18.7.2019MG ZS EV first drive
MG's ZS EV has the potential to make a big impact on the electric car market, offering buyers a good driving range in a practical family car at an affordable price. With its Chinese background, supply isn't expected to be the issue it has been with other manufacturers' launch EVs, all of which means we could see the MG ZS EV climb the electric best-sellers chart quickly. NGC attended the car's UK launch in London to see what it's like.
Review by Chris Lilly
Although also available with a choice of petrol engines, the new ZS EV makes use of a 105 kW (143hp) electric motor under the bonnet, driving the front wheels. Producing 353 Nm of torque, the ZS EV will complete the 0-60mph sprint in a sprightly 8.5 seconds, and get from 0-30mph in a smidgen over 3.0 seconds, making it the quickest accelerating car in MG's range by a fair margin. As with all electric cars, the pick up is instantaneous, and shorter bursts of acceleration are dispatched rapidly. It's fairly standard fare for an EV, but enjoyable nonetheless. Grip is good, though a stamp on the throttle - even in warm and dry conditions - will get a chirrup from the front wheels, again something common with many an EV. The car's test route stuck to central London, so we didn't have the opportunity to test the ZS EV at anything above around 40mph, but it pulls keenly up to that point and doesn't feel as though it's starting running out of puff. Having driven EVs with similarly powerful electric motors, the expectations are that it will still feel strong at motorway pace. It made light work of heavy London traffic, with the MG ideally suited to the congested nature of parts of the route. A quick stab of the throttle, and gaps could safely be made that wouldn't have been as comfortable in a petrol-powered version at all.
As a crossover focused on offering practicality and value for money, the ZS EV was never going to generate headlines about its driving dynamics. With this in mind, the MG drives pretty well, with a suspension set-up that was well suited to the London test route. Speed bumps are shrugged off, as are rough road surfaces, and body roll is kept well under check. It doesn't have the promise of a B-road toy; an EV that can be driven enthusiastically for an engaging drive. But then most EVs don't offer this characteristic either, and the MG is sensibly positioned. Light steering lacks feedback, but is precise enough to easily pilot it through tight gaps in traffic and narrow streets. It proves a doddle to park up, and combined with the electric powertrain, means the MG is ideally suited to urban driving. Again, judging the MG on its ride on open roads or at motorway speeds is impossible yet, but there's nothing to suggest the set-up will fail elsewhere. Not the most exciting drive then, but a good one, and the ZS EV will provide many customers with exactly the sort of ride and handling they are looking for.
MG is quietly creating some nicely designed cars, with nothing about the ZS that is offensive, poorly styled, or overly flamboyant. It's a decent piece of styling, and sits very comfortably in the crossover class - size-wise somewhere a Nissan Juke and Nissan Qashqai. The tall-ish ride height provides a good view of the road, and the car's easy to position on the road. Apart from a new colour available, some extremely discreet badging at the rear, and a largely closed off front grille, there is little to differentiate this electric version from the petrol-powered model. There is no fuel flap because the charging port is behind the grille, for a central charging position. MG has designed the logo at the front to illuminate when charging as a quick check indicator that everything is going OK. Inside, there is still plenty of space in what is essentially a practical family crossover. The battery has been placed in the floor so doesn't impact on boot space, and occupant space all-round is excellent good for a car in its class.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
So far, the MG ZS EV has performed well across the board, but here we come to a potential hazard, since the electric crossover is priced cheaply and money must be saved somewhere. It's saved in the cabin, which can't compete with rival models in terms of material quality. Plastics on the doors are hard and shiny, and the materials on the dashboard and centre console are only slightly better. The electronic parking brake level, on the test model at least, had a flimsy action to it, but ultimately, there's nothing in the interior to damn the MG with, since it is pitched as a budget offering. There are some highlights too, with a rotary drive selector looking and working well, plus three toggle switches ahead of that to control the drive mode, brake regen levels, and check on the battery status. Buttons and switches felt well put together on the whole, and the touchscreen infotainment system has better graphics and looks a more integrated system than systems I've seen on some rivals with far larger sales worldwide. It's slow to start up, and not the fastest to respond to commands, but again, there's nothing there that's a deal breaker for potential buyers. It's a good cabin, if not the most premium around - which should be expected considering the cost.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Normally I would talk about the ZS EV's range at this point, indicating how well it stacks up to official figures. Those statistics are 163 miles (WLTP combined), and 231 miles on a single charge on the city cycle. Since these are WLTP figures, these tend to prove fairly accurate, and always achievable with reasonable driving, but we are yet to find out properly. Around London, after half a dozen miles, the trip computer had dropped from 160 miles at the start to 157 miles of range, so that figure of 230-odd miles of urban range seems quite reasonable, and even surpassable in busier cities. Again, a true range test will have to be carried out at a later date, but both WLTP figures look look fair, and with judicious use of the variable regen settings and driving modes, I'm sure they could both be bettered in the right circumstances. We drove primarily in Normal mode, but did use Sport a few times. Time in Eco was limited to seeing how much it limited throttle response, and then ignored since we were never going to push the limits of the car's range on this test drive.
MG provides all the usual EV features on the electric ZS, so there's a wealth of systems to help make the most out of the driving range. Chief amongst these is a three-stage 'KERS' brake energy recuperation system, with braking strength varying from light to strong when liffed off the throttle. There is no coasting possibility, but the level 3 did prove enough for most situations in town after a bit of charge from a full battery had been used. It's not going to quite be a 'one-pedal' drive, but it's not far off, and the regen strengths did seem well spaced out. To change these, there's a large switch in front of the gear selector, which isn't as convenient as a steering wheel paddle-based system on rival EVs, but still a useful set-up. The 44.5 kWh battery has been chosen with balance in mind. It's not of a larger capacity to keep costs down, plus minimise impact on interior space and charging time. At more than 40 kWh, it's towards the lower-end of new mass-market EV packs now, though there are plenty of models with 40-50 kWh on the market, and its range of around 160 miles on a charge will be more than enough for most buyers. Charging is via a CCS inlet behind the front grille, with DC rapid charging available at up to 50 kW, and fast AC charging limited by the on-board charger at up to 7 kW. A full charge from a public or home point at 7 kW will take about six and a half hours, while a charge to 80% on the rapid will take about 40 minutes. Drive mode select has the potential to limit the performance in Eco mode, which has quite a large step in throttle response between that and Normal. Normal to Sport saw a smaller change in response, so most drivers will stick to Normal for the majority of the time I suspect.
Considering the relatively low price for the ZS EV, there is plenty of kit in the MG for buyers. Trim levels are available in Excite and Exclusive, with the former the entry level model. This still sees 17-inch alloys fitted, along with keyless entry and start, leather steering wheel, three-level regen and drive mode select, air conditioning, 8-inch touchscreen system with sat-nav, DAB, USB, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility. Both models have a good suite of safety systems too, including Traffic Jam Assist, which makes use of adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and active emergency braking to automatically pilot the car within lanes at slow speeds. Exclusive trim adds blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert to the systems, plus leather-style upholstery, electric driver's seat, heated front seats, air conditioning with odour and pollen filter, automatic wipers, panoramic sunroof, and reversing camera. Prices start at £24,995 for Excite and £26,995 for Exclusive, which include the £3,500 Plug-in Car Grant. The first 1,000 customers get matched grant funding from MG, reducing the costs to £21,495 and £23,495 respectively, plus they get a free home charge point fully installed.
The MG ZS EV lives up to its promise of instantly being a challenger in terms of mass-market EVs. The range is not class-leading, but neither is it lacking against rivals - it will be comfortably enough for many drivers. The ZS EV rides well, has plenty of performance, is practical but not too large, and is priced incredibly competitively and with a long warranty. A similarly-sized Leaf 40 kWh starts at £3,000 more, while the Renault Zoe costs around £1,000 less but can't match the MG in terms of practicality. Both of those comparisons are based on the standard OTR inc PiCG price, and those first 1,000 customers will get the cheapest practical EV around.
Model tested: MG ZS EV
Body-style: Compact crossover
Engine / CO2: 105 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Excite, Exclusive
On-road price: From £24,995 (inc. PiCG)
Warranty: Seven years / 80,000 miles
In the showroom: September - available to order now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars