments Off on 2024 MG ZST Essence review

Aussies love a bargain.

While many manufacturers will report high percentages of expensive, top-of-the-line vehicles as their biggest sellers, the Chinese brands have proven that cheap and (mostly) cheerful motoring still has a strong following.

Take the 2024 MG ZST for example; on paper it’s fully loaded and looks pretty swish in the metal. Here in flagship Essence guise it’s priced from $33,990 drive-away which is thousands cheaper than rivals from Japan and Korea.

It’s a large reason why the ZS nameplate is so strong in Australia, with 29,258 sold for the 2023 calendar year with 19.9 per cent share of the mainstream small SUV segment – for reference, the second-placed Mazda CX-30 was less than half of that volume and market share.

The gap is closing in 2024, with the new Hyundai Kona snapping at the Chinese crossover’s heels thanks to the availability of hybrid and EV options, though the ZS EV does exist and does solid numbers. MG has also confirmed a new-generation ZS/ZST is due before the end of this year, too.

You can actually get into a ZST for as little as $26,990 drive-away if you can live with a naturally aspirated petrol engine and a few less features, and the lower grades maintain a solid level of spec that’s arguably even better value.

But the turbocharged Essence showcases everything the nameplate has to offer in Australia. How does it fare in 2024?

How does the MG ZST compare?

View a detailed breakdown of the MG ZST against similarly sized vehicles.

MG ZST cutout image

MG

ZST

How much does the MG ZST cost?

As noted earlier, a 2024 MG ZST will set you back $33,990 drive-away with standard paint.

A quick look on the MG Motor Australia website at the time of writing, however, shows MY23 versions advertised for $30,490 drive-away – and there have been no spec changes for MY24. Not bad at all.

That money barely buys you a base Hyundai Kona or Mazda CX-30 these days, though the GWM Haval Jolion and Mitsubishi ASX play in this bracket.

Model Variant Drive-Away Pricing
2024 MG ZST Core $26,990
2024 MG ZST Vibe $28,990
2024 MG ZST Excite $31,990
2024 MG ZST Essence $33,990

To see how the MG ZST stacks up agains the competition, check out our comparison tool.

What is the MG ZST like on the inside?

Just like the outside, the MG ZST presents pretty smartly inside on first glance.

It’s very conventional with the general layout, and doesn’t do anything too outlandish in terms of display tech or switchgear. The black trim with red stitching is sporty in vibe without being too gauche as well.

The pleather trim is a little shiny and fake-looking, though, and the carbon-effect detailing in areas is a little naff, but some probably like a bit of design flourish.

Ahead of the driver is a steering wheel that’s very Mk6 Volkswagen Golf in design – given SAIC’s joint venture with Volkswagen in China, it could very well be the same unit – with a perforated leather rim and chunky buttons.

Behind that is a partially digitised instrument cluster in the Essence, which is effectively an enlarged driver supervision display which offers a number of trip computer readouts and menus. It’s all pretty simple, and works fine.

I did find the driver’s display to be a touch dim even in its brightest setting. For some reason the headlights would default to on when set to Auto and would dim the displays even in harsh sunlight.

The 10.1-inch central touchscreen offers vibrant colours and is well placed to be within arm’s reach, though MG’s native interface is basic and a touch aftermarket in feel.

It’s worth noting these vehicles come with very sophisticated connected interfaces in the Chinese domestic market, and since these are taken out for Australia it feels like an afterthought despite the younger, tech-savvy demographic.

There’s wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as embedded satellite navigation, though I had a bug or two with my iPhone 15 Pro Max. I’d avoid the native navigation too unless you really need it, which runs a mapping system that looks like the WhereIs nav units from over a decade ago.

While MG has retained toggle-like switchgear for some functions like volume, temperature and fan speed, the more detailed controls are buried in the touchscreen and it’s odd that the ZST doesn’t offer automatic climate control.

You also might find adjusting things on the fly a little fiddly if you have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in use, as it will mean a few choice taps on the screen to get to where you need to go.

Storage is decent, courtesy of a phone-shaped slot under the centre stack though devoid of a wireless phone charger, and there’s USB-A ports for charging and smartphone mirroring.

A pair of cupholders live behind the shifter, as does a cubby under the padded front-centre armrest. The door bins are a decent size too, perfect for stowing larger bottles.

Compared to similarly priced ‘light’ class SUVs, the ZST offers impressive space in the second row.

I’m a touch over 6’1 and can comfortable sit behind my preferred driving position, even with the panoramic sunroof. Knee, leg and toe room are all good, which makes for solid value if you’re looking for space-per-dollar.

Amenities are limited to map pockets and a cubby behind the centre console in lieu of vents, and there are USB charge ports too. Bottle holders round it out, as the ZST lacks a folding centre armrest.

I’ll also note the larger driveline hump where the centre seat is, despite the ZST being front-drive only. Thankfully it’s not too wide, but together with the raised and skinny centre chair means it’s not great as a five seater.

The MG ZST quotes a decent 359 litres of cargo capacity with the second row upright, expanding to 1187 litres with the rear seats folded. There’s a multi-tier boot floor 60/40 split-fold rear seats.

For reference, the impressively packaged Skoda Kamiq quotes a segment-busting 400 litres.

Dimensions MG ZST
Length 4323mm
Width 1809mm
Height 1653mm
Wheelbase 2585mm
Cargo capacity 359 litres – rear seats up
1187 litres – rear seats folded

To see how the MG ZST stacks up agains the competition, check out our comparison tool.

What’s under the bonnet?

Higher grades of the ZST feature a 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

Model MG ZST Essence
Engine 1.3L 3cyl turbo
Power 115kW @ 5200-5600rpm
Engine torque 230Nm @ 1800-4400rpm
Transmission 6-speed auto
Driven wheels Front
Weight – tare 1295kg
Fuel economy – claim 7.3L/100km
Fuel economy – as tested 8.0L/100km
Fuel tank size 45 litres
CO2 emissions – claim 162g/km
Emissions standard Euro 5
Fuel requirement 95 RON

To see how the MG ZST stacks up agains the competition, check out our comparison tool.

How does the MG ZST drive?

For me, light and small SUVs are often pretty uninspiring cars to drive – the ZST keeps that trend going.

There’s not a lot of flair here, just A-to-B transport that’s decently comfortable and refined for the segment, perhaps amplified by the sharp pricing.

MG introduced the larger and more powerful 1.3T three-pot with the ZST, and compared to the 1.0T in the old ZS it feels peppier and more refined. With 115kW and 230Nm, it makes about the same grunt as a Nissan Qashqai.

It pairs well with an again decent six-speed automatic that just gets the job done. No it isn’t a performance benchmark for the segment nor will it set your pulses racing, but it does everything acceptably.

For me it’s a shame there’s no idle stop-start tech to help cut the engine out at the lights, which will see your indicated consumption figure climb quickly in city driving. We may have finished the week with 8.0L/100km after plenty of freeway driving, but in traffic you might see it climb to over 10L/100km.

Performance isn’t quite as punchy as its outputs suggest, but it’s pretty torquey down low and gets alone at decent pace. There’s that nice throaty three-cylinder thrum under acceleration as well.

All the driver controls are pretty softly tuned, prompting you to take a more measured approach than be compelled to push it. This is a city-focused small SUV after all, and it does a pretty good job of hitting that brief.

The steering is light but has a directness and linearity to its response, while the soft ride insulates the cabin from the lumps and bumps of city life but it can feel a touch wallowy at times when you go over large undulations or high speed corners.

Wind and road noise insulation is acceptable but not standout, with a bit of ambient wind noise particularly at highway speeds, while tyre roar can add to this when rolling over coarser black top – though that’s not out of the ordinary for the segment.

The MG Pilot assistance suite has been a key selling point for the Chinese brand, as not only was it a major step forward over the outgoing ZS but it’s also decked out from the base level.

Standard adaptive cruise control combines with an active lane centring function for semi-autonomous driving on the highway, and the traffic jam assist feature will even do the heavy lifting in traffic jams. It does so with a level of polish that you might not expect of such an attainable car.

Perhaps frustrating is the lane centring functions propensity to stay on after you’ve switched the cruise control off, meaning you have to press the lane assist button to deactivate again. Even more annoying is the MG’s constant audible BONGs when the “lane keep assist quit” – basically if you indicate and change lanes, it’ll chime at you.

Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are likewise handy to have, bolstering the 360-degree camera which also offers a 3D view and projects a cute (admittedly low-res) ZST onto the infotainment display to show the surrounds of the vehicle. It also shows indicators and can activate when coming into video sections, and reminds me of old car games on my Playstation 2.

What do you get?

Four grades of ZST are available, sitting above the single ZS variant and below the pair of ZS EV models.

ZST Core standard equipment:

  • 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – wired
  • 4-speaker sound system
  • 1 x 12V charger
  • 2 x front USB ports
  • 2 x second-row USB ports
  • Fabric upholstery
  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Keyless entry and push-button start
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Automatic LED headlights
  • LED tail lights
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Satin chrome accents

ZST Vibe adds:

  • Rain-sensing wipers
  • 6-speaker sound system
  • Satellite navigation
  • Front fog lights
  • 17-inch two-tone alloy wheels
  • Leatherette upholstery

ZST Excite adds:

  • 1.3L turbo engine
  • Red brake calipers
  • Gloss back accents
    • Fog lights
    • Door mirrors
    • Side sill extensions
    • Rear diffuser trim

ZST Essence adds:

  • Unique two-tone 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Panoramic sunroof
  • Digital instrument cluster
  • Embossed MG logo on headrests
  • Heated front seats
  • 6-way power driver’s seat

Is the MG ZST safe?

ANCAP has yet to crash test the ZST, however the related ZS has been crash-tested and received a four-star rating back in 2017 – which will expire in December 2024.

It’s worth mentioning the ZS EV, which features the same suite of active safety technology as the ZST, scored a five-star rating when it was tested in 2019.

Standard safety equipment on all ZST models includes:

  • 6 airbags
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Autonomous emergency braking
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Lane departure warning
  • Lane keep assist
  • Rear cross-traffic alert
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Surround-view camera

How much does the MG ZST cost to run?

The MG ZST is backed by a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with seven years of roadside assist.

Ownership Program MG ZST
Warranty 7 years, unlimited kilometres
Roadside assistance 7 years – service activated
Service interval 12 months, 10,000 kilometres
Service pricing MG Precise Price Servicing
7 years – $2339

CarExpert’s Take on the MG ZST

Sharp looks, strong value and a spacious interior make it easy to see why the ZST forms part of Australia’s top-selling range in the small SUV segment.

You can have the Essence with ‘The Lot’ for the same money you spend on base-model rivals, and MG’s seven-year warranty and servicing schedule are likewise easy selling points for the budget conscious.

Is it our top pick? No. But that doesn’t make it a particularly bad car either. Considering vehicles from the size segment below cost similar money with shorter feature lists and less powerful engines, it makes a strong case for itself – a top-spec Hyundai Venue, for example, is around the same price on the road.

Yes there are quirks to the infotainment software as well as the assistance systems, but compared to the GWM Haval Jolion which in some ways can feel very foreign in its user experience, the MG is just basic rather than confusing.

There’s little wonder you see so many ZSTs on the roads, and the fact it looks a little Mazda-ish can’t hurt either right? But I think there’s better value to be had further down the range.

At $26,990 drive-away ($25,490 as advertised at the time of writing), the base ZST Core features the MG Pilot suite, LED headlights and the same 10.1-inch touchscreen as the Essence for almost $10,000 less. Yes we haven’t spent time with the base 1.5-litre atmo four and CVT combination, but it can’t be much worse than similarly priced vehicles.

The ZST Vibe with the same engine but desirable additions like extra speakers, auto wipers and leather-look trim is only $2000 more, and could well be the sweet spot of the range.

At the Essence’s price point, I personally would be inclined to spend a couple grand more and get into a base Mazda CX-30, or spend less and get a Skoda Kamiq Run-Out – both arguably more modern and well-rounded alternatives.

But, I see the appeal for this fully loaded grade for the price point. I’ll be interested to see what the next-generation model looks like when it lands in the second half of the year.

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