Most of the Northern Territory’s many vehicles available for hire to visitors are white, but they come in all shapes and sizes.
There’s an inordinate number of Chinese-built cars, the MG ZS among them. On the face of it, this compact SUV looks right for the job for two travellers roaming from Darwin, out to Kakadu, down to Katherine then back north-by-north-west to Litchfield and Darwin.
Park for a day and then over to the Tiwi Islands. So, a no-fuss pick up for a clean, white (of course) and newish MG with little drama from the hire crowd – $1843 for 13 days from Bargain Car Rentals – off to find the hotel and down to the Trailer Boat Club for the famous Timor Sea sunset.
The automatic five-door is an easy town car, handsome enough and simple to operate; no great complications. Off to Mindil Beach markets to close out the weekend.
Monday it’s out of town, east to Jabiru. The MG’s a good size for two adults and a fortnight’s luggage, with room for tourist trinkets.
It hums along at 3000rpm for 120km/h in top gear with fuel use averaging 7 to 8 litres per 100km.
It’s all easy and comfortable enough with Apple CarPlay to look after music. Maybe next time I’d download Top End-tinged tunes: Graeme Connors’ Head A Little Further North, Warumpi Band’s My Island Home, Neil Murray’s Good Light in Broome as headliners.
The MG sits okay on these benign roads – good bitumen, long straights and gentle curves. Ride comfort’s not bad but then again the tar is in good nick and we’re staying clear of unsealed roads, but there’s a fair whack of road noise.
Indicators are on the left (a bit close to the cruise control wand) while the air-conditioning looks after 30-degree days and it’s old-school – turn one knob to cool or warm the cabin, turn another to increase fan speed. Likewise, no distracting noises or tugs on the steering wheel for hitting a white line.
Some may miss today’s driver aids. Not here.
Now a 130km/h sign. Not as exciting as the Territory’s old open speed limits – fast Alfa Romeos, Celica GT-4s and chasing Cannonball Runs among yesteryear’s adventures – but 130km/h is fair enough for safety and fuel consumption.
And the MG is okay with this, still averaging around 8 litres per 100km even with dry season headwinds.
But here’s the thing: 1.5 litres and 84kW need a deal of coaxing to overtake a 53m road train or attack a rise in the landscape. (Not sure how a ZS would handle four adults and luggage up Cunningham’s Gap). It steers well with decent balance and a little understeer.
On to Katherine and Litchfield (the only time a four-wheel drive would’ve been handy to access the magical Lost City) and back to Darwin.
So, some 1700km, one small windscreen chip plus a whodunnit shopping centre carpark scar (memo: take full insurance next time) and the MG ZS was back in town.
It was surprisingly comfortable and trouble-free if perhaps not quite to the standards, performance or prices, of equivalent Mazdas, Kias et al.
But you’ll never-never know if you don’t have a go.