By Manny N. de los Reyes

MG is a British sports car maker that dates back to 1924. Its halcyon years were the 40’s through the 70’s, when it came out with some of the most iconic roadsters of the time. These included the immortal MG TC, TD and TF of the 40’s and 50’s, followed by the MGA, MGB, MGB GT coupe, and MG Midget from the 60’s through the 80’s.

Financial troubles saw the brand being transferred from one new owner to another in the 90’s, with various British companies (and even BMW in 1994) stepping in to try to save the marque with the octagon badge from insolvency.

It wasn’t until Chinese conglomerate Shanghai Automobile Industry, Inc. (SAIC) took over the brand in 2005 that MG experienced a renaissance. In 2011, the company, now called MG Motor, launched a new model, the MG 6, which became the first new-generation MG available in the UK since the MG TF more than half a century ago.

MG is now sold in Australia, China, South America, Thailand (where it quickly became a best-seller), South Africa, the UK — and now the Philippines, by Chevrolet’s local distributor, The Covenant Car Company. And the model that’s spearheading the British brand invasion is the MG ZS — a compact front-wheel drive crossover tailor-made for SUV-crazy Filipinos.

The MG ZS sports contemporary styling that features “London Eye” headlights with LED daytime running lights, a Mercedes-Benz-like “Stardust” grille, and LED taillights. Size-wise and in silhouette, the ZS is closest to the previous-generation Hyundai Tucson and the current Mazda CX-5, especially in the execution of the large upright grille and the rearward-pointing arrowhead-shaped quarter windows. Handsome alloy wheels are generously sized 17-inchers wrapped by 215/50 tires.

The ZS is powered by a smooth and vibration-free 1.5-liter naturally aspirated engine that produces 114 horsepower and 150 Nm of torque. Modern driver-assist features include a reverse camera, ABS, Cornering Brake Control, Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Hill Start Assist, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and a Traction Control System.

Some might rue the use of a four-speed automatic instead of the more advanced five- or six-speed automatics, but given the sub-P1 million-peso price point, it’s an acceptable compromise. Besides, with traffic nowadays, it’s very rare we even reach fourth gear (in both manual and automatic gearboxes). And I’d take a four-speed auto over a droning and boring CVT or jerky dual-clutch manumatic (like in the old Ford Ecosports).

Inside, the ZS is liberally covered in soft-touch materials. The interior is comfortable and ergonomic, featuring easy-to-reach controls and abundant storage areas. It also sports an 8-inch LCD infotainment system with Apple CarPlay so you can stay connected while keeping both hands on the wheel. Build quality as well as fit and finish are surprisingly very high. There is absolutely no evidence (or even a hint) of cheap manufacturing or craftsmanship.

The top-of-the-line AT Alpha variant that we tested might represent a ton of value at P998,888 (the midrange AT Style goes for P868,888), but the ZS range actually starts at an irresistible P818,888. This is solid value for the money, even for a relatively new and unproven brand.

MG owners should have easy access to after-sales services, even as the dealer network is established, to ensure that all their needs are met. A string of independent, MG Philippines-accredited service outlets will be made readily accessible for MG owners, while a “Mobile Garage” service caravan, which comes online this January, will offer regular preventive maintenance servicing in the convenience of your garage.

MG Philippines is also implementing a host of other innovative service platforms including “One-Hour Max and Go,” which refers to a speedy, one-hour basic maintenance service procedure; a customer care hot line that is available 24/7; “MG HERO Services,” which offers 24/7 roadside assistance; and “Mobile Gadget,” which allows users to pair their MG to a proprietary smartphone app so that they can closely monitor their car’s running stats, and allow them to schedule an appointment online from the convenience of their phone for periodic maintenance. And on top of that, and every brand new MG car will come with a 5-year or 100,000-km warranty.

Priced like a subcompact crossover but sized closer to a compact SUV, the MG ZS has the space, performance, build quality, styling, and equipment to take on any of its size and price rivals — and come out the winner.