MG is on the charge in Australia.
In 2020, the year the ZST debuted in Australia, MG delivered 15,253 cars. As of the end of September 2023, MG delivered close to 43,000 and is firmly ensconced in the top 10 on the sales charts.
The ZST has been a key part of that rise; combined with its cheaper ZS cousin, it has accounted for more than half of those sales so far this year.
A lot has changed since the ZST launched locally. It’s now facing competition from the Chery Omoda 5 and GWM Haval Jolion in the budget end of the SUV world, while rivals from more established Korean and Japanese brands are hanging around at a similar price point with less equipment.
Does the ZST still have something to offer, or has the world moved on?
The 2024 MG ZST Essence on test here is priced in line with top-end versions of smaller SUVs like the Hyundai Venue ($28,750) and Kia Stonic ($30,790), or entry-level versions of bigger cars like the Hyundai Kona ($32,000) and Kia Seltos ($29,500).
It also takes on the GWM Haval Jolion Ultra ($33,990 drive-away), which is also made in China, and is also loaded with standard equipment like the MG ZST.
MG ZST 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
All prices are drive-away.
Age hasn’t wearied the interior of the ZST, even close to three years after its launch it looks and feels better than it really has any right to given the price.
The stitched MG crests in the headrests in the Essence, nicely sculpted steering wheel, red contrast stitching and soft-touch dashboard are all premium touches that really set it apart from the demure base Koreans it fights based on price.
With that said, there are some cost concessions here. The steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach and the leatherette seat trim is sweaty on hot days, especially when you hop in after being parked in the sun which floods in too readily through the thin sunroof cover.
The driving position is solid, offering a commanding view of the road ahead. Tall drivers might struggle slightly for under-thigh support, but the seats are well bolstered and offer plenty of backrest adjustment. They’re also heated, which is a win on cold winter mornings.
MG infotainment technology is improving fast, as evidenced by the MG 4 electric hatchback. The older ZST has a system that’s full featured and functional, without being a standout. The central touchscreen is large, bright and is easy enough to navigate with the help of shortcut buttons below the display.
Apple CarPlay looks good on the big screen and is snappy when you swipe from page-to-page.
The digital instrument binnacle is exclusive to the ZST Essence and offers just the right amount of information. It’s sharp to look at and does a good job elevating the cabin above what’s offered elsewhere in the class – although built-in maps would add a touch of Volkswagen-style class to the system.
Storage is good around the cabin, from the space under the dashboard to the cupholders, door pockets, under-arm bin, and glovebox. You get two USB-A ports up front but unfortunately no wireless phone charging.
Rear seat space is excellent relative to similarly-priced alternatives, with space for adults behind regular-sized adults in the outboard seats. Headroom is good despite the sunroof and there’s plenty of legroom – although the lack of air vents is a missed opportunity.
There’s a trio of top tether points and two ISOFIX points back there, along with two USB-A points.
Boot space is impressive. You get a claimed 395 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1187L with them folded flat. It’s a broad, deep space with room for golf clubs, and the inclusion of a space saver spare is handy if you’re venturing out of town.
Power in the more expensive ZST Essence on test here comes from a 1.3-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine making 115kW of power and 230Nm of torque, which is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed torque converter automatic.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.1 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. We saw 7.8L/100km on a week skewed to city driving.
The fuel tank holds 45 litres and you’ll need to stump for 95 RON premium unleaded.
The more powerful MG ZST is a punchy little thing to drive in the city, with a distinct three-cylinder growl when you put your foot down.
There’s a short pause off the line, forcing you to wait a beat when you first accelerate away from the traffic lights, but once it’s up and running there’s enough go here to squeeze you back in your seat.
The engine is relatively smooth and quiet when you aren’t in a hurry, with no awkward or unseemly vibrations sneaking into the cabin and it’s mated to a six-speed auto that shuffles unobtrusively through the gears. It’s very conventional, which will make anyone hopping out of an old car feel comfortable.
Vision out is excellent in every direction, and smaller drivers will enjoy what’s quite a commanding driving position. Combined with light steering, the all-round vision makes the ZST feel at home in the confines of the city.
It’s a shame the rear-view camera is a bit foggy because it’s the only part of the package that saps your confidence.
The way it rides on big wheels is impressive. With a longer wheelbase than some of its rivals, it feels nice and relaxed at highway speeds. It even does a good job filtering out potholes and speed bumps on pimply city streets.
In fact it feels more grown up than some of its small SUV rivals. There’s not too much road noise at 100km/h from the tyres, nor is there much wind rustle from the mirrors.
Although the Michelin tyres are quality rubber, this isn’t a sports car, nor is it among the sportier SUVs on offer around this price. Then again, that’s not really the point of this vehicle.
The weakest part of the ZST is its driver assistance technology. The adaptive cruise control is smooth and smart enough, but the lane-keep assist spends too much time beeping and bonging at you.
ZST Core highlights:
- 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display
- Wired Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- 4-speaker audio system
- 1 x 12V charger
- 2 x USB ports in first row
- 2 x USB ports in second row
- Fabric seats
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Keyless entry and push button start
- Rear parking sensors
- 360-degree cameras
- Automatic headlights
- Adaptive cruise control
- 60/40 split folding rear seats
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:
- 1.3T engine
- Red brake calipers
- Gloss black exterior highlights
- Black door mirrors with integrated turn signals
- Black side sill extensions and rear diffuser
- High-gloss black grille
MG ZST Essence adds:
- Panoramic sunroof
- Model-specific 17-inch alloy wheels
- Digital instrument cluster
- Embossed MG logo on headrests
- Heated front seats
- 6-way power driver’s seat
ANCAP has yet to crash test the ZST, but the similar ZS has been crash tested and received a four-star rating back in 2017.
It is worth mentioning the ZS EV, which also features the same active safety suite technology as the ZST scored a five-star rating based on when it was tested in 2019.
Standard safety equipment on all ZST models includes:
- Adaptive cruise control
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Forward collision warning
- Lane keep assist
- Lane departure warning
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Surround-view cameras
The MG ZST is backed by a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with seven years of roadside assist.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 10,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. Five years of servicing in the 1.5-litre costs $1505, while the 1.3-litre costs $1566.
The ZST still has plenty to offer in Australia.
It’s slightly more expensive than at launch, but still represents excellent value alongside its Korean and Japanese rivals.
With a comfortable ride, decent punch from the petrol engine, and a full suite of driver assists, it wants for very little.
Even with that said, the Essence on test here isn’t necessarily the smartest pick in the range. If it’s value you’re after, the Excite packs a well-stocked equipment list and the same 1.3-litre turbocharged engine as the Essence.
The Excite is $2000 cheaper than the Essence drive-away; which buys you a lot of premium unleaded.
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