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2023 MG ZS Excite review: Should you buy the cheapest SUV on sale?

If you’re looking to buy the cheapest new SUV on sale in Australia, this is it. The 2023 MG ZS Excite. It starts from just $23,990 drive-away.

We borrowed this blue example from Central Coast MG for a quick test drive to find out if it’s worth your consideration.

2023 MG ZS Excite: Is it really the cheapest SUV on sale?

Now, before you start bashing the keyboard to comment about the Mitsubishi ASX being equally as cheap because it has the same $23,990 price tag, we must point out that is for the manual transmission – not many buyers choose a manual anymore. And that price does not include on-road costs.

Suzuki comes close with its Ignis GL manual, too, but it’s priced from $24,878 by the time you include on-road costs (in NSW, according to Redbook). Again, that’s for the manual. Some might argue it isn’t really an SUV, either. This leaves the base MG ZS Excite as the most affordable SUV on sale.

Just one variant of the ZS is currently available in Australia, but there are four different variants of the similar ZST model. The ZST is the superior model and the one we’d recommend. Here we’re going to unravel the reasons why.

2022 MG ZS Excite rear

2023 MG ZS Excite: Reputation & warranty

MG was a classic British sports car manufacturer. Now, the brand is owned by Chinese auto giant SAIC Motor, and produces a number of different models that are available in Australia; MG3, MG4, MG5, and the ZS and HS SUVs.

While purists may scoff, the MG ZS has become the most popular small SUV in its segment in Australia, according to VFACTS figures. It has even been the best-selling SUV outright on the odd monthly occasion, suggesting customers are holding quite a strong trust in the new-but-old brand.

The warranty coverage for all MG models is seven years and unlimited kilometres, which is one of the most comprehensive packages in the industry. Servicing is scheduled every 10,000km or six months on the ZS, whichever comes first.

2023 MG ZS Excite: Design

The MG ZS Excite might not be a head-turner, but it’s not an eyesore, either. It adopts a conventional crossover design with a hint of MG’s heritage in the form of the octagonal badge on the front grille. The front fascia, with its LED daytime running lights and sophisticated grille, gives the ZS a modern look.

However, the rest of the body is rather conservative and doesn’t push any design boundaries. That can be taken as a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand it’s somewhat neat and flies under the radar, but on the other hand it doesn’t catch the eye or spike conversation. As standard you get a set of 17-inch alloy wheels to provide a touch a class.

2023 MG ZS Excite-touchscreen

2023 MG ZS Excite: Interior & packaging

Stepping inside the ZS, you’ll find a functional cabin that provides some level of inspiring design. It’s a mix of hard plastics and faux leather surfaces, which is what you’d expect at this price point. The dashboard layout is straightforward, with an intuitive touch-screen and controls, although there are some delays with the touch-screen when loading up.

The seats are comfortable, and rear passengers enjoy excellent legroom and headroom for this segment. But, there are no climate vents in the back. Cargo space is respectable as well, measured at 359L, and the rear seats can be folded down to expand that volume to 1166L. It’s a practical interior but it is quite basic in some areas compared with more expensive competitors.

Despite being the base model it does come equipped with a 8.0-inch touch-screen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, tyre pressure monitoring, keyless entry, cruise control, and auto headlights. That’s quite a comprehensive package for that low starting price.

Moving up to the ZST adds features such as a 360-degree camera system, a 10.1-inch touch-screen with not just Apple CarPlay but Android Auto as well, and rear USB charging. A leather-look upholstery is included on most ZST variants, but only the flagship Essence offers electric adjustment (for the driver) and heated seats. While these extras do enhance the overall experience, they push the initial starting price up by $3000 for the ZST Core and $8000 for the top Essence.

2023 MG ZS Excite-rear seats

2023 MG ZS Excite: Safety

Safety is a crucial consideration for many buyers, but the MG ZS Excite falls short of a full 5-star ANCAP rating, making do with 4 stars. That’s not ideal considering most rivals reach 5-star credentials. If there’s any excuse here it’s that the latest testing standards are extremely strict and include some elements that might be irrelevant to the general motorist; such as the requirement for a centre airbag for 5 stars even though it’s mainly useful if you’re driving with a passenger on board.

It comes with six airbags, brake assist, a hill-holding function so you don’t roll back on steep roads or driveways, a rear view camera to keep an eye on pets or kids, and electronic stability control and traction control. It misses out on the lane-keeping aids featured in the ZST, and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

2023 MG ZS Excite-boot

2023 MG ZS Excite: Driving & performance

Under the bonnet, the MG ZS Excite is powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers a very low 84kW and 150Nm, send through an old four-speed automatic with front-wheel drive. It’s not going to win any drag races, and it’s only just adequate for city commuting. If you want a bit more pep, you’ll need to step up to the ZST and its 115kW 1.3-litre turbo.

Moving up to highway speeds does take some time, with 0-100km/h coming up in around 13.5 seconds. If you have passengers on board and some luggage, be prepared for very slow overtaking, and almost dangerously slow progression up long steep hills. The ZST’s turbo offers 230Nm of torque, which really helps in these scenarios.

Both engines offer the same official consumption rate of 7.1L/100km. That’s the magic of turbocharger technology; providing more power and torque but using the same amount of fuel. Either way, the figure is respectable for this vehicle category.

The ZS’s ride and handling characteristics are only just adequate for Australian conditions. The steering feels a bit numb yet unthreatening, and there’s evident body roll in tighter corners.

But the suspension does a decent job of soaking up bumps, especially on some of Australia’s worn country roads – and city roads, for that matter. The damper and spring setup doesn’t settle quickly though, and the wheels don’t always feel firmly planted on the road going over repetitive road joins or corrugations.

2023 MG ZS Excite: Should you buy?

If you’re considering an MG ZS, the base Excite offers a spacious interior for its class, a reasonable list of standard features for the money, and a comfortable-enough and fuss-free driving experience. Plus, and most importantly, it won’t break the bank.

Ultimately, the MG ZST – preferably with the 1.3 turbo option – is the superior package if you can stretch to it. If not, the base ZS Excite fulfils its purpose as the cheapest SUV on sale, and thus it should appeal only to buyers on a strict budget.

How does it rate against its rivals?
  • Price
  • Quality look & feel
  • Interior tech
  • Powertrain performance
  • Handling
  • X factor (does it stand out in its class?)

Final word

It is the cheapest, most affordable SUV on sale, so any shortcomings should be taken with a reasonable degree of leniency. If your expectations aren’t too high and if you’re not fussed about 5-star ANCAP safety ratings, this could be worth a look.

Brett Davis

Brett started out as a motor mechanic, but eventually became frustrated working on cars that weren't his. He then earned a degree in journalism and scored a job at Top Gear Australia back in 2008, and then worked at Zoom/Extreme Performance magazines, CarAdvice, and started PerformanceDrive/PDriveTV in 2011 with Josh Bennis, and ran it for 12 years. He's now the owner and managing editor here at Driving Enthusiast.
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