2023 MG ZST Essence Review

June 15, 2023

The MG ZST is a popular family car for good reason


The MG ZST range arrived on our shores a little over a year ago, since then I have been seeing quite a few of them pop up across the neighbourhood and it is easy to see why. For the price point, the 2023 MG ZST Essence is comfortable to drive and handles the suburbs relatively easily, but its real standout area is around its value offering, even though it’s quite a bit more than the MG ZS.


The Essence is the top-of-the-range MG ZST at $33,990, the Core is the base model at $25,990. There’s also the Vibe for $27,990 and the Excite at $39,990 in between. It competes with other small SUVs in this price range like the Kia Seltos, the Mazda CX-30 and the Mitsubishi ASX.


What does it look like?

The 2023 MG ZST Essence looks a bit fancier than the lower-spec models and the design sets the car apart from some of its rivals, giving it a higher-end look than the price might suggest.  The wide grille and central logo placement work with the sloped headlights to help tie its stylish look together while the fog lights on this model work as a design feature.


Inside the Essence has the red MG logos on the front seats and it gives it that extra oomph, particularly on the Pebble Black version. Inside the premium vibe continues. Every ZST receives a leather steering wheel, with contrast red stitching, and leather-appointed seats. On the Essence they look good. The tech and display is also very modern, and quite minimal.


How does it drive?

The little 1.3-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine produces 115kW/230Nm, drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, and provides a decent drive around the suburbs.


During the two weeks I drove the MG ZST, I travelled down the New South Wales South Coast from Sydney, and did quite a bit of city commuting, as well. The 360-degree camera view is a great feature for parking in shopping centres or a busy street, plus the steering is nice and predictable for the size of the car.


How spacious is it?

Up front there is quite a bit of headroom and overall space for the driver, the driver’s seat is easy to position with the electric controls, and I felt very comfortable with the amount of space I had.


Sitting behind my driving position ( I’m 178cm/5’10”) I had a good amount of room around me and was comfortable for a short drive, but would have also been fine on a long one.


I still had quite a bit of headroom with the sunroof and I felt like it helped create a feeling of more space in the back.


How easy is it to use every day?

Overall, the Essence ZST is pretty easy to use every day. It took me a while to find the controls for the front heated seats because there isn’t a button, as is common on other cars. They also aren’t particularly warm/strong, and you need to navigate through the climate control panel to adjust them, which I found awkward while driving.


There are bottle holders in all four doors, plus two cupholders and a main storage area up front for your phone. There is also a decent-sized glove box and handy console space.


There are no directional air vents for the back seats, which isn’t good for summer, and with the black paint option and leather trim the car heated up quite quickly, so the sunroof was a good relief.


The boot space is fairly generous, I was able to fit a large suitcase with heaps of space to spare when I visited my sister. We were able to fit her large pram and her groceries easily. You can also change the floor level of the boot, but I think it is worth pointing out the Essence only comes with a space-saver spare.


How safe is it?

The ZST received a four star ANCAP rating, from a possible five, in 2017, but that’s from the ZS model which doesn’t have the same MG-Pilot safety features.


It has six airbags, including driver and front passenger and full-length side curtains.


The whole ZST range misses out on rear AEB but does get traffic jam assist, rear cross-traffic alert, frontal AEB, lane keeping assist and blind spot detection, plus adaptive cruise control. The front camera also detects when you need to dim your lights or switch to high beam at night.


There are two ISOFIX points in the back. They are clearly marked and easy to access, plus there are three top-tether anchorage points in the boot. If you need to install a rear-facing child seat, there is enough room for the front passenger, which is good for this class.


What’s the tech like?

The 3D digital instrument cluster is great visually and easy to understand, while the large 10-inch multimedia screen looks impressive.


The 2023 MG ZST Essence does have a great assortment of tech features, particularly when considering the price point, including in-built satellite navigation, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (meaning you need a USB cord), plus there’s a decent six-speaker sound system.


One standout is the car has five USB ports. I know, that’s a lot, right? You get two up front, two in the back and there is one mounted on the rearview mirror for a dashcam.


How much does it cost to own?

This top-spec model comes with a large sunroof, 17-inch alloys and a fully digital instrument cluster. You also receive a few other features compared to other models, including the sunroof and front seat heating. Overall, it’s a competitive price for a small SUV with these inclusions.


I think the broader value proposition is a big reason the MG ZST is gaining popularity. It has a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty (like Kia). Roadside assistance is provided for seven years, along with capped-price servicing.


If you have the car serviced with MG, it works out at roughly $300 annually over that time. The Essence does need a check-up more frequently than some of its rivals at every 10,000 kilometres (or 12 months).


My petrol usage was surprisingly good during my highway trip and around the suburbs, at an average of 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres. That’s close to the official figure of 7.3L/100km on the combined cycle (and that rarely happens).


The Wrap

The 2023 MG ZST Essence is great value for money, and ideal for a small family, it’s definitely one to consider if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, even though it’s at the top-end of MG’s small SUV price range.


This article was originally featured on carsguise.com.au and can be viewed here.