Back in 2016, Morris Garages Philippines was but a small importer operating out of a storefront on EDSA. While it offered a number of decent products, they didn’t really spark people’s imaginations. But with a change of management came increased spending on distribution, marketing, and an all-new vehicle line-up, spearheaded by the humble MG ZS. Despite a rather dated powertrain, its sporty styling and surprising interior space made it a sales success. In its first year alone, MG sold over 2,000 ZS crossovers, a feat which catapulted the brand into the local top 10 in sales.
So how does MG follow that up? With more ZS! This all-new Trophy variant boasts more power, more style, and more tech than the original. But with the plethora of turbocharged subcompact crossovers flooding the market, will that be enough to claim the sales crown MG recently lost to Geely? Let’s find out.
While the sporty, swooping body lines of the original MG ZS remain untouched, the new Trophy adds a bit of aggression to the looks. The lower grille has been inverted from a smirk into a snarl. The new hexagonal grille and slim headlights, on the other hand, look quite sharp, and not just a little bit Mustang-like. More so than the Ford Territory, actually. Still a great looking front end, either way.
The new rear bumper, with its deep vent cutouts, reflects the front end design, while “Tomahawk” spoked 17” alloy wheels round off a fantastic looking package.
While the interior retains the same basic design, the colors have changed to reflect the aggressive new attitude. And boy have they changed. Where the old interior was a grayish-black affair with the occassional silver and gray accents, the Trophy is swathed in deep black and eye-searing red leatherette, with liberal applications of faux carbon fiber and red contrast-stitching. There are even red MG logos embroidered into the headrests! Can’t accuse MG of not trying. Even if the colors are a bit bright, there’s no denying the tactile effect of all that soft touch material. This may not be the most modern looking interior, but it’s in the running for one of the plushest.
The instrument panel gives way to a full LED panel, with unusual digital gauge readouts that look like videogame life bars, and a big info panel floating over the gauges. USB ports have been rearranged, to reflect the greater importance of phone connectivity, but everything else down to—or up to, in this case—the sunroof controls MG shares with VW-SAIC.
The leatherette-wrapped seats are comfortable, though the side bolsters are a bit too slippery for sporty driving. You still get the spacious rear seat and the 448 liter trunk, though a lot of that space now sits under a new floor panel sitting several centimeters higher than before. An odd choice, considering the safety spare tire doesn’t take up any more room than on the Alpha. MG probably figures that a flat load floor with the seats folded is more important to customers than overall luggage space.
Enough about luggage space, though: The big headline here is the new 161hp 1.3-liter turbocharged LI6 engine. Well, new in the sense that it’s new here. But this direct-injection GM-SAIC three-cylinder engine launched with the ZS elsewhere back in 2018. It’s also found in the larger Chevrolet Trailblazer.
In the ZS, mated to a Toyota-sourced Aisin 6-speed automatic, the new engine is good for 0-100kph in around 9.8 secs, on our nearly virgin test unit. That’s a bit slower than the Trailblazer, with its 9-speed auto, but it should get faster as the engine breaks in. It is just a tenth off the more powerful GAC GS4, but in practice the GS4 feels more muscular, thanks to a 35Nm torque advantage.
But aside from the GS4 and the blazing fast Geely Coolray, nothing else in this class of 1.0-1.5 liter turbocharged subcompact crossovers is nearly as quick. The ZS T, after a bit of throttle delay, scoots off the line quite quickly, and there’s a pleasant midrange push that doesn’t peter out as quickly as in the GS4. Occassionally, it will downshift a bit abruptly in Sport mode, but overall, it’s pleasantly smooth.
And fuel economy is fantastic compared to the old 1.5. Where the old 1.5 Alpha took a lot of care to get over 18 km/L on the highway, the new ZS Trophy hits 20-21 km/L with ease, cruising at under 2,000rpm in 6th gear. Fuel economy around town hovers around 8-10 km/L, and our mixed numbers should have been in the 12 km/L range if we didn’t spend a lot of time idling during photoshoots.
Unlike older downsized turbocharged engines, the 1.3 is part of a new class of direct injection turbos that actually delivers on its fuel economy and performance promise. And it’s a much more justifiable use of 95 RON than the weedy old 1.5 in the Alpha!
Ride and handling
Unfortunately, the upgraded engine performance hasn’t been matched by upgraded handling.
On flat stretches of highway and in long sweepers, it feels perfectly fine, but the damping and roll control can feel a bit too loose over bumpy roads at speed or in tight corners. Much like the old car.
Unlike the old car, the Trophy rides on slightly taller 215-55R17 Michelin Primacy tires. They seem a bit quieter, though turn-in does seem a tiny bit less crisp than before.
Aside from that slight loss of response, the steering is pleasingly light and responsive. There are three modes, ranging from sport to urban, but all are just different flavors of light, lighter, lightest.
But this will probably suit the urban demographic just fine. Here in the city, the ZS T feels great. It’s got good sight lines, a 360 degree camera, and a 3D view much like on the Geely Coolray that helps you park in tight spots easily.
Aside from the 360 camera, you also get blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert, hill assist, cruise control and an electronic parking brake. The new 10-inch infotainment system also comes, finally, with Apple Car Play and Android Auto—hallelujah—and sound is as crisp and as clear as on the old ZS. That’s one area where it scarcely needed improvement.
You also get push-button start, keyless entry and locking, and a six-way power adjustable driver’s seat, which is a sweet thing to have when driving home after a long day at work.
The ZS has always been a big draw for the MG brand, and the ZS T takes that affordable character, style, and great interior space, and added on an extra layer of luxury and power over that. Granted, it’s still not top of the class in terms of performance, but sitting in a shared second place in that regard is no small feat. And the technical sophistication and economy benefits of the new 1.3-liter engine fix perhaps the biggest flaws of the brisk-selling Alpha.
Whether or not the Trophy takes home the top prize in the sales race, with this kind of performance, a podium finish is a near-certainty.
SPECS: 2022 MG ZS T
Engine: 1.5-liter turbopetrol I3
Power: 161hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 230Nm @ 4,400rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
More photos of the 2022 MG ZS T:
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