Coronavirus has wrought havoc on a car market already battling tough financial conditions, and coming out of a horror bushfire season.

    In a market down 20 per cent to date in 2020, MG has been a rare bright spot. It’s coming off a low base but there’s no ignoring the Chinese-owned brand’s rapid rise in Australia, with sales up more than 55 per cent to date this year.

    The fact its strongest seller is the affordable MG 3 city hatchback, which maintains a sharp $16,990 drive-away starting price in a segment where the Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris, and Kia Rio have become more significantly expensive, is no accident.

    “We saw an opportunity with the MG 3,” Danny Lenartic, director of marketing and product development, told CarExpert.

    “We saw an opportunity to get that product into the hands of people who were possibly considering used cars, and took advantage of that segment, and drove that segment really hard.”

    Mr Lenartic said “COVID is here and there’s a need for people to have a car to get around, to feel safe”.

    That logic is why MG has chosen to keep the compact ZS SUV in its line-up at a cut price, despite the introduction of the updated ZST.

    Unlike the ZS, the ZST comes standard with autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control as standard.

    It also subs the 1.0-litre turbocharged engine from the ZS for a 1.3-litre turbo with 115kW and 230Nm, up 33kW and 70Nm.

    “If COVID hadn’t come we probably would be launching a full suite of [ZST] cars, and we’d be running out the existing ZS,” Mr Lenartic said.

    “Fortunately, we didn’t have to because [the ZS] is still being manufactured and available, and will be for the next 12 months, or even longer.

    “We can supply a really quality car at a good price point, and bundle it with the MG 3. If somebody wants something larger than a hatch, and wants something with more space and more room, then you’ve got the ZS at a really accessible price point.”

    Pricing for the ZS now starts at just $21,990 drive-away, making it the cheapest compact SUV in Australia. The ZST line-up kicks off at $28,490 before on-road costs, dropping it into a segment featuring the Kia Seltos, Hyundai Kona, and Nissan Qashqai.

    Although it’s more expensive than the ZS, Mr Lenartic argues the long list of standard equipment on offer in the ZST more than accounts for the price difference.

    “I will say that the ZST represents one of the best compact SUV packages in the market today – and that’s a really bold statement, I understand that,” Mr Lenartic told CarExpert.

    “But I have confidence that when people drive the ZST, they will feel the same way. That’s because it doesn’t compromise on space, it doesn’t compromise on power, it doesn’t compromise on handling, it doesn’t compromise on technology.”

    MG joins Audi and Ssangyong on a very short list of brands to grow their sales in 2020.

    Scott Collie

    Scott Collie is an automotive journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Scott studied journalism at RMIT University and, after a lifelong obsession with everything automotive, started covering the car industry shortly afterwards. He has a passion for travel, and is an avid Melbourne Demons supporter.

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