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What may be most extraordinary of the iconic British marque MG—at least here in the Philippines—is that the brand broke into the top 10 in auto industry sales in the first semester of 2020, which is no mean feat considering that MG Philippines just started operations in 2019, and that year saw a flurry of other new brand introductions from established and new players.

For The Covenant Car Company Inc (TCCCI), which handles MG Philippines, it may have all been a calculated move, as the company has eagle eyes on car affairs that now span all corners of the globe. MG (or Morris Garages when it started out in 1924) carries some serious British automobile heritage, which earned global manufacturing capacity via China’s largest auto manufacturer and exporter Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC). With MG Philippines added to its portfolio, TCCCI, composed of auto industry veterans who’ve built a strong after-sales service reputation with its US Chevrolet brand, now covers for the most economically powerful—and car crazy—nations.

So, when MG Philippines offered that I test drive its MG ZS crossover SUV last August, I couldn’t say no to the model that may have singlehandedly brought the company to the top 10 list. It was this looker of a crossover that accounted for more than half of all MGPhilippines’ total vehicle sales of 5,085 units in its maiden year.

Upon seeing the black unit I was about to drive, I knew why it had such a strong appeal. There were British touches all over, and who doesn’t fall for British accents? It was “unapologetically stylish” with its “London Eye” headlights, “Stardust” grille, “Polaris” taillights, the MG octagonal badge and the ZS 17-inch alloy wheels and a panoramic stargazer sunroof.

Sitting behind the wheel was easy on the eyes. The dashboard was uncluttered, the controls were all easy to reach (even for a petite Asian like me), the interior was comfy and ergonomic, with plenty of legroom, headroom and luggage space, while storage areas were adequate. The 8-inch LCD infotainment system features Apple Carplay, a cinch for my iPhone.

This is a crossover that would make you just want to start up and drive right away. There’s no overabundance of technologies that’ll make you spend all of 15 minutes figuring out what does which. What you need to get moving, and moving as comfortably as possible, is what you get.

But, mind you, there are perks to driving the ZS. There’s the sunroof, the basic cruise control, front, side, and curtain airbags, antilock brake system, cornering brake control, electronic brake distribution, hill hold control, tire pressure monitoring system, reversing cam, rear parking sensor, the works.

The MG ZS is just the right no-fuss crossover to be enjoyed by its owners without worrying too much about the added maintenance costs of fixing or replacing unnecessary electronics down the road.

As far as fuel efficiency goes, the MG ZS sips the least on the open highway. My personal best was 5.9 liters per 100 km (17 km/liter) along NLEX.

Probably the best thing to wrap up this nice package of a crossover is its price. All four variants of the MG ZS doesn’t break the 7-figure barrier, as prices range from P818,888 to P998,888.

Driving a brand-spanking new crossover for a few days is one thing. Owning and maintaining it for the long haul is another. So, I got in touch with owners who had been driving their own MG ZS from as far back as when MG Philippines sold its first units, and asked them how their British companions were holding up in our tropical paradise. Here’s what they said.

“Amongst all new players for me, the MG ZS is the most competitively priced but loaded with features and tech that will not overwhelm me. It has a very nice design as well. Most crossovers before this cost more than P1 million, but still lacked features I expected to have at that price. You’ll really wonder how MG Philippines was able to price the ZS, considering how well built it is, and how much lower it could have gone without the excise tax,” said Paolo De Guzman, 26, a former front office agent and night auditor in a hotel. De Guzman, who is now self-employed, has owned his MG ZS Alpha for 13 months.

He added, “I like how the car handles, especially on expressways and even on wet roads. You can feel the tires are planted and you will have the confidence that it won’t skid when turning. It also drives smooth and you can feel it is light.”

Elvin H. Aquino, 47, a safety consultant engineer, has been driving his MG ZS Alpha 1.5 AT for 14 months, and says that many of the features of the ZS has the “European feel”, pointing to partially hidden wipers, the rear logo as the trunk opener, Follow Me Home headlamps, and fully electronic door locks.

“The feature that stands out for me is the huge moonroof of the Alpha variant. One of the most attractive features is the London Eye headlights, it just simply grabs your attention,” observed Aquino.

Fahad Alfad’s MG ZS Style AT is just two months old. The 25-year-old software lead engineer might have had the stroke of good luck buying his unit at a time during this pandemic when car companies were offering discounts to induce sales. “MG Philippines had the best deals to offer, with discounts, freebies and promotions,” he revealed.

Diane Sarenas, a 43-year-old teacher and an owner of an MG ZS Style Plus for 6 months, told this writer: “Deciding to buy an MG ZS compared to all the available brands was easy, because of its decent performance for city driving and its affordability, and after making a thorough research online on MG ZS and being driven abroad on other crossovers that are also available in the Philippine market.”

She added: “The design and features are true to its European standards. The halogen headlamp and wide mesh grill make it look like a typical European car. But the best feature is the Hill Hold Control that greatly lessens my worry when driving uphill.”

Ed Macalintal, an employee in a private firm, has owned an MG ZS Alpha for 9 months. The 49-year-old describes his ZS as value for money. “It has the bells and whistles of more expensive crossovers for a lesser price. It’s good for daily driving with a reasonable gas consumption. I have no problem also with the aftersales service.”

He added: “The looks, the price, features and comfort, and the power of the engine is just right for city driving. There is also the sport mode for added boost on the engine.”

Wish lists

If there was anything the MG ZS could improve upon, these owners would know. Aquino’s wish list would be: “Three things: Maybe a CVT transmission in the future. Then a completely keyless smart entry system where you just press a button on the door handle to unlock the vehicle, and an electric tailgate lifter/closer.”

For De Guzman: “I think what MG can work on is its performance. Most owners, like us, complain that it has a lag in acceleration and it has a hard time accelerating at ascending slopes. So we hope MG can improve its speed and torque. They could also improve its suspension as it is on the bumpy side. Third, they must improve the air conditioning as it struggles during noon time when even the notch is already at the 3rd level.”

Macalintal echoes De Guzman when he sums up his own wish in three words: “More engine power.”

Sarenas agrees with De Guzman and Macalintal, but offers her own take on the issue: “Maybe more power, but then again for city driving, who would need it? Do take note also that with a 1.5-liter engine, there is no problem in using the car for a long drive such as going from Manila to Bicol and back.”

Alfad says areas for improvement could include adding “dome lights, aircon vents and charging points at the second row.”

At the end of the day, all these owners say that they are all satisfied buyers of the MG ZS.

Aquino, in particular, shares his own analysis of the potentials of the brand: “We were comparing the ZS to two other Japanese brands when we were looking for a new vehicle for my wife last year. We had second thoughts because MG essentially ‘re-entered’ the Philippine market just late 2018, and their vehicles started to be sold in the early parts of 2019 only. Why did we go for it? When the former Philippine distributor was terminated, both the Ayala group and TCCCI battled to take over the brand. Ayala is a seasoned investor, and they research their businesses well. TCCCI, on the other hand, was successful in putting the Chevrolet brand in the Philippine motoring map. So, for two known companies to want to carry MG locally is already a good sign to begin with. Add to that, we did our research by reading up on ZS owner experiences in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Thailand, almost all the reviews were positive.”